Technology will only become more fundamental to our society as time goes on. Children are exposed to it from the moment they are born and will eventually need devices of their own. It’s your choice as a parent how to navigate technology exposure in a way that promotes a healthy relationship. Here are a few smart ways for you to start your child’s tech journey while keeping them safe over time.
1. Get Them a Child-Safe Device
Children these days are receiving their first personal devices at a younger and younger age. This is not necessarily a bad thing in general, but unrestricted access can expose them to harmful habits and content. Instead of buying them a new Apple or Samsung product, consider a more affordable and parentally-controlled investment. This way, they can start off with healthy restrictions and learn to use devices safely before graduating to adult ones.
There are plenty of kid-safe devices out there — such as a smartphone or a kids watch. These devices generally limit or prohibit internet access while allowing the user to text and call approved contacts. They also tend to make many or all games unavailable in order to prevent distraction. Therefore there is no risk of exposure to unsafe content, and your child won’t be distracted from important experiences.
- Start With Communal Devices
It may be preferable for you to introduce your children to technology in a familial context first. You can purchase a desktop computer for the family room or teach them how to use the television, for example. This means that, instead of the immediate increased freedom of a personal device, your children explore a shared one first. It’s a great way to naturally introduce a sense of responsibility in a non-overbearing manner.
Family-wide devices also provide the opportunity to bond over shared entertainment like television shows and online games. They tend to have larger screens designed for more viewers than personal devices and are easier to share. Parental controls are also easier to enact on a single family-wide device to keep everyone safe at the same time. Later down the line, it’ll be easier for your children to stick to safety practices they are already familiar with.
- Set Technology Rules
Right from the get-go, set some ground rules for the technology at your child’s disposal. The goal is to establish a foundation for your child’s device activity. If they aren’t allowed to be online during school hours, for instance, it can positively influence their relationship with technology at large. It’ll be easier for them to separate work from play when they know they need to.
At-home use is just as integral to this separation; try restricting them to certain websites or apps during homework sessions. The internet is infinitely useful and should not be outright banned. This allows your child to explore the educational resources available to them without getting too easily distracted. But it does make sense to disallow technology at other times when it is completely unnecessary, like before bed.
- Discuss Online Safety With Them
While setting rules, explain your reasoning behind them. If you help them understand your purpose and why rules exist, they’re more likely to abide by them. Additionally, this is a good time to begin a conversation about online safety in general and good practices to follow. What kinds of dangers should they be wary of, and how will they know whether they can trust certain sites?
Relevant topics include gathering accurate information from multiple sources, navigating pop-up advertisements, and scanning for viruses. Introduce them to communications like email and text and explain why they’d use it and what information to keep private. Finally, teach your child how to report activity that makes them feel unsafe or seems inappropriate. Let them know that they can always come to you if something happens or if they need help.
- Build Mutual Trust
All of this aside, remember that your child also needs independence and being too strict won’t prevent bad experiences. For your guidance to stick, demanding obedience isn’t enough. You need to trust them and show they can trust you. Set hours for them to use their devices, but don’t look over their shoulder during that time. You want to create a safe environment outside of their devices as well as within.
It’s better to err on the side of your child’s privacy, so they can learn through personal experience. Once they feel independent they’ll begin acting independently and following rules more autonomously. This is especially the case if they’ve already experienced the consequences of not following them firsthand. If you’ve successfully built mutual trust, they’ll likely have asked for help and you’ll likely have given it.
How you introduce your child to technology is ultimately up to you and them. You may have certain desires about how you want to raise them, or they may have needs that require technology. Regardless, take these ideas as suggestions. That way you can be sure they’re ready for some technological autonomy when the time comes to provide it.