Last month, PDS had a parent seminar on social media, smartphones, and other technology for kids. Parents raised great questions, and many of the best solutions came from other parents. This blog is our attempt to share the best of that meeting with you and to answer some of the follow-up questions.
The Problem We All Face
By God’s design, our kids desire community and connection—and in their purest forms, smart phones and social media can help create community and connect people. We see that good as parents, but we also see the dangers in technology. We’re all in the struggle to figure out the right thing for our children based on their age, their maturity, and God’s unique design of them.
If you are asking how much technology is too much or too early, here are two videos to help you think through the effect social media and gaming can have on children:
“For the people who are saying, ‘When is the appropriate age to give little Johnny a smart phone?’ my response is always, ‘When are you okay with him to start looking at pornography?’ ‘When should I get little Katie an Instagram account?’ My response is, ‘When are you okay with her to start to feel anxiety and question her self-worth?’” Collin Kartchner is a dad who speaks plainly about the impact of social media on kids. His TEDx Talk highlights the negative results and gives practical solutions.
Social media is not the only threat—one in four parents are worried about how much time kids spend playing Fortnite and other games. Dr. Sue Varma, a board-certified psychiatrist and assistant professor at NYU Langone Medical Center, joined CBS This Morning to discuss the impact the game could have on youth.
How We Can Respond
The best solution is available to everyone: actively involved parenting. When we decide to give our children technology, we must be willing to step up and be involved in helping our children navigate that technology. The more technology is in our homes, the more we need to be involved with our children.
For some seasons or some situations, we just need to say no. And that’s okay. You are free to do what is best for your kid and for your family—you don’t have to parrot the choices of your neighbors, your friends, or your kids’ friends.
At this point, all of the following websites require you to be at least 13 to create an account:
- Instagram: https://help.instagram.com/581066165581870 (⅓ of the way down, under “Your Commitments”)
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/legal/terms (under section 3)
- Snapchat: https://www.snap.com/en-US/terms/ (first section, titled “Who Can Use”)
- Pinterest: https://policy.pinterest.com/en/terms-of-service (section 2, item C)
There are multiple communities and individual families focused on encouraging one another to take specific steps to delay technology in the lives of children. One of the larger communities,the Wait Until 8th campaign, is run by a team of parents, doctors, psychologists, teachers, authors, researchers, lawyers and business people, working together to “let kids be kids a little longer.” They are joined by people from all across America committed to protecting their children from smartphones until at least 8th grade. To learn more about them, visit their website.
Of course, we can only protect for so long. At some point, our children will need phones and other devices. They will turn 16 and start driving. They will become adults, move out, and make their own choices about technology. So how do we give them the right amount of freedom? How do we teach them how to make wise decisions without overwhelming them with bad options?
Our role as parents is to monitor and control what our children are accessing on their devices. Several different systems have been created to aid parents in this role. Here’s one thing you can do right now: Go into your phone settings and set up restrictions for your family. There are easy methods to do this for both Androids and iPhones.
If your child has an iPhone, you can also check where the battery life of the phone has been used up all day and over the week. This can help you find where your teen might be pulled into a vortex of online content. When teens can access bad stuff through almost any app, just restricting a few apps can feel like playing Whac-a-Mole. But watching battery life can show you if your son is suddenly spending 2 hours a day on deleted apps or on an app that doesn’t make sense—and then you can start a conversation and see what’s going on. Here are some instructions for checking their battery life.
We have also done some research on other prominent tools for you to take advantage of!
Circle is produced by Disney and is a tool that allows parents to set personalized limits on each person in the family, restricting the sites they visit based on their age. It allows a parent to shut off the internet entirely at different times, as well as set time limits for different people in the family. Circle can also be used to set limits for devices. This means it can set limits on a personal device like one child’s phone, or it can set limits on a device for the whole family like a gaming system.
Bark is an all-encompassing application. It scans your child’s social media pages as well as all of their texts, messaging apps, and other forms of communication.
Xbox is equipped with the ability to establish parental controls within the system. We wrote a blog in the fall specifically on Fortnite. There are also websites dedicated to easily explaining how to set up these parental controls on Xbox, such as this one.
PDS was recognized as an Apple Distinguished School, and technology—specifically laptops with 4th, 5th and 6th grade—is a big part of our learning. We have high expectations when it comes to our boys and the laptops the school has them use. Upon receiving the laptop, they all sign a student-generated Responsible Use Policy (1st, 2nd, 3rd Grades | 4th, 5th, 6th Grades).
The PDS tech department works hard to protect your boys, and they install protections and blockers that are in effect while at school and at home. If you are having issues with your son managing his PDS laptop at home, please feel free to reach out to Melissa Smith.
The Ultimate Solution: Love
God made us for relationships—for a relationship with him and for relationships with each other. Besides their relationship with God, children’s most important relationship is with their parents.
Used well, the gift of technology should enhance your relationship with your child. But if we separate technology from real people and relationships, it loses its value. Now that technology is so pervasive, people are starting to realize what they have been missing. In fact, a recent New York Times article explains that human contact is now considered a luxury good.
Our screens are nothing more than a tool, similar to a pencil. They are effective and beneficial for specific purposes, like connecting with a far-away friend, collaborating with teammates, or checking the weather. We want our devices to help us, but we don’t want to be a slave to them.
I hope that technology becomes a tool that helps your child grow in wisdom, stature, and favor with God and with man. But for that to happen, we need to protect our kids from making too much of screens. The best way to keep screens from being the center of kids’ lives is to fill kids’ lives with real relationships—asking about their day, sharing projects and adventures, showing up for them, and enjoying time together.
When we have freedom in Christ, why would we choose to enslave ourselves to our screens? Let’s go spend some face-to-face time with our kids.