It was dinner time and I called out to my 11-year-old daughter. When she did not respond, I wandered to her room to find her completely engrossed in Roblox with her friends.
I looked at her with dismay. Should I have been monitoring her more closely? What had she been doing online? Should I cut off her internet access completely?
A flood of fears coursed through my head and I grabbed her phone. “Mom!” she yelled as I walked off with her phone, triumphant in my protective instinct.
My daughter didn’t speak to me that night and got up grumpy the next day as well. I handed her phone back to her for her online classes but kept hovering around to see what she was doing. “I have to keep her safe!” I thought. After two days of buzzing around my daughter like a helicopter parent, I realized that something’s got to give.
How do I know I’m even on the right track, taking her phone from her? Was it okay for her to use the phone unsupervised… Or was I being a dragon mom? What about the predators waiting for my daughter to come online? How could I ignore the news that told me to watch out for online dangers?
I felt confused and upset. There had to be a way to avoid becoming the technophobic parent that I was turning into. If you feel worried and worked up when your child is online, you are not alone. Read on for 6 simple ways to avoid technophobia and make technology your friend.
#1: Recognize That Fear is the Enemy
There’s plenty to be scared of online – cyberbullying, child predators, user-generated content, and more. However, fear distorts parenting.
I love my child and thought protecting her was my number one job. While this is certainly true, understanding her world is also important. My fear of technology was preventing me from getting closer to my child and the electronically-driven world that she is growing up in. And that did not feel good.
When we are terrified of what our children are doing online, we may end up over-controlling them; or conversely, we may become too permissive. It is possible to keep the pendulum in the middle!
Cutting off screen time completely is rarely the solution. Anya Kamenetz, the author of several books on digital parenting, recommends a regulated amount of screen time balanced with downtime away from technology. Setting guidelines to how and when technology can be used allows us to take positive action rather than fear-ridden crackdowns that break down the relationship we have with our children. This may include:
- Assessing our child’s internet use based on their age and ability to make good choices
- Discussing safe online behavior (such as not accepting random friend requests on Roblox)
- Setting family usage limits and tracking it using an app or simple chart.
#2: Acknowledge the Benefits
Technological change has always created stress and that dates back centuries to when Bell’s telephone invention was deemed to be the cause of the ruination of humanity. Many years later, technology concerns have only grown with advancements in the field.
Not everything your child does online is bad. My daughter connected with her friends during the COVID lockdown and stayed sane because of what technology could offer at a time in which physically being with friends was not possible. She also researches school projects online and has developed computer skills that would surprise an adult.
Did you know that jobs involving computer-based skills are predicted to grow faster than any other occupation in the current decade? Using the internet may be an educational, social, creative, or career-driven tool. So can it really be bad all around?
Our children are light-years ahead of us in their use and understanding of technology because they live in a world that requires it. As parents, we may feel a need to guard against our children’s use of anything dealing with technology because our upbringing with limited technological use differs vastly from theirs.
The reality is that even if we do our best to shield them from it, technology will inevitably still become part of their lives. One way to embrace this may be to evaluate the positive ways that technology may work well for our children and then focus on usage that will enhance those benefits. This may include:
- Bonding with family or friends that are not seen on a regular basis
- Collaborating with others for school projects and hobbies beyond geographical borders
- Reaching out to teachers and counselors for support and guidance
- Accessing feature-loaded apps to explore and express themselves like never before
- Tapping into resources and information from all over the world
- Becoming a better human–it is now possible for children to know and help those in need anywhere using news that updates in real-time
- Taking education miles ahead of the books–knowledge has become visual, spatial, and considerably more appealing
- Planning a career at home via resources available 24/7 online
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#3: Take a Breath & Do Your Homework
News headlines, phone messages, and the like tend to show us the worst.
A 2017 research paper discovered that negative headlines talking about harassment and violence exceeded positive news about teenagers serving the community or using the internet for educational purposes.
Horrifying headlines create fear and fear shuts down logical parenting.
While there are plenty of terrifying facts that may be true, it’s important that we make parenting decisions from a calm, rational, and informed mindset. Here’s what you can do if you come across a nail-biting fact related to technology and teenagers:
- Stop and take a deep breath. Hold for a few seconds and slowly exhale to slow down the spiral of anger and fear.
- Move around. Going for a run, dancing or vacuuming the house will help to dissipate the negative energy.
- Take a time-out until you feel calm and composed
- Go on a fact-finding mission. Find out as much as possible about the news to get an all-round view of the problem.
- Talk to a supportive person for suggestions
- Make a list of your fears and check if they seem logical
- Talk to yourself about how you can deal with the information
- Review safety tips with your child
#4: Consider What You’re Modeling
Before we make any decisions regarding our child’s time spent online, we should consider how much time we spend on our own phones. Children model what they see and if we are checking our phone constantly, we cannot expect our children to be far behind.
If you aren’t sure how much time you actually spend on your phone, it’s easy to check your usage under settings on both iPhones and Androids. Additionally, both iPhones and Androids have the ability to regulate screen usage and set a time limit to usage.
Parents can also keep tabs on their personal online activity as well as their child’s by installing parental control apps as well. The apps allow you to set and schedule screen time, block distracting social websites and more. Some software also hands out rewards and reminders that may motivate children to scale down phone usage.
In addition to being more conscious of the electronic use that we model for our children, we should also take care to model and encourage methods of entertainment & family time that don’t require electronics. This may mean making deliberate changes in our day until family “traditions” have become habits. Some ideas for non-technological family activities include:
- Dinner Time Conversations: Set a “no phone” dinner time rule that applies to both adults and children. A parent checking for work mails every other minute dilutes the message of undistracted family dinners. A rule has to feel fair to a child for it to work.
