Gosh I love December. The kids are on school holidays, the homework has finished and work is quietening down. Bliss really. Finally a little time to breathe.
But what are your kids up to? Are they outside playing cricket, riding bikes or making cubby houses? Or are they inside, glued to their devices?
When I was young, school holidays were all about play. Concerts, dress ups, riding bikes… oh the good old days! But to this generation of kids, play has a very different definition – and it usually involves a device.
I know countless parents who feel genuinely exasperated when it comes to their kids’ technology usage. They often feel that their households have been taken over by devices and they just don’t know how to get a handle on it. Many implement a super-strict technology diet which results in family tension – fabulous just on Christmas! Others choose the ‘all-you-can-eat’ buffet style approach as it all just seems too hard – not ideal either.
In years to come, I think we will be seen as a very conflicted generation of parents. On one hand we are frustrated that our kids are missing out on ‘real life’ non-digital experiences, but on the other we are aware that they are ‘digital natives’ growing up in internet-based world.
So, what do we do? How do we reconcile this tension that most of us are experiencing?
Here are my top tips for finding the middle ground and keeping it real. And relax – you can do this!
We all know the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. When told they shouldn’t eat the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, they couldn’t restrain themselves and indulged. Parenting expert Dr Justin Coulson from Happy Families believes that too many limits and restrictions can make the forbidden fruit (the internet) seem even more appealing and will actually increase its influence on your kids.
Please don’t misunderstand me – I am not encouraging an internet binge! Yes, we need rules and expectations but I believe heavily controlling and dictating your kids’ internet activity will not only create conflict but encourage sneaky und underhand behaviour.
Work Hard on Establishing Trust With Your Kids
A genuine level of trust between parents and kids can be transformational to all aspects of family life, not just technology. Now I totally appreciate that trusting your kids can be a leap of faith but it creates a far more constructive environment than a starting base of distrust. And while doing so, recognize they aren’t perfect. If something ‘less than ideal’ happens but an apology is shared and lessons are learnt, then please move on. If a contract isn’t for you, why not consider using parental control software to ‘formalize’ arrangements. Check out McAfee’s Total Protection software which has some handy parental control software – it might just help you breathe a little…
Consider a Technology Contract
Outlining your expectations for your kids when they are online can be a very valuable exercise. Some families choose to be very specific and directive and draw up a formal document which includes the amount of time that can be spent online, the sites that can be visited, the information that can be shared. Parents often require their kids to sign this document and it becomes a contact.
Be a Really Good Role Model
Whether you like it or not, your behaviour and values are incredibly influential on your children. If you want your kids to have a genuine balance between the online and offline worlds, then you need to model this. Put your phone down when you are talking to them, do not use a device at the table and do not share too much information online. And where possible, weave stories about your own online experiences into conversation. Whether it was a colleague who continues to overshare, an online conversation that was misinterpreted or a site you thought looked ‘dodgy’ – they learn from you.
So, by all means instigate some realistic rules and boundaries but take a moment and reflect on your own behaviour. Put your own devices down and get outside for some ‘digital detoxing’ because, as the legendary Swiss psychiatrist said:
‘Children are educated by what the grown-up is and not by his talk.’