I get it. Technology can be scary, especially if you don’t understand it very well. I hear it all the time at work “You must think I’m SO DUMB” when the person I’m talking to hasn’t been able to fix their own issue or is having a problem figuring something out. My response is always the same, “If you knew everything I know, then I wouldn’t have a job!”
For some reason, people think that because technology is SO prevalent, and they have to use it constantly for many aspects of their lives, they should also be experts in technology. Obviously, not everyone can be a tech expert. In fact, please don’t. I like my job.
Even though everyone in the world will not be an expert in technology, they CAN learn what the need to know to keep their children and their families safe from the dangers that exist with technology. It really doesn’t have to be scary with a little bit of knowledge.
For example, I’m terrified of needles and driving. Those are the two things that give me anxiety when I have to encounter them on a regular basis. I’m not going to be able to avoid driving, I don’t live in NYC. I’m also not able to avoid needles, as I have a disease that requires a 3-hour IV infusion of medication every 8 weeks to keep me healthy. I am unable to stick my head in the sand and pretend these things don’t exist since I still very much need them both.
What do we tell our children when they are scared as they are going to bed at night? We have them look with us under the bed, we show them what is in the closet, and we can prove that nothing in their room is going to attack them. With a little bit of knowledge and hand-holding, they can drift off to sleep happily.
The same can be applied to technology. Just like with my fear of driving and needles, you cannot avoid interacting with technology. Sticking your head in the sand and saying you won’t give your child a device until they are 18 isn’t going to make the technology go away. It is only going to make your teen severely behind the curve from the rest of their peers.
There are some people that will tell you exactly what you want to hear… Smartphones and social media are the entire reason for the decline in our society. Fear-mongering like this drives me absolutely insane. No, the technology itself isn’t to blame. It is parents who don’t take the time to learn about the devices or games they are allowing their children to play. Even a little bit of knowledge can go a long way with technology.
Following my 4 step process will help you figure out just about any device that comes into your home.
- Learn – Take the time to learn everything you can about the device or app. Read blog posts on it, read reviews, read the instructions or users manual. Soak up every bit of knowledge about the technology like you would a disease your child has just been diagnosed with!
- Try – Once you’ve read everything you can find, try it out, play the game, look through all of the settings. If your child is asking for a new app to download, install the app on your own phone and set up an account. If it’s a new game, play the game yourself! Open every single setting on the new phone so you know everything it can do.
- Monitor & Control – Now that you know everything about the new app, device, game, etc, put monitors or parental controls in place to help you understand what is going on with it. Some things won’t have specific parental controls, but you can layer on parental controls from other places. For example, a game itself may not have parental controls built-in, but the gaming system and your wifi network WILL have ways to control access to the game.
- Follow-Up – With the monitors in place, it’s important to check-in from time to time. Make sure the controls and monitors are working properly. Revisit restrictions from time to time as they grow up so you can be more lenient overtime to help give them tools to be able to monitor themselves. Following up involves MANY conversations with your child, especially when you encounter questionable things in your monitors. Help them learn the proper use of technology while you are still able to control it. Once they turn 18 or start buying their own devices, you won’t have power anymore, and you will have to hope you taught them well enough when you did have the power to control it.
Don’t listen to the fear mongers. Technology can be an amazing tool. We live in the future and we should take full advantage of that fact. So, arm yourself! Look under the bed, open the closet and learn all you can about the environment and you will be successful in this digital parenting game.
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Sarah Kimmel is a digital parenting coach and family tech expert. She has spent the last 16 years of her career as a Microsoft Certified IT Manager supporting over 100 small businesses. During that time she started Family Tech LLC to help families understand and manage the technology in their home. She has regularly appeared as a family tech expert on KSL News, BYUtv and Studio 5, and has been invited all over the world from tech companies like Lenovo, Verizon, Microsoft, Dell, and Samsung. Find out more on her website SarahKimmel.com