By Bev and Phil Haas
Our 6-year-old has grown up with mobile devices like the iPad and iPod. We’re amazed by how adept he is with them. Recently we learned that he sent a birthday voice text to his grandpa with his iPod—then he taught us how! We’re wondering how we as parents can help our kids get the very best from this amazing media, while protecting them from the worst.
Today’s technology is amazing, but the potential risks are real. Your children may stumble upon disturbing information or images, or they may innocently accept files that could expose your family to Internet thieves or computer viruses. Even worse, your children may unknowingly communicate with a child predator. We’ve gleaned some common sense tips from parents and experts that we hope will point you toward your goal of allowing your kids to access the best of media technology while protecting them from the worst.
Don’t Pull the Plug
Children’s access to mobile devices is rising dramatic-ally—72 percent of children age 8 and under have used a mobile device for some type of media activity, such as playing games, watching videos, or using apps. Among families with children age 8 and under, there has been a five-fold increase in ownership of devices such as iPads in the past two years alone, while the average time children spend using mobile devices has tripled.
Learning with technology has opened up a new world of discovery for kids. And as they access information in novel ways, kids are preparing for life in an interconnected world. However, when you consider the dark side of technology, you may be tempted to sell that tablet or to pull the plug on your child’s access. But experts say that banishing technology and the Internet from your home is not the answer. Your children will have access to computers and media devices in many places other than home. They need guidance on how to use these devices responsibly. Our suggestion is to talk with your kids and set acceptable limits.
Talk with Your Child
Kids learn best with small lessons over time as opposed to one big sit-down talk. Looking for teachable moments when your kids are using a mobile device or computer will have much more staying power than talking about the issue out of the blue.
In the course of an everyday conversation, ask about what they are doing on their mobile device or computer. Start positive and ask what fun are they having, what are their favorite apps, what are they learning? Also give them an opportunity to talk with you about anything that might be upsetting or scary. New games and apps appear every day, which makes it difficult for parents to keep up. So it’s important to keep an ongoing dialogue with your children.
Media technology is fun and entertaining, so it can easily become so compulsive that it seems more important than everything else in life. Kids today are spending an average of seven hours a day on all forms of media. Studies have shown that excessive media use can lead to attention problems, school difficulties, sleep and eating disorders, and obesity. With this in mind limit your child’s use and access.
Set time limits. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that kids under age 2 should have no screen time and that kids older than 2 should have no more than 1 to 2 hours a day. Our daughter limits our 7-year-old grandson to one hour a day.
Monitor their content. Yes, parents can and should check out what their children are seeing and doing in the virtual world. We recommend that you let your kids know that you will be monitoring their devices and computers. That way it’s no secret that you will check up on them to see how and what they are doing. One of the mistakes parents make is to stop monitoring their kids too soon. Sometimes we forget that our heavenly Father sees and knows everything. “‘Am I only a God nearby,’ declares the Lord, ‘and not a God far away? Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them?’ declares the Lord. ‘Do not I fill heaven and earth?’ declares the Lord” (Jeremiah 23:23, 24).
Consider what’s age appropriate. Finally, keep in mind that what’s OK for age 16 isn’t OK for age 6. If your child complains about your limits, explain what your values are and why you are sticking to them.
Bev and Phil Haas are involved in education and family ministry in Cincinnati, Ohio. They have two children and two grandsons. Send your questions about family life to Bev and Phil Haas in care of The Lookout (firstname.lastname@example.org). We regret that personal replies are not always possible.