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Oregon Family Magazine

Navigating the Digital World

12/29/2014 19:45 ● By Sandy Kauten
A few years ago I saw a comic where a mom welcomes her child home from the first day of kindergarten, and asks how it went. The child’s response went something like, “How do you think it went?  They didn’t even have Wi-Fi!

As someone who has been providing cyber education and awareness sessions for parents, teachers, and students for over a decade, I thought the comic was cute. Kids are definitely using technology at younger and younger ages these days!  The fact that kids are using technology at the earliest of ages really hit home for me during a continuing education session I conducted for elementary school teachers in Dallas, TX. I showed this comic on the overhead… when one of the teachers raised her hand, and proceeded to share a story with the audience describing how (earlier that year) one of her Pre-K students had asked her for the school Wi-Fi passcode!

So there you have it, our children have once again leaped ahead of society when it comes to technology; this time beating out my comic strip by an entire school year!

Today’s children are so technologically savvy that adults make the assumption they know more than they actually do when it comes to technology usage. Kids are often referred to as “Digital Natives”, and though they may be, they are also “Digital Naïves” as well.

As Digital Natives, kids today are born into a world full of technology, and socialized with technology in all aspects of their lives as they grow and develop. It is hard to find a toy today that doesn’t have an online or technology-linked component and it’s no longer good enough to get a simple toy with a happy meal; now there’s encouragement to register online to earn points, coins, or additional adventures that come WITH a hamburger, fries and a drink!

Just because a child has no fear when it comes to trying the latest technology (unlike some adults), this doesn’t mean they know enough to make appropriate decisions while using all the technology the world has to offer. Hence, they are also Digital Naïves.  It is our job as parents, with the support of schools and community organizations, to ensure our children are empowered with the right information to make smart decisions as they grow up with technology. As our children are born naïve on many, if not all, aspects of life we are responsible for morphing them from Digital Naïves into empowered digital citizens.

It all starts at home. Even before they can walk and talk they start mimicking the family that surrounds them. We teach are children to say “please” and “thank you” before they can talk with the hope that when they do start communicating in sentences, they will be polite members of our family and society. 

We need to do the same with technology.

How many times have you seen a family at a restaurant where everyone is staring into a glowing screen - and not communicating with the company they keep, who are within arm’s reach? Or the kids gazing at the glowing screen while mom and dad try to enjoy their dinner. Trying to find the right technology balance for our children is hard. It is also something our parents did not have to deal with, so advice from previous generations on childrearing with technology does not directly apply.

Based on all the research I’ve done on technology and its impact on our children as they develop into valued and contributing members of society, I started implementing Home Technology Rules in our home. Of course my wife was involved in the decision to implement the rules, and we both strive to enforce them as often as we can. At first glance, it may seem the home technology rules we implemented are arbitrary; but they are all based on research related to how technology impacts a developing child. Be warned, these are not the technology rules you may have seen in the past!

Home Technology Rules

  • Only use ONE screen at a time
  • Technology goes to bed at night in the charging drawer / area
  • When friends come over, all technology (including theirs!) goes in the charging drawer / area
  • NO technology at meal times
  • ALWAYS ask before downloading apps / games / etc
  • NO in-app / in-game purchases without permission
  • NO chatting / talking / video chatting / sending pictures / etc to people you do not know in real  life (physical world)
  • 30 minute technology limit (exceptions - movies, school work, etc)
  • User names must NOT have any personal information included
  • NO sharing personal / family private information (even with friends) - online / apps / games / etc
  • NO taking pictures / videos of private parts
  • ALWAYS ask before taking someone else's picture / video
  • ALWAYS ask if you can share pictures / videos of someone else with others before doing it
  • Do NOT over-share. People (even friends) do not need to know everything that you are doing
  • If you see something that seems strange / weird / or just are not sure what it is, ask Mom and / or Dad to explain it to you…we’re happy to!
  • ONLY post / share nice things (words / pics / etc)
  • Mom and / or Dad will ALWAYS know all of your passwords and check what you do to make sure you are safe.

These technology rules are posted in our home. We have reviewed them with our children. We hope they understand we are doing this for their benefit. Do you know which rule is the hardest for our family? Number 4: NO technology at mealtime.

With every ping, ding, buzz and flash we are all tempted to check on the latest happening of our friends and family who are not sitting with us at the moment. My wife and I agreed we would put our phones away during mealtime AND remind each other to stop if we slip and start to check our devices. We have also learned, it’s easier if devices are not within arms reach of anyone during mealtime. The distance helps fight the temptation to check, post, and/or respond to happenings outside of our home.

The next hardest item on the list of home technology rules is number 8: 30 minute technology limit (exceptions - movies, school work, etc). To clarify, the time limitation is not for a day, it is for a given activity. The exception for the rule comes into play when research is required, homework is done using technology, and it is movie time.

It is all too easy for parents to use technology as a digital babysitter, but we need to work on having our children experience varied aspects of life without staring into a glowing screen. The best way for us to teach our children how to integrate technology into their lives is by modeling what we expect of them. So find some time in your day to put down the technology, look your child in the eye, tell them you love them and give them a big hug. No technology can do that.

 Ben Halpert is President of Savvy Cyber Kids, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization he founded to provide cyber awareness resources for parents and teachers for children starting at 3 years old. Ben has written and continues to expand The Savvy Cyber Kids at Home series of books that include The Family Gets a Computer, The Defeat of the Cyber Bully, and Adventures Beyond the Screen. Ben has the most fun when he is invited to schools to educate students, teachers, and parents on how to bring cyber ethics to all aspects of our digital lives.  You can download the free Home Technology Rules and other resources at