You may not know your upload from your download, but you can still be a great digital parent.
Worried that your child knows more about tech than you do?
Of course they do. They were born into a digital world, and probably learned to swipe before they could stand. For you, it’s different. You had to acquire your tech know-how as a “second language” much later in life.
Now that’s not necessarily a problem. In fact, we should be proud of our kids for their digital fluency.
At the same time, we shouldn’t allow it to daunt us – to discourage us from taking responsibility for setting healthy rules and boundaries.
The truth is, being a good digital parent isn’t about knowing everything there is to know about technology – or even knowing everything your child knows.
Learn their passwords
Let’s start with passwords. It’s essential that you find out – and record – ALL the passwords to everyone’s devices in your family. Don’t forget their Apple IDs. And don’t forget your own passwords as well.
There will be times when you will need to get access to your children’s devices – for example, when you install parental controls (see below). But it’s also simply good digital parenting practice.
Even teens need to be reminded that they are not completely free agents when it comes to their online lives. You trust them, of course. But they’re still on their digital “P” plates, learning how to navigate the online world safely and sensibly.
Establish bedtime rules
All cyber experts agree that there are two non-negotiable bedtime rules parents need to apply to all kids, right up through the high-school years.
First, establish a bedtime for all devices. Sometimes called a “digital sunset,” this is simply an agreed-upon time where your child powers down his phone, laptop, tablet and/or gaming console.
Experts recommend doing this at least 30 minutes – 60 minutes is even better – before your child’s regular bedtime. A screen-free interval is essential to reduce the effects of blue light, which has been shown to inhibit the production of the sleep hormone melatonin. Kids will fall asleep faster and have more restful sleep, too.
But it’s not just the physiological effects of screen-time at bedtime. It’s the psychological impact as well. Too much “high arousal” content – think Fortnite or TikTok, for example – can keep kids’ minds overly active. They need time to wind down. Setting a bedtime for devices will make sure they get it.
The second bedtime rule is even simpler: establish a charging station outside of their bedrooms.
Can you expect pushback from this if you have older kids? Absolutely. But stand firm. The temptation to have “just a quick look” at notifications through the night is simply too strong for children of any age to be expected to ignore.
The easy fix? Remove that temptation entirely. Cyber experts recommend charging kids devices in your bedroom – again, to solve the problem of possible middle-of-the-night “peeks.”
When you establish any new family rule, your best chance of success is to get buy in from your stakeholders. Most of the time, that means having an open discussion first – acknowledging and addressing concerns – and listening without judgment to everyone’s point of view. Basically, you are modelling the attitude that you’d like to see them adopt toward you.
The new rules for device use you’ll be introducing should be handled in just this way. Be prepared to be flexible, and encourage your children to give the new routine a go.
Most kids resist at first – okay, make that all kids. But after the new rules are established, many will admit they actually prefer having clear boundaries. You will almost certainly be surprised at how well they will adapt.
And speaking of being clear, it’s a great idea to put your new rules and responsibilities in writing in the form of a printed contract.
Have a family meeting to discuss technology use and use a digital contract that lays out specific obligations and entitlements for your child – and for yourself.
Clarity is the not-so-secret secret weapon here, says Family Zone cyber expert Jordan Foster. A clinical psychologist and founder of acclaimed digital-education provider ySafe, Foster has developed a series of simple contracts that’s proved a lifeline for digital families across Australia – like this one, created especially for school holiday use.
“The whole idea of a contract is to get parents and children on the same page – literally – to prevent arguments about screen-time before they have a chance to happen,” Foster explains.
Worried that your kids will complain “there’s nothing to do!” or “I’m bored!” when screen-time is limited? Foster has an ingenious solution – and it’s built right into the agreement.
I agree that complaining that “I’m bored” or “There’s nothing to do!” will automatically reduce my daily screen-time limit by minutes
“Consider the contract a jumping off point for conversation,” Foster urges – and feel free to modify the terms of the agreement to suit your family’s needs and values.
Then, once you’ve reached a negotiated settlement, get all the stakeholders to sign on.
“I’m not saying a written contract will solve every issue for today’s digital parents – but it can provide an invaluable reference point, while making your expectations crystal clear.”
Monitor, monitor, monitor
Quick – do you know how many apps are on your child’s device? Can you identify what they do, what features they offer, and what age restrictions apply? If the answer is no, you have some homework to do.
Some parents worry that this is “snooping.” In fact, say experts, in today’s digital world, it’s actually “parenting.” Your first duty towards your child is ensuring their safety – online or off. And you can’t begin to meet that responsibility without actively monitoring the apps they’re using or asking for.
You can do this respectfully. Start by asking your child to give you a tour of their device, pointing out the apps they’re currently using and explaining how and why they use them. Ask them about any apps or games they’ve downloaded but are unsure about.
If you have concerns, don’t be afraid to dig deeper. Helpful reviews online are just a Google away. (We recommend Common Sense Media for a comprehensive catalog of detailed, up-to-date reviews.) You don’t need to know much more than the name of the app or game to locate useful information about safety and privacy issues, age restrictions, inappropriate content and much more.
Knowledge is power – and it can also make the difference between keeping your child safe and making them vulnerable to abuse.
Use parental controls
To make sure your children get the very best of the online world – while staying safe and balanced – leading cyber experts recommend Family Zone’s strong, flexible parental controls.
Family Zone protects your children on every device, everywhere – blocking pornography and other inappropriate content, and giving you granular control over the apps, sites and games your child can access – including social media.
With Family Zone, you can easily set up routines for study, sleep and play times – and eliminate those draining negotiations for “just ten more minutes, please!!” But you can also make changes to those routines on the go, from the convenience of your own smartphone.
A recent survey by online safety organisation Internet Matters found two-thirds
of children think parental controls are a “good idea.” So what are you waiting for? Make cyber safety a family affair in your home, with Family Zone.