Parenting in the age of electronic devices is new and uncharted territory for many of us. Our teen-aged daughters saved their money and paid for half the cost of their iPad Minis a few years ago. Because owning devices was new at the time, I was naïve as to what could go wrong or what parameters I should set up.
After the fact it was very difficult to backtrack and take away electronic privileges. If I could do it again, I would set up the following standards and constraints from the very beginning.
- Establish dual ownership. When our girls got their devices, we didn’t really set up expectations of when we could access them or how we could monitor the way they used them. When we finally recognized that we needed access to the devices, the girls were very resistant and protective. We should have explained from the beginning that we have part ownership of the devices and that our supervision would continue until they are adults.
- Have “break” times. During the first few months that our girls had their devices, we began to see that if they had spare time or were bored, they automatically went to their devices. We quickly realized that we needed to impose a break time to help them engage with the family more and find other ways to entertain themselves. We started taking their devices for an hour once a week, and we soon saw the benefits of this. The break helped them to understand the pull the device has on them and let them see the real world for a while.
- Sequester devices when guests come over. I had an epiphany about this during our family reunion this summer. The girls were excited to see their cousins and aunts and uncles, but they wanted their devices right next to them. If a conversation was boring to them, they would check their updates. I realized that if we all put our devices away while we were spending time with family or friends, we could avoid the temptation to check them. One way to do this is to put everyone’s phones (including adults’!) into a basket. I want my girls to be in the habit of focusing on people instead of their electronics. One side note: I wouldn’t necessarily make this rule for when their friends come over—devices are a big part of friendships these days.
- Think through and approve each app. Just because a certain app comes on the device doesn’t mean it has my approval. I found out that many of the pre-loaded apps can be removed. I set up their devices so I had an alert when they downloaded any new app. This makes it so I can examine what apps the girls are using and approve of any future apps. Different parents will have different ideas regarding which apps are appropriate, but it’s much easier to prohibit an app before teens start using it.
- Keep an eye on whom they follow on social media. This one really took me by surprise. I learned it is essential that I know which accounts my girls follow not only because of possibly inappropriate content, but also because of the frequency of the posts from certain groups. For instance, my older daughter is interested in human rights, but some groups she followed post 3–4 times a day, overwhelming her with propaganda and sometimes disturbing images.
Another instance where I realized I needed to pay closer attention came when I found out that my daughter was following a popular fashion magazine on Instagram, seeing and learning some inappropriate things. I have very strong feelings about the dangers of fashion magazines (air brushing, body image distortion, adult content, etc.) and the possible effects on my daughters. It dawned on me that through Instagram and similar social media, you can have access to any magazine, group, or product imaginable. I needed to be aware of which ones my daughter was subscribing to. I definitely control what print media comes in my home, but I was not controlling the digital media reaching my daughters.
- Limit how many people or groups they can follow. Reviewing my daughters’ apps also showed me that the more people (or groups) they follow, the longer it takes them to “keep up” with everyone. It takes a lot longer to go through your feed if you follow 100 accounts rather than 50. I put a limit on how many they were allowed to follow, thus decreasing the time it would take them to stay up-to-date. This is much harder to do after the fact, asking them to give up some of the accounts they already like.
Over the years I have learned a lot about monitoring my children’s use of devices. If I had set up the necessary parameters early on we could have avoided some frustrations and problems. Preemptive strategies like these are what deliberate motherhood is all about. Instead of letting the tides of social trends and technology control us, we can decide upfront if and how we will participate.
QUESTION: What restrictions have you implemented with your teens’ device use and how have your teens responded?
CHALLENGE: Go through your child’s Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook account to review who they are following.
Edited by Sarah Monson & Becky Fawcett.
Image from Shutterstock; graphics by Julie Finlayson.
Originally published on August 8, 2016.
Thank you! These are great tips! We are approaching the idea of getting our oldest his first phone and so this is so timely
Have you had an open discussion about pornography with your kids? If so, how did you approach it and how did you discuss it? It’s everywhere and kids can assess it even by accident.
Lisa Hoelzer says
Lilly, I’m glad you brought that up because pornography is obviously one of the biggest problems with kids and electronics. It’s a huge topic, though, and there are other articles on Power of Moms that deal directly with that. Just search it in the search bar. Thanks!
I have signed up for emails from Protect Young Minds and Porn Proof Kids. They email so many great ideas and resources!
Great article! We just gave our oldest her first phone and have been scrambling to know what parameters to set up. I really appreciate you sharing your experiences.
This is so great!! We aren’t there yet but I am learning that I do need these ideas first, and to be prepared. I’m forwarding this to my husband so we can discuss… Thank you for writing this!!
This is all great info that I never would of thought of. My daughter is only 5 but I suspect that in a blink of an eye, she will be a teen. She has a tablet and I think it might be beneficial to introduce device boundaries now before the teen hormones kick in. Do you have any advice for what boundaries that I could start off with now?
Lisa Hoelzer says
It’s good to be thinking about these issues now because time does go quickly! A young child is a little different though, because you have more control over her in general. In my opinion, the device should be given and taken back according to when you want her to have it. Also, now’s a good time to set up parental controls and a wifi blocker, and be aware of what she is doing when she uses it. It’s definitely complicated!
This is a really helpful article- how do you set up ones device to alert you to a new app on your child’s device?
Lisa Hoelzer says
It depends on what brand of device and what carrier, if it’s a phone. With Apple, if the device is on your (the parent’s) Apple ID then there’s a setting to either alert you or download it to your device, also. Hope that helps!
Great Article! I learned last night about ghost apps, I had heard about them but didn’t really know about them but it something every parent should learn about! One of the big rules that we have with our daughter when she got her phone was using a charging station that’s in our room. The phone has a curfew and is to be plug into our room. That way she’s not on the phone, social media or internet late closed in her room and she knows we have access at anytime.
Thank you. We struggle with this issue. It feels like my 12 yo son is addicted to his devices (kindle tablet, ps vita, PlayStation 3). I feel it is such a waste of time to spend gaming. We do limit his time to 2 hrs per day, but he tries to sneak on. But if I’m honest, I think I struggle with internet addiction myself.
Becky Edwards says
Great article! I think many of us parents have been blindsided by how addicting and dangerous electronic devices are to our children, and you’ve done a nice job of creating more awareness.
Thank you for these practical tips! It is always easier to limit first then allow more when kids become more responsible. I also feel like it is important to balance so much technology with other options for free time. I love the idea of everyone putting devices away for certain periods of time. Thank you!
Nicole Taylor says
I especially like the limiting who they follow idea. That’s something that hadn’t even occurred to me.
Thanks for sharing your wisdom.
Julie Louisson says
Thank you for these great ideas. I have recently read “Teen Brain” by David Gillespie which explains why its so CRUCIAL for us to monitor and place boundaries around use of screens.