It’s the question I hear from almost every parent I meet: How do I make sure my son or daughter is using technology appropriately? Research has shown that managing technology in families is the greatest sources of arguments in the home according to both kids and parents. Many parents forget that screen time is a privilege–not a right, although most kids and especially teens will tell you differently. To create a health media diet in your family, start by looking at your values and your goals related to technology. Consider how and when you use your phone. Ask yourself “What role do I want the phone or computer to play in my daughter’s life? What are the conditions and expectations I’ve already set up about using the computer? What does it mean to use devices safely and how can I teach these skills?” These reflections are the first step in smart screen parenting.
Families meet problems with technology because they haven’t set up clear terms and/or contracts about using screens from the beginning. It’s never too late to have honest, forthright conversations about how to use phones and computers (including texting, apps and email appropriately) and what safety looks like. Have you discussed digital footprints and the longevity of online activity? College admission counselors, coaches and future employers can look up your history and see what you’ve said and to whom. Kids with ADHD lack of cause and effect thinking. They struggle with impulse control and self-regulation. They often believe that consequences just won’t happen to them. It’s especially hard to stop themselves from texting or posting something inappropriate if other kids are doing it too.
Discuss how to make good choices about appropriate material to post and which sites to visit. If you wouldn’t say to someone’s face, then don’t send it online. Follow the WWGS rule: “What would Grandma say?” If you don’t want your Grandma to read something, should you really post it? Expect your son or daughter to treat others with respect, and to never post hurtful or embarrassing messages. Encourage them to think twice before hitting ‘Enter.’ Being mean isn’t okay at any time. Of course, ask them to always tell you about any harassing or bullying messages that others post.
We are responsible for teaching kids how to be a digital citizens just like we are teaching them to be a member of our communities. All families, especially those with ADHD, need guidelines about living successfully with technology–guidelines that are enforced consistently. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel: websites like http://www.commonsensemedia.org offer great sample contracts and other ideas for how family’s can establish plans about technology. Here are my suggestions to help you practice cyber safety and teach NET-etiquette:
- Get informed about digital media and technology so you are not acting out of fear or ignorance. Nobody wants to be a watchdog. Remind kids that what they post can be used against them. For example, letting the world know that you’re off on vacation or posting your home address gives would-be robbers a chance to strike. Teens should also avoid posting specific locations of parties or events. If you don’t know know people or people who know them, don’t friend those folks.
- Go through privacy settings together to make sure your kids understand each one. Also, explain that passwords are there to protect them against things like identity theft. They should never share them.
- Live in a household with trust that goes both ways. Remember that your kids can go online and get all kinds of information that would often be better learned from you. We want kids to turn to us when they struggle with making good choices about where to go and what to do with friends. Tracking locations or reading their texts shows them that you don’t trust them or the decisions they are making. Unless you learn that your child or teen has been lying to you about where they are going, what they are doing or texting or posting inappropriate material, stick with direct conversations with them about their activities and friends.
- After you get home from work, plan to spend the first hour reconnecting with your family. Limit your screen use to times when your kids are absent, asleep or occupied with friends or their own screen time.
- Stay connected with the parents of their friends so you can know what’s going on with your son or daughter and the kids around you. This helped me tremendously when my children were teens. Several parents agreed that we would support each other as our kids became more independent. We didn’t hesitate to call or text folks about social or school issues. The kids knew that we talked with each other and professed to disliking it but they also knew that they couldn’t stray too far because someone would see it and then share it.