- Take a Bake Break: Commit to “baking weekends.” Nothing beats mixing and whipping to get a child talking and bonding. When a child’s hands are occupied, a phone is bound to be left unused!
- Entertainment Without Phones: Movie nights are a fantastic way for a family to huddle and cuddle without phones. Let your child choose the movie!
- Challenge Each Other: A jigsaw puzzle or quiz pitting parents and children in a game of wits may be a fun way to hone a child’s mental skills and dexterity offline.
- Embrace Exercise: Outdoor activity promotes health and helps children replace online highs with an exercise rush. Motivate yourself and your child by shared activities such as signing up for parent-child sports, taking a walk together, or setting up a basketball hoop in your yard.
#5: Be Okay With Gaming…In Moderation
Asking our children not to play games online would be like asking them not to cross a road ever because it involves a risk of getting hit by a car.
At some point, our children will start online gaming. It’s best for us to accept it. We can use that time to get our pending chores done!
But we should also be vigilant. Worried about how to be okay with your child gaming in moderation while also avoiding being a helicopter around them as they play? Focus on these three things:
1. Keep lines of communication open. We will never know the risks our child faces unless they feel comfortable enough to talk to us without fear of reprimand. This also means having conversations about how to be safe and cautious when they are online, such as:
- Avoiding suggestive avatars or screen names
- Being wary of over-friendly strangers
- Knowing how pictures posted online can be misused
- Looking out for posers and those with fake accounts
- Understanding how deleted information can easily be retrieved by troublemakers
- Never giving away critical personal details
- Refusing to meet internet friends in person
- Reaching out to parents if there’s a problem
- Knowing that it is okay to call out and report cyberbullies and trolls
2. As a parent, we need to be well informed about the online dangers facing our children. It pays to stay ahead of the game. The main online threats to children are related to content, connection, conduct, and contract, take a look:
- Content-based risks are an outcome of the content children watch online which may be inappropriate or disturbing.
- Children may connect with the people they meet virtually who might be child sexual offenders or criminals.
- Kids may conduct themselves badly online by bullying other children or be victims of a cyber bully. In-app purchases may also be made which are not screened by their parents.
- A child may enter into a contract with strangers or websites that’s inappropriate or fraudulent.
3. Parents can up their children’s online safety by using software and settings that screen and restrict their virtual activity. A fews tips to use technology for safety could be:
- Ensuring that safe usernames are in place
- Setting up passwords and parental controls to manage age-appropriate content
- Starting a conversation about online safety
- Monitoring social media accounts
- Enforcing the age limits and safety filters of apps and games
- Setting up app permissions in your child’s phone that allow parents to review apps before they are downloaded
- Taking an interest in a child’s virtual friends
- Using settings in iphone and android mobiles to turn off in-app purchases
#6: Maximize Their Skills
If you’re confused about how an app works, ask your child to help. It came as a surprise to me how willing my daughter was to show me the ropes of video conferencing.
As a bonus, you may get to spend time with your grumpy teenager who usually refuses to talk.
Children and teenagers love to be in an advisory role to parents. Most kids have skills that parents may never realize they have such as:
- Using a Computer: As soon as school went online, kids hit the ground running, learning how to use a computer and its accessories fast. Most children can get a laptop or tablet started, use a keypad and mouse, transfer data to external storage, and use email.
- Research Skills: Much of the project work doled out to children requires online research. Kids know how to trawl the web for authentic information and to cite it appropriately–a skill that adult professionals develop over time!
- Computer maintenance: Tinkering with the parts of a computer hones the hardware skills of children. Often kids are able to get their computers running without outside help.
- Coding and Programming: Learning to code is akin to speaking the language of computers. Self-taught coders and programmers such as school kids are able to develop computer apps, debug software, and troubleshoot glitches all on their own!
- Media Skills: Children are expected to create presentations related to school work and quickly pick up the nuances of making good slide presentations, using tools available, and understanding media formats.
- Staying Safe and Social: As parents, we often give our children little credit when it comes to safe practices online. However, children do learn to use social media within limits with time.
Technology-based skills are much-needed for entertainment, school, and later, work. The future holds careers that require kids to understand and manipulate gadgets and media efficiently. Kids using the internet have a head start. As parents, we need to develop trust and appreciation for our children for their career-oriented attributes.
The 2-Minute Action Plan for Fine Parents
For our quick-contemplation action today, answer these questions honestly:
- What are your biggest fears related to your child’s online activity?
- What are the topics on safe online behavior you need to discuss with your child?
- How can you respond positively to your child’s requests to play games online?
The Ongoing Action Plan for Fine Parents
In COVID times, technologic innovation is speeding up faster than a bullet train. Commit to replacing fear with information. Here’s how you can do that in the long term:
- Hop on the tech train and keep pace with what’s happening so you can guide your children without fear and negativity. Educate yourself by talking to other parents, reading expert opinions, and by looking up reviews on popular apps.
- Your child lives in a world where the lines between the real and virtual blur. Try to make a space for yourself in your child’s world by opening up frank discussions about your fears.
- Check with your child when you feel uncomfortable about something. Initiate conversations yourself and be proactive in your approach.
- Negotiate rules and limits with your child to make yourself feel okay about your child’s internet use. Explain why some online activities are off-limits.
- Most importantly, be open to getting convinced by your child as well. Our children are changing with technology and it’s time we did as well.