When it comes to the topic of technology, moms and dads frequently rely on their kids for advice. Case in point: It’s not uncommon for parents to ask for a teen’s help when setting up a computer. However, that doesn’t mean that adult household members should abdicate all things tech to children.
To the contrary, parents need to be careful about the kinds of tech they allow in the home. And while adopting an “all tech is questionable” mentality isn’t realistic in a digital world, being cautious is.
If you’re concerned about your child’s relationship with technology, your best bet is to understand today’s most popular gadgets. Getting a more thorough background in how these devices work will help you ensure your kids navigate them safely.
By the time your child reaches middle school, you can expect to hear, “When can I get my own phone?” It’s not an idle or illogical question. Many preteens own phones, as do the majority of teenagers.
Here’s the problem, though: When you’re ready to get them a phone, should you get one like yours? Specifically, do they need a full-access smartphone? Or could they do better with a kids phone that doesn’t allow Internet, social media, or app downloads?
This is a big consideration. Buying an adult’s phone for a child may seem cool. You might even get a discount on your family’s smartphone plan. Nonetheless, think twice. It’s very difficult to monitor a child’s phone behavior, and parental controls aren’t flawless. Giving your child a phone built with limits reduces exposure to online bullying, unwanted content, and addictive (non-educational) games.
2. Digital Assistants
By now, you’re probably familiar with the most popular digital assistants like Siri, Google Assistant, and Alexa. You might even use them regularly. AI-powered digital voice assistants can be timesavers. Just make a request and the assistant can fetch information, perform simple tasks, or monitor buying lists.
With all these positives, what’s the downside of a digital assistant when it comes to kids? The biggest is security. Digital assistants may activate at any time, recording key data. Assistants don’t do this on purpose, but by design. Still, it’s important for parents to contemplate privacy concerns, including where and how information is stored.
Another issue with allowing kids to use digital assistants is that it may stunt their problem-solving skills. Leaning on a digital assistant to help with homework or research is efficient, true. However, a digital assistant can’t teach children the investigative skill sets they need for genuine academic success or curiosity.
3. VR Games
Virtual reality (VR) has grown into big business in a variety of ways, including as a gaming enhancement. Even now, VR-enhanced games are taking center stage as a viable form of entertainment, especially during pandemic-created isolation.
Why are VR games so appealing to children? With the right headset, they can feel like they’re part of a different world. This moves their gaming from a 2D to almost 3D experience. It’s immersive, fun, and distracting. That’s where the issue comes into play.
Kids on a whole enjoy a reputation for being more imaginative than their parents. For example, a child who dives into VR may start to feel overconnected with the made-up world. What’s real? What’s VR?
Even if your kid begs for VR games, you may need to put on the brakes. Some children can handle the responsibilities of gaming, like being able to police themselves, better than others.
4. Mobile and Computer Apps
You’ll hardly be shocked to learn that the apps preferred by most kids with phones involve communication, like social media platforms. You already know to be wary of social apps, but your wariness may need to extend to action.
For instance, you have every right to insist that you have the passwords to your child’s social accounts. This helps you monitor what’s happening and intervene if necessary.
Remember that even good kids may fib about which accounts they own. Plenty of teenagers have so-called Finsta accounts. These are Instagram accounts that serve as a child’s unfiltered Internet identity—and many including vulgar images and shocking messaging. Finstas are private and only accessible by the account holder’s followers. Yet that doesn’t mean they’re invisible. Any follower could screenshot a Finsta account and share the screenshot at will.
You won’t necessarily know if your teen has a Finsta, but talk about it openly. At the same time, check on your child’s social media postings routinely. And if you’re on the same social platform, make sure to connect.
5. Wired Toys
No doubt about it: Technology-based toy companies have done an outstanding job of touting their products. Their marketing is so influential that you might feel like it’s a no-brainer to buy your baby or toddler a tablet. Before shelling out your money, though, think again.
Toys that rely on gadgetry and tech to operate haven’t proven to be any more effective than old-fashioned building blocks or coloring books. Yes, they’re great for distracting your child while you make a meal or clean the house. Nevertheless, they’re no replacement for parenting or one-on-one engagement.
Instead of spending your dollars on tech toys this year for special occasions, go back to the basics. Encourage your kids to discover the library or embrace an outdoor activity. Will you get some pushback? Maybe. Just stick to your instincts. Be sure to tell relatives like grandparents, aunts, and uncles that you want to vet your child’s tech gifts, too.
Technology isn’t innately right or wrong. The key is to learn how to leverage tech to support your goals as a parent, not hand over your parenting. No matter what your kids say, they’re not ready to take charge of their lives quite yet. They need your help to avoid getting trapped by tech’s addictive elements so they can realize its core benefits.