I recently got a smart phone for my 11 year old son. Yep! I crossed over to the dark side...I'm that parent. There are many parental fears hanging out around phones, social media, and the internet. If you would have asked me only a few months before what age a child should get a cell phone, I probably would have responded with the answer, "around the time they leave for college." But here is what I realized: my kids live in a smartphone world and just as I want to teach my kids about their identity in Christ, the birds and the bees, and money management, I want to teach them how to manage a smartphone.
For our family, this means we will start small. My son has access to his cell phone on the weekends and only when he has passing grades. He is only allowed to use the phone in family areas of the house. We are starting him with very limited texting ability with family members only, no social media, and only gaming/educational apps we have researched and approved. Our plan is to slowly give him access to all the functions of a smartphone. We understand starting slow doesn’t guarantee he won’t make mistakes or ever be exposed to inappropriate material, but we value the teachable moments found in failure.
Alexandra Samuel, a technology writer and researcher, gathered data from more than 10,000 North American families on how they manage technology. Her research divided parents into three categories based on how they manage screen time.
- Enablers let the kids run the show and decide just how much technology they will use. This represents about 33% of parents until the teen years and then the percentage increases to 50%.
- Digital Limiters minimize use of screens and take every opportunity to turn them off. This group also represents about 33% of parents with parents of preschoolers limiting at 50%.
- Digital Mentors take an active role in teaching their kids about screens. They recognize in our digital age the importance of preparing kids for the use of screens. This group represents about 33% of parents.
For the type A, controller parents like me, we need to know our technology limiting just might back fire. Children of limiters were more likely to engage in problematic online behavior. They were 2 times more likely to watch porn or post toxic comments online. Putting our kids in a bubble and not giving them access to the internet doesn’t seem to work.
Digital mentors appear to be the most successful in preparing children to deal with the world of screens. Being a digital mentor parent requires a time commitment. Digital mentors were more likely to engage in frequent technology conversations with their kids, and to spend more time researching technology. They were also more likely to use technology to connect with their kids. This is actually why I have Snapchat! I use it to converse and connect with my older children. I love getting snaps from my daughter at college because it gives me a snapshot into her world. My husband will be happy to know digital mentors spend time playing video games with their kids.
While I am mentoring my children to be smart with their smartphones, I should remember to instill a few smartphone boundaries in my own life. Am I so distracted scrolling on my phone that I miss engaging fully with my children? When I am packing up my babies for college, what am I going to regret? I would bet it’s not that I didn’t spend another few moments scrolling Facebook or finding the perfect Instagram filter. I bet it’s going to be I didn’t gather my family around the dinner table more to engaging them in meaningful eye to eye conversations.
What kind of technology parent will you be?