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You are hereHome › Kids and Technology: Promoting Safety and Wellness
Kids and Technology: Promoting Safety and Wellness
Kids and Technology: Promoting Safety and Wellness
In this time of rapidly developing technology, it’s challenging for parents to stay current and informed about how to help their children have a positive experience with computers, cellphones, social media and other 21st century communication tools.
Many parents have a difficult time walking the fine line between encouraging their children’s use of technology (for learning, development and positive social interaction) and protecting them (from online predators, cyberbullying and developing addictive or compulsive behaviors with technology).
But there is a happy medium that lies between allowing kids full access to technology with no supervision and overprotection to the point that they’re alienated them from positive social and learning opportunities. Based on my experience as a therapist, I recommend that parents understand exactly how children use technology in order to know how to set appropriate limits.
How do kids use technology to communicate?
- Texting or chatting through social media sites, online forums and games
- Video chatting through sites like FaceTime and Skype
- Social media postings (text, photos and video) via sites such as Facebook and Twitter
At what age does it begin?
There is a range of ages when kids begin to use various forms of technology, because parents have different financial capabilities, comfort levels and values. These differences can cause social challenges for kids if their friends have access to these things and they do not. Peer pressure can drive children to find the means to access this technology behind parents’ backs, and to use it without supervision. When deciding on limits and guidelines for their children, parents need to consider the children's maturity and ask if they can follow the guidelines, be responsible for the device and handle the possible distraction.
VerizonWirelessandParenting.com conducted a survey in 2011 asking 519 parents with children between ages 6 and 17 at what age they did or would give their children cellphones. About 10 percent chose the age range of 7 to 9; 32 percent opted for ages 10 to 12; and nearly 40 percent said they wouldn’t give their child a cellphone until age 13 to 15.
In my practice, many parents report giving children as young as 4 or 5 years old an iPod Touch or similar device, which gives them access to the Internet, email, video chatting, free calling through Skype and texting through apps like TextNow. However, many social media sites have an age restriction (for instance, Facebook users must be at least 13).
What are the benefits to a child having a cellphone or device with Internet access?
- Being able to reach your child
- Knowing where your child is via a GPS tracking device
- Helping your child learn through educational applications
- Providing social inclusion in a technological age
What are the safety concerns?
- Vulnerability to predators on the Internet
- Access to inappropriate content on the Internet
- Susceptibility to cyberbullying
- The possibility your child could share inappropriate content via text, photo or video
How can you keep your child safe?
- Block access to sites and applications such as YouTube, Safari and iTunes. IOS devices (iPhone and iPad) have a restrictions configuration page in Settings -> General -> Restrictions. The following apps can be disabled: Safari, YouTube, Camera, FaceTime, iTunes, Ping, Installing Apps and Deleting Apps. On this page you can also adjust the allowed content.
- If you have an Android device, you can install a free app called Android Parental Control that functions in similar ways to the iPhone restrictions page mentioned above.
- Use a parental control app to block pornography.
- Restrict your child’s contacts (email, text and social media) to family members and friends whose parents you know.
- Use services such as AT&T’s Smart Limits or Verizon’s Usage Controls to set limits on minutes, restrict time-of-day use and even dictate who the child can call or text.
- Request that your carrier block content or prevent a child from texting photos.
- Use your Wi-Fi settings to disable Internet service to certain devices after 9 p.m. The ability to do this depends on your Wi-Fi router (Cisco, Linksys, Netgear, Belkin and ASUS are common brands). Check your router’s configuration settings, read the manual or call the company’s customer service department for help. If your router doesn’t offer the services, look into purchasing one that does.
- Block inappropriate sites with a firewall. Again, some routers have firewall services that can be enabled to block inappropriate content.
- Set up your children’s email account on your own devices so you can monitor their content and conversations.
What are the social concerns?
- Communication problems such as misunderstood messages
How can you combat these concerns?
Start by educating your child about appropriate communication via technology, and set the following boundaries:
- When they can use it—for instance, not during school hours or after 8 p.m., and not during family gatherings or play dates when they should be relating face to face rather than through technology.
- How often they can use it. I recommend less than two hours a day to discourage development of addictive/compulsive behaviors.
- Where they can use it—for instance, not during school or events related to school, religious events or athletic practices or games.
In my experience, the most important thing you can do to promote safety and wellness in your children’s use of technology is to talk to them about it. Explain the pros and cons of technology, on a level that is developmentally appropriate for them. Be clear about the rules and the consequences for breaking them. Then trust your child to be responsible.
It’s also important to follow through with established consequences if your child breaks the rules. View your child’s mistakes as learning opportunities, and keep the dialogue going. Parents need to provide roots but also wings: Educate and set parameters, but allow your kids the freedom to learn and grow.
By: Joyce Marter
Joyce is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor (LCPC) and owner of Urban Balance, an insurance-friendly counseling practice with over 40 therapists and five locations in Chicagoland. She was selected by Crain's Chicago Business for the "40 Under 40" list of 2010. Marter received her Masters Degree in Counseling Psychology from Northwestern University and was awarded Distinguished Alumni of the Year in 2008. She currently serves as the Vice President of the Board of the Illinois Mental Health Counselors Association. Marter has been consulted as a psychological expert on television, radio and in publications such as The Wall Street Journal and U.S. News.
March 15th, 2012