How many gadgets and connected devices are currently wrapped under your tree or secreted away in some hiding spot far from prying eyes? You likely spent months researching, vetting, shopping, and budgeting for those treasures. But, how much time have you put into thinking about managing kids tech?
I’ve been in this parenting game for a while now. When my oldest first started asking for tech gifts, I think an iPod shuffle topped his wish list. Yes, I’m THAT old.
This year my youngest asked for a smartphone that costs more than a few car payments. With two kids still at home and one in college all wanting tech that I’m responsible for researching, vetting, and budgeting for, managing my kids’ tech has become a big part of this parenting gig for my husband and me.
Oddly enough there isn’t a really big difference between how the 20-year-old and the 12-year-old use technology. Yes, they all want the latest and greatest phone. Gaming is big, YouTube is bigger. Then there is school. While the conent is varied the platforms aren’t so much.
My two middle schoolers are lucky to attend a school that has fully integrated tech using tools like Google classroom, Chromebooks, and a cutting-edge tech lab. The college student takes a number of her labs online. We travel quite a bit so the tech comes along there. Then they’ve got their earned screentime. In our family technology is a part of just about everything we do.
So, how do my husband and I manage kids technology when there is so much to manage? We have four rules.
Rule 1: Talk About It
As the saying goes… with great power comes great responsibility. Talking to our kids about the responsibility of using tech is huge. We openly talk about how one should conduct themselves online. What any of us, child or not, does online, lives online. It is important that the kids know that.
We do a have some disconnect when it comes to what is appropriate in our book and what they think they’re ready for. When those impasses come, I have been known to pull the parent card. Yes, parents are and should be the final authority. As I tell our kiddos; until you pay the bill I make the rules.
Rule 2: Respect The Tech
Respect the tech, it’s kind of my tagline. Taglines are kind of my thing. I employ them as a means of getting my point across. Plus, they’ve got the added bonus of annoying the crap out of my kids. It’s like that one ad that gets under your skin, you don’t forget it because it gets you! The goal with this particular tagline is that our kids respect not just the value of their devices but the privilege that they have in owning and using them.
We’ve invested in insurance for each one of their devices. If they break one (like my 14-year-old who is on his 4th phone!) they have to help pay the deductible for getting that item repaired or replaced. They don’t call it paying respect for nothin’, my friends!
Rule 3: Not Everyone Is Your Friend
Oh boy, that is a hard one. When I was a kid it was easier to know who your friends were. You went to school with them, hung out after school, spent time in their physical presence.
In this digital world, it isn’t easy to really know someone and apps like Mama Bear (which is installed on all of their devices) can’t do the job all by themselves. Part of managing kid’s tech these days means helping them to be savvy about who they meet online.
One of our biggest bones of contention is getting the kids to understand what YouTubers and Instagramers actually are -professional content creators. That’s not a bad thing, but we want the kids to know that content is curated.
Most importantly though, we want them to know that we’re here for them. That they need to talk to us about their online lives because that is life too. This topic often brings us back to Rule 1.
Rule 4: Unplug
This rule is probably the hardest for me. I admittedly have a problem unplugging. For a while, I would tell myself that I needed my phone or DSLR along for the hike, trip, play, fill in the blank with whatever was going on that day because I was recording and chronicling our experiences as a family. What I was actually doing was missing out on them. My kids were behind the creation of this rule. They did it for and because of me. Of course, I now get to wield it over them as well. I may have just won parenting right there.
Here is the thing, unplugging is vital for their mental and physical health. Being away from technology helps to develop social and problem-solving skills. Thinking about the long road trips my family took when I was a kid when all we had to do was talk to, play with, and yes, fight with each other, those are some of my best memories of my childhood. They helped shape so much of who I am. I fear my kids may miss out on that.
In the big picture, this rule may be the most important rule for managing kid’s tech… know when to take it away.
As a brand partner of Verizon, through their VZParent initiative, I’m happy that I’ve learned that there are a ton of tools out there to help parents manage family technology across all age groups. Learning about their unlimited data plans for families may have saved our home… hello, FOUR KIDS USING DATA! But the resources don’t stop at customizable data plans.
Family Locator is a great tool. The two kiddos we still have at home are involved in sports, spending time with friends and seem to never be where they say they’ll be when you agreed to be there to get them! This nifty Verizon feature allows literally see where they are on the map. It also helps us to schedule by reminding us where we need to be for all those activities that keep my husband and me constantly on the go.
Our kids are older now. One is even fully grown… chronologically speaking. The days of wondering when they’re ready for a phone, what type of tech is good for their age range are behind us. But, Verizon Family has some great tools for helping parents with younger kids answer those big questions. With that in mind, I had to share this great video featuring the adorable kids of one of my fellow VZParents. If you have littles, you’ll relate to this!
If you have questions about managing kid’s tech, reach out. Leave a comment, search #VZParent on any social media platform. Let’s use tech to support each other because this parenting gig is tough and who couldn’t use some help?