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Parents Can Play Important Role in Teaching Children About Technology

Parents, children and technology

This article first appeared on The Morning Consult.

Parents across the country didn't grow up with the same technology our kids have at their fingertips today. That may be a reason why a group recently called on the leadership of Apple and other smartphone companies to develop technology to make phones better for kids.

In a joint letter to Apple's board of directors, leaders from JANA Partners and the California State Teachers' Retirement System wrote that "we have reviewed the evidence and we believe there is a clear need for Apple to offer parents more choices and tools to help them ensure that young consumers are using your products in an optimal manner." The groups then cited the negative impacts, especially on a developmental level, on students and teenagers that correlate with digital technology.

Although advocacy is important, parents have a powerful tool at their fingertips: themselves. It may be more helpful to focus on how, as a parent, you can influence your child's technology use versus getting caught in the blame game.

You can start at home by identifying your values and how you want to incorporate technology into your family's life. What role do you want technology to play in your house? In your life? How can technology play a positive role?

It is important for parents to have conversations with their kids about technology and values.   What do you like about technology? How often do you think you should be allowed to be online? What are the consequences of technology? How can we incorporate technology into our life? The Center for Humane Technology might come up with helpful solutions for parents, but until then, here are four tips to regain control of technology in your child's life.

  1. Parents serve as role models. Tech overuse isn't just a problem affecting young people. Whether you're a stay-at-home mom or dad or a working parent, all of us are bombarded with stimuli – from work and personal emails to tweets and news alerts. As parents, we often forget how influential our habits are. Simply put, when parents are chained to their smartphones, their kids will be, as well. When parents unplug, kids are more likely to do the same. Model what you want to see.
  2. Moderation is key. It's a rule that can apply to anything, but limits are important. Parents don't just give kids the keys when they're old enough to drive. They have curfews, driving restrictions or aren't allowed to drive in inclement weather. Teenagers have to prepare, study and practice – both alone and with parents in the passenger seat. Technology is the same. Talk with your children about technology, and establish moderation rules that fit your values.
  3. Provide meaningful alternatives. It's one thing to limit screen time; it's another to provide opportunities for kids to be productive. From reading and exercising to simply spending time with family and friends, children need clear alternatives. They also need to understand the connection between those alternatives and other goals that are important to them.
  4. Educate yourself. Take time to have a conversation with your kids about how they use their smartphones – which apps they use, how they chat with friends, etc. Asking questions is not only critical to limiting the risk of becoming out-of-touch, but it will help parents harness the technology, too. Asking questions can be empowering as parents to learn what your child already knows.

The changes in technology and their subsequent impacts — from society at large to your child's playroom — can be overwhelming for parents. Just as previous generations warned about the consequences of watching too much television, parents today worry about "tech addiction."

But rather than being scared, get back to the basics of parenting: Engage with your kids, set limits and learn what you can do. In doing so, you will find that you have a greater impact on your child's life and will truly feel empowered as a parent.

Kristen Galloway, Ph.D., is a staff psychologist at the Boys Town Center for Behavioral Health.