Highlands Blog: Five Tips for Managing Your Child’s Digital Life
by Mrs. Sharon Owens
Junior High & High School Computer Teacher
Happy National Digital Citizenship Week — October 15-19
1. a person who develops the skills and knowledge to effectively use the Internet and other digital technology, especially in order to participate responsibly in social and civic activities
Where am I?
One evening a few weeks ago, I was curled up on my couch. The TV was on, but no one, including me, was really watching it. As I glanced up from my phone, I didn’t realize I had gotten lost reading through some emails, then moving on to a news app, and finally ending up price shopping on Amazon. Coming out of my little digital cocoon, I looked around the room. My husband was on his computer. My son was on his phone. One daughter was on her tablet, and the other was on her phone. No one was talking. We had all been sucked in by the little screens glowing in front of our faces.
As a computer teacher, I do love technology. I never get tired of learning about new advances and then teaching my students about them. But technology is taking over more and more of our lives! I want to inspire and remind each of us to be aware of the dangers of getting too plugged in—and how we can help our families cope with this new digital era.
When I first heard this term, I wasn’t sure what it meant. This is the phrase being used to describe children growing up in today’s world. There has never been a time for these kids when there wasn’t a phone, a tablet, or a computer with Internet access. Because of this, kids are growing up less and less afraid to click, and there are fewer boundaries to stop them from going wherever they want to go.
What can I do?
Many times in life, we wait for a problem to happen before we take action. We wait for the gas light to come on or wait until the AC stops working before we make a plan to fix it. We don’t mean to let things go on so long, but they do because life gets in the way. But when it comes to this new digital world, if we simply sit back, the damage will be done. We will only be left trying to make the best of it.
There are so many ways our kids can be negatively affected by technology. The things unfortunately impacting our children are as simple as sleep deprivation, eye strain, or lack of exercise—to much more serious issues like cyber bullying, pornography, and even online gambling. As parents, we must wake up and step up to this new reality. Thankfully, taking charge of your child’s digital world is not as hard or time consuming as you might think.
With this in mind, here are my top 5 tips for managing your child’s digital life:
1. Pay attention. Talk to your kids and try to find out where they are spending their time online. If that fails, spy on them. That’s right, I said spy. You are the parent; they need supervision and accountability. iPhone and Android phones have settings which ask YOUR permission for them to download apps. Not sure how to do this? Google it. The instructions are all online. If you have any concerns, set boundaries in which your children can only use devices in the open where everyone can see. You might even make bedrooms off limits to phones or devices.
2. Limit their time. Set boundaries limiting how long they spend on a device, and stick to them! Many phones, tablets, and Wi-Fi routers have options now where you can shut down screen time when your children reach the limit you decide is appropriate for their age. You can also go “old school” and just set an alarm as a reminder.
3. Have technology-free time. Dinner time is a no-phone zone at our house, and I encourage you to choose a time that works for your family, too. For example, you might have a set time, like after 8:00 PM, when no one may be on devices. Everyone needs a “screen break” to help them stay physically and mentally healthy!
4. Talk to your kids. Don’t underestimate the power of your words. Teach your children about the dangers out there, and when they should come to you with a problem. Communication is so important since you may be able to avoid a future problem just by catching it early. Be sure you LISTEN to what they share with you. This will help you figure out what they are focused on, and you can appropriately respond.
5. Be a role good model. Like they say, more is caught than taught. Lead by example, showing your kids that the boundaries apply to you as well. You will build a stronger family unit when the rules apply to everyone, including you.
It’s OK to start small—but just start somewhere, and start today! As we all set sail to this new digital world, let us discover God’s continuing grace and mercy as we encourage each other to reflect His holiness in all that we do.
Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. – Galatians 6:9
Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it. – Proverbs 22:6
Pray without ceasing. – 1 Thessalonians 5:17
Mrs. Sharon Owens teaches middle school computer literacy as well as high school elective computer classes for coding and computer science. Her passion is to teach kids a love for technology and how they can honor God through their use of it. She shares that she has a wonderful husband and three amazing kids (two at Highlands and one at FAU). Outside of the classroom, Mrs. Owens enjoys cheering on the Miami Heat and bird watching! She would love to hear from you, chat with you, and help you download the appropriate apps to monitor your children’s Internet activities. You can contact her at [email protected]