7 Essential Rules for New Tech to Safeguard Your Child
Unwrapping a shiny new tech device is a moment of pure joy for a child. Witnessing that excitement can be a lot of fun for parents, too! While everyone is still feeling grateful and excited, now’s the time to strike while the iron is hot and establish some clear tech use rules. These rules will not only shape responsible tech habits, but also ensure a safe and enjoyable digital journey for your child.
One way to simplify tech rules is by giving the gift of access instead of a personal device. KJ Dell’Antonia, a parenting blogger for the New York Times, proposed a family iPad, allowing children to navigate online platforms gradually and address internet safety concerns without creating their own isolated online space too early.
DYM Brain and Body Safety Challenge #12:
Plan out rules and consequences for tech gifts
The best time to think through the rules is before kids have unwrapped the ribbons, shouted for joy and headed off to play! Whether the new device is a personal one or a shared family device, here are 7 good rules to consider.
1. Devices are not allowed to go to bed with kids at night - they get recharged at the parents’ bedside
Many studies show that devices in the bedroom interfere with sleep. The following are a few reasons to prohibit devices in bedrooms:
- Poorer mental health. Lack of sleep has been linked to altered neurological development in adolescent brains, depressive symptoms, and suicidal thoughts and behaviors.
- Vicious sleep deprivation cycle. Tech at bedtime has a “bidirectional” effect where poor sleep leads to more bedtime media use, creating a vicious cycle.
- Porn and predators abound online. Allowing a device in a bedroom all night long gives predators access to your kids while you sleep. We advocate for never allowing personal devices behind closed doors, whether daytime or nighttime.
2. Establish how much time each day they can use the device
A favorite quote by Henry David Thoreau is, “The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.” Establishing screen time limits could look different for each family, so it’s helpful to consider how much life is being exchanged for time on a screen. Here are some suggestions on how to cultivate those limits for your family.
- The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends “considering the quality of interactions with digital media and not just the quantity.” Clearly kids need to do their schoolwork which is a high quality use of technology. Video games and social media use likely don’t rise to the same level of quality and should therefore be limited more.
- Decide a total limit of screen time for all devices. Clever kids like to circumvent limits by jumping from one device to the next, thinking their screen time resets because they are doing something different. Some kids and their friends even like to jump from one house to the next thinking a different mother won’t realize they burned through their screen time already at another house, so it’s important to put those parental controls to good use with time limits. Some tools like Circle or Netgear, allow for multiple devices to be listed under each profile so when the profile reaches the allotted time limit, the internet is blocked for any device on that profile.
- Better Screen Time and Screen Sanity are two websites with helpful resources for parents in the screen time battle. Parents can also use this tool to create a Family Media Plan.
3. Kids should put down the device the first time parents ask for attention
When parents ask for attention, the device should be put down immediately. This not only teaches children the importance of real-life interactions but also fosters a respectful and responsive attitude. This rule:
- Develops the habit of immediate response when parents ask for attention.
- Encourages face-to-face interactions to enhance your child’s communication skills.
- Strengthens your family bonds by minimizing distractions during shared activities.
- Reinforces that people are more important than screens.
4. Designate no-device zones and times
Working together, clearly outline areas and times where devices are not allowed. This promotes quality family time and ensures that certain activities remain screen-free. Here are a few examples:
- Enforce no-device zones during dinner, homework (aside from what's necessary to complete an assignment), face-to-face conversations, and in bedrooms.
- Create a tech-free atmosphere during specific family events, such as game night or outings, to enhance the experience.
- Reinforce the importance of genuine human connection in designated areas. For example, during family dinner, be sure that you set the example by putting your own phone away, and then engage in meaningful conversation with your kids. Narrating what you’re doing helps reinforce it, such as, “I am going to put my phone in the other room during dinner. I want to hear all about your day without the distraction of my phone.”
One mom shared her awesome approach to managing her two sons' love for video games. Her 6- and 9-year-olds get to dive into their favorite games for about an hour on set days: Mondays and Thursdays. By having fixed days for "video game time," there’s no constant begging to play outside of those times. Additionally, she enforces a rule that discussions about the games are off-limits during dinner, ensuring family conversations stay balanced, especially when guests are over.
5. Parents have access to passwords and regular checkups on the device
Having access to passwords ensures a proactive approach to children’s online activities and fosters an environment of trust. By staying involved in their online world, you're heightening their safety.
- Conduct regular, spontaneous check-ins on your child's device.
- Maintain an open dialogue with your child and continually discuss responsible digital behavior.
- By actively monitoring their devices, you're safeguarding them from potential risks and establishing an environment where they feel protected.
6. Inform a parent right away when inappropriate content is encountered on the device
It’s a matter of when, not if, kids will encounter explicit or inappropriate content on their new device including porn, bullying, sexting, and predators. It's essential to equip your child with a plan for when it happens so they don’t face this troubling exposure alone.
- Before activating the new device, download this free guide, How to Talk to Kids About Pornography. It will equip kids with 3 basic defenses when they encounter porn: a definition, a warning, and a plan.
- Our ebook My Kid Saw Porn—Now What? equips parents with strategies for staying calm when you find out your child has been exposed to porn.
7. Establish consequences for breaking the rules
Consequences for rule violations teaches responsibility. The following suggestions will encourage accountability.
- Implement a 24-hour loss of device access for rule violations.
- Allow kids to regain privileges through good behavior, extra chores, or service.
- Reinforce the cause-and-effect relationship between actions and consequences.
Enlist the help of Brain Defense
Every kid deserves to be taught digital defense skills!
Our popular Brain Defense: Digital Safety curriculum enlists the help of positive and fun teens in engaging videos that teach:
- Self-discipline with screen time to help kids 1) control time, 2) choose content, and 3) create balance between screens and in real life experiences.
- Safe habits to avoid digital dangers from porn, predators and bullies.
- Good digital citizen practices that teach kindness, integrity, and respect.
Praise kids when they follow rules
The best way to keep these rules strong and functioning is to praise kids when they follow them! Water what you want to grow - which is responsible and safe use of technology. To be really clear on kids’ responsibilities, you could download these cool safety gift cards from Family Online Safety Institute and wrap them up with the gift!
Empower your child with a safe tech journey
As you take this challenge, remember that you're not just crafting rules; you're shaping a safe tech journey for your child with their new device. By instilling responsibility, trust, and open communication, you're laying the foundation for a safe and enjoyable online environment.
Brain Defense: Digital Safety Curriculum - Family Edition
"Parents are desperate for concepts and language like this to help their children. They would benefit so much from this program - and I think it would spur much needed conversations between parents and children.” --Jenet Erikson, parent