Most adults under-parent their child when it comes to technology. There’s no bad intention, it’s just that when you were in middle school, you had Garbage Pail Kids cards in your pocket, and your child will likely leave middle school with a device that contains the whole world in their pocket. When a student comes of age, oftentimes you will have a "birds and bees" discussion. When your student get's their first device, it is also time for a discussion.
Your Child’s Device
Whether it’s your hand me down cell phone, a school-issued laptop, or a tablet gifted from Gramma, what should you do before you hand a child their first internet enabled device? Surely you’ve thought long and hard about what device to give your child, and when to give it to them. I can’t help you there; that decision is personal and only you are the world’s leading authority on your child and their needs. But when you do decide to pull the trigger, you should treat it as seriously as their first car, and have a long conversation about it’s use. Ask them about appropriate and inappropriate ways to use the device (this is a good place to start). Lay down conditions on the device depending on the trust level with your child:
Common sense measures (for children who you trust to be responsible with a device):
- No technology at the dinner table
- Establish the device as a privilege that is earned by responsible use or else taken away
Additional measures (for children who could be mischievous with a device)
- Requiring the device to always be used out of the bedroom, in a public space
- Requiring the device to be returned to the parent by or before bedtime
Serious measures (for children at risk of doing harm to themself or others with a device)
- Requiring the device to always be used in public spaces, with the screen pointed away from the wall, while a parent is home.
- The device is inaccessible when the child is not doing homework
The parental controls listed above are not digital, which are manageable for any parent regardless of their technical knowledge. That said, you may still want digital controls. It’s very straightforward to turn on parental controls on an iPhone. You can also use your personal iCloud account on your child’s phone so you see all their texts and apps. It’s also straightforward to turn on Safesearch in the Chrome browser. In serious cases you may feel the need to install spyware on their devices. Be advised that even if you have the time and technical skill to implement digital controls, it’s very possible your child can defeat them.
How Your Child Uses Their Device
Congratulations!. You’ve had an in-depth discussion about proper use prior to issuing their first device. Now what?
At Lowell we use the Common Sense Media framework to teach digital citizenship. It concretizes the concept by breaking it down into eight discrete categories. If you don’t feel like reading all the parent resources on the website, here is the Reader’s Digest version:
Internet Safety: Children should give out no information that discloses identity or location (phone number, school name, etc). Most real life safety rules (like stranger danger) can be applied online. All social media should be set to private viewing (not viewable by strangers). Know that digital addiction is every bit as real as gambling addiction (but be careful about limiting screen time… Mark Zuckerberg did not have limits on his screen time for good reason)
Relationships and Communication: Learn social media. Make a Snapchat account and understand what your child is doing. Create an Instagram account and follow your child. Require that all friends on social media must be friends in real life. Enforce this by regularly reviewing their friends/followers and questioning them on names you don’t recognize.
Cyberbullying: Discuss with your child the dangers of cyberbullying. Why is it more common than physical bullying? (It’s easier to do from a distance when you don’t see their hurt; it can be done anonymously). What should you do if you feel bullied? (Don’t engage, tell an adult)
Self Image and Identity: It will be tempting for your child to experiment with identity online because it seems lower risk than doing so in real life. See “Digital Footprint” below. Talk about how sexting is not an expression of identity.
Privacy and Security: Know the password of all of your child’s social media accounts. Reassure them that you will not use them without notification unless it’s their well-being is threatened. They should never, ever, give any password to anyone but you.
Digital Footprint and Reputation: Talk about the “Newspaper Rule”: never post anything online (this includes emails that your write) that you don’t want to see on the cover of the newspaper. This includes private posts on social media (which get cut, pasted, and published by frenemies) and even text messages with trusted family members (phones get hacked).
Information Literacy: When you were a kid, you got answers from the library, and everything there was basically true. This website is a good way to introduce young children to the reality that not everything on the internet is true. For older children, talk about the nuances between FOX and MSNBC. Don’t be that parent who thinks that Wikipedia is anything less than one of the most important websites ever.
Creative Credit and Copyright: Tell your child to buy their music and movies. It’s easy to steal it; don’t do it just because you can.
And when things go wrong (and they probably will) try to see it as a teachable moment (realizing that students will likely make mistakes in the virtual world no more often than they would in the real world). Good luck, and let’s be careful out there.