Eightfold Path to Good Digital Parenting

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Our child have never lived in a world without internet. Kids born today will never know what it’s like to use a corded phone, or have to hear that famous slow dial-up tone to access the internet and hear “You’ve Got Mail!”

For them, digital devices have affected the way they learn, grow, and communicate. And that means it MUST affect how we parent them.

From recognizing the impact of technology on our kids’ lives to achieving electronic enlightenment as an entire family, here are 8 steps to good digital parenting:

Step 1: Stay Educated

It’s hard to make good decisions if you don’t know what devices are capable of, how teens are using them, or what the most pressing threats are. Teenology is here to help with that, but we can’t make you sit down and learn – the decision to do that has to come from within.

Make a resolution to yourself right here and now to stay educated – then bookmark this blog and any other resources you want to use. Set a time for yourself to read up on things each and every week – this will help you stay on top of what’s going on and ensure you have the knowledge to make good decisions.

Step 2: Be A Good Role Model

Children have “an uncanny ability to distinguish between adults who only talk a good game and those who play the game by the rules they preach.”

At least, that’s the conclusion of Karen Stephens, an instructor in Child Development for Illinois State University who wrote about the importance of role models for Parenting Exchange.

If you want your child to have good digital habits, you need to abide by those habits too. If you don’t, your child will notice. You need to live the beliefs you’re teaching them – and this will do more to cement your authority on the matter than literally anything else.

It also won’t hurt to improve your relationship with technology, too!

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Step 3: Set The Rules

It will surprise exactly nobody to hear that teenagers think smartphones are “theirs” – regardless of who bought it. You’re the adult, though, and you’re the one who sets the rules for your household. This step is more complicated than it seems, though.

When your child first gets their smartphone, your rules should be as strict as possible – and from then on, slowly give them more and more freedom on the device while emphasizing that they’re earning it, not simply receiving it.

If your rules are broken, then apply whatever punishment is appropriate – while positive reinforcement is important, teens also need to realize that there are negative consequences if they try to go behind your back on this.

Step 4: Talk With Your Children

Your children can handle it if you’re open and honest with them about what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and what they can expect the rules to be in the future. The worst thing you can do is say “the rules are like this because I said so” – to children, this often seems arbitrary and unfair… and when things are unfair, they don’t feel guilty for breaking the rules.

Be sure to emphasize safety as your main reason for implementing each rule – children tend to be far more accepting of restrictions when safety is the key issue, especially if it’s coupled with ways for them to prove they can be safe.

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Step 5: Friend and Follow – No More

You don’t need to tightly integrate yourself on every social network your child uses them. Friending and Following them is more than enough to stay connected – any more and they’re likely to feel you’re “intruding” on something they want to be kept mostly private.

Similarly, don’t bombard your child with messages on social media. Don’t “Like” everything they post, don’t comment on everything they do, and generally keep a hands-off approach. You don’t need to do any of that, because…

Step 6: Use Parental Controls and Monitoring Systems

…you’ll be using these instead.

Parental Controls let you restrict your child’s use of the phone in various ways. For example, you can refuse to let them download an app, set time limits that lock the phone down, or give them reminders if they’ve been on the phone too long.

Parental Monitoring Software lets you see what your child’s smartphone activity, from texts, calls, web browsing, social media, and other apps. By using parental monitoring software, you can unobtrusively “check-in” to make sure your child is following your rules.

Our advice is to inform your child that you are using a monitoring software – and most teens are quite receptive to it if you start young. Make it part of the condition of getting their first smartphone, and let them know one of the “freedoms” they can earn is that you will stop monitoring certain activities.

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Step 7: Share The Digital World With Your Children

While you shouldn’t go overboard and do everything with them – Step 5 exists for a reason – you can work to share the digital world with your children. For example, you can discuss news articles on a favorite site, research various topics, or even have contests to see who can find the best deals on a particular product you’d like to buy.

Sharing isn’t something you only do once, though – it should be part of your family’s routine and something everyone enjoys doing. By encouraging their curiosity, you’re teaching them how to use the web in a positive way.

You’re also encouraging them to share with you. When a teen feels like sharing with you is natural, they’re also far less likely to hide what they’re doing – and more likely to come talk to you when they encounter something negative.

Step 8: Go Offline Every Now And Then

The digital detox is an increasingly popular option for today’s families – because you don’t need to be connected to the internet at all times. The simple truth is that smartphones are addictive – they beep and buzz every time something happens, and we actually train ourselves to pick it up whenever that happens.

If you don’t actively resist this, it’s not just you that will be hurt – your child will be, too, as they never learn how to live without technology. Fortunately, preventing this isn’t as hard as you might think – stepping away from technology as part of your family’s routine means your child actually can put down their phone and pay attention to something else.

When the digital world becomes just another tool – not everything that matters in their life – then you’ve truly succeeded as a digital parent.

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