Each day, more and more of our daily activities are digitized. A few years ago, my Mom wrote her grocery list on the fridge; now she uses her phone. When I was a teenager, I studied for the SAT using flashcards; now my 17-year-old sister uses SAT websites, iPad games and YouTube videos. My grandma was the queen of scrapbooking with scissors and glue, but recently she sent me an invite to Pinterest to view her latest scrapbooking collections!
Technology seems to be both a blessing and a curse. It streamlines our life and makes things easier, while also challenging the status quo with unknown results. I love being able to communicate with my friends on Facebook, but I am also completely addicted to checking it for updates. So much so that even when I am out with friends, I can't stop checking my feeds. So, below I have outlined a few things parents can do to leverage the benefits and avoid the downsides of raising children in a digital age:
1. Make More Black and White, Less Gray
Devices are creeping into every area of our lives. For kids, this can be especially confusing. Many teens we talk to are not quite sure about the technology rules in their homes. They say things like, "Sometimes I can have my cell phone during dinner, it depends on my Mom's mood." Or "If I don't have a lot of homework I might be able to check Facebook on week nights." It is important for parents to make clear rules for technology. This helps kids appreciate time they get playing on the computer or on video games instead of taking it for granted. It also makes sure they have adequate time dedicated to outdoor, offline activities. For example, in my house the dining room is a technology-free zone. So, we have to drop our phones in a basket outside the dining room. This lets us know that we have to have dinner and actually talk to each other instead of texting with our friends -- a lifelong lesson that has served me well!
2. Make Technology About More Than Just Play
YouTube, Facebook and Xbox can all be very entertaining, but not always so great for developing minds. Encourage kids to use technology for more than just play. Or, better yet, combine play and learning. There are some wonderful learning games online like FreeRice.com. When your child doesn't know a word or what something is, have them look it up on their computer. Encourage them to watch interesting lectures or get homework help on YouTube. This way, they get the benefits of technology and take advantage of the many learning opportunities technology offers.
3. Have Ongoing Discussions
Technology is changing so rapidly, you feels like you are constantly having the "Internet Talk" about the dangers, benefits and issues that come up. Get in the habit of having dinnertime discussions about the latest technology trends, issues that come up because of devices and get your child's thoughts on the digital age. You would be shocked to hear what kids themselves think about the latest websites. Here are some questions to get you started with your kids:
• What is the best and worst thing about technology?
• Do you think you could go without your computer or phone for one week? Why would it be hard or easy?
• Has Facebook changed friendship? How?
• Do you think you communicate more or less with texting? Talking on the phone? In person?
• What is the latest technology trend?
• Is being online safe or dangerous? Can it be both?
Talking about these issues with your family helps parents gauge their child's opinions, maturity and possibly misconceptions about safety and communication. The most important aspect of parenting in a digital world is keeping communication open both offline and online. Be your child's Facebook friend, talk to them about Facebook, send them a text to check-in before curfew and talk about curfew. Luckily, technology gives us more tools to connect with our children, not less.