How do you make sure your kids are tech-literate without turning them into tech junkies? It's never easy, but following these guidelines will help.
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Most paediatricians recommend children spend no more than two hours per day using screen-based technology. Personally, we think this is pretty unrealistic -- especially when you factor in smartphones, tablets and video games. At the same time, there are lots of kids out there who definitely need to cut back.
If your offspring spend most of their waking hours glued to various gadgets, it might be time to establish some ground rules. Failing that, you can always employ some clever hacks to make the technology in your house work for you. Here are some tips to get you started.
Keep Things Realistic
When it comes to setting a daily "screen limit" for your kids, paediatric guidelines should be treated as exactly that -- guidelines. Indeed, the traditional recommendation of two hours per day was recently deemed unfeasible due to the proliferation of new technology in kids' lives. It's an archaic estimate based on an era when TVs and desktop computers were the only screens in the house.
In other words, don't set unrealistic goals -- if your kid spends 90 minutes writing an essay on their laptop, you shouldn't expect them to cram everything else into half an hour. This isn't reasonable and will only lead to conflict in the household.
Similarly, it won't hurt to allow them some leeway from time to time. For example, when they get a brand-new video game, phone or tablet, give them a bit of extra time to enjoy it. In short, don't stick rigidly to some arbitrary number just because "them's the rules".
Different Rules For Different Kids
Just like adults, kids tend to gravitate towards hobbies that suit their personalities. If your child has never been into sports and hates the outdoors, banning electronics is unlikely to make a difference. In fact, this could effectively cut them off from their main social groups, leaving them feeling isolated and miserable.
When setting technology limits for your kids, you need to take their identity and individuality into account. After all, you know them better than anyone else, so tailor the rules accordingly. If they spend a bit more time playing video games than Timmy down the road, that's perfectly fine: all kids are different. You should still encourage them to strike a healthy balance -- but don't try to change who they are in the process.
Obviously, age is another important consideration. As a general rule of thumb, your kids should be granted more screen time as they get older, especially if they are required to use computers for schoolwork purposes.
Explain The Rules (And Enforce Them)
Communication is obviously essential when it comes to setting technology parameters for your kids. Whatever you do, don't go on the warpath with a list of tyrannical changes: this is bound to be met with resentment or even outright defiance. Instead, set up a family meeting and make your kids part of the process. You should even be willing to negotiate on some points. The more your kids feel like their opinion matters, the more willing they'll be to cooperate. You can pick up some tips on running productive family meetings here.
Once some ground rules have been agreed on, you need to ensure they're stuck to. The tried-and-trusted timetable system is a good way to keep tabs on technology usage. In addition to a physical calender, there are various online tools you can employ for this purpose. You can find some good examples here.
Should Kids Have Their Own Accounts?
This obviously depends on your kid's age, how responsible they are and the type of products they are using. When it comes to entertainment, many services come with inbuilt "kid-friendly" versions that omit or modify certain features. This negates the need for a separate account. You can also create secondary profiles for your kids that the master account has control over. Naturally, any service that requires a credit card or allows the user to make online transactions should remain in parents' hands.
Social media is a bit trickier. Some parents deliberately keep all traces of their children off the web, while others happily allow their kids to manage their own social media profiles. Facebook requires its users be at least 13 years of age, but as the parent, it's really up to you.
Spend Time With Your Kids When They Use Tech
For younger kids, this means being an active participant -- whether they're watching YouTube or playing on a tablet, jump in and get involved. In addition to spending valuable time with them, you can use the opportunity to teach them about how the technology works.
For older kids, "spending time" is a euphemism for keeping tabs on them: technology should be kept out of the bedroom where their activities are in plain view. This isn't just about safety either -- by keeping technology in public areas like the kitchen or living room, you'll be turning it into a social activity. Plus, using tech in bed can cause havoc with your kids' sleeping patterns.
Tweak Your Tech!
Online monitoring tools, nanny filters and parental controls can all help to make your tech safe and kid-friendly. In addition to restricting access to adult content, this will also ensure that they don't accidentally purchase anything on your account.
This guide explains how to tweak Android, iOS and Windows Phone devices for younger users. You can pick up some additional tips here, including advice on video game consoles, set top boxes, computers, browsers and browser extensions.