Do you ever wish for the days when the technology kids had access to was simpler–paper, pencils and old-fashioned typewriters? No need to test the tools for safety. You taught kids how to use the tools properly and expected results.

Now every family allows a different level of access to technology. Some 8 year olds have an unfiltered smart phone. Other 16 year olds aren’t allowed to have a phone or any social media. How do you know if you’re too strict as a parent?

If you ask your kids, they probably have a long list of what “Everybody else can do” online and offline. They want to do it too. They push. They cry. They keep asking. Sometimes it feels like you’re the “only” parent with tech rules.

How do you know if your family rules are reasonable?

How do you know if you’re guiding your child to become a good person or restricting them so much that they’re going to sneak around you?

Here are four guidelines for balancing online rules and privileges.

1. Base your parenting decisions on family values.

We recommend that you have weekly family meetings to discuss current family needs as well as reinforce family values. Write down your values. Give examples of your family living those values. Set goals that support your values and review them as a family. As your child asks for more tech time, another social media platform or another game, you can evaluation the request by asking what values it will reinforce. “Will this help you be a better version of yourself?”

2. Make them do the work.

Your kids know they want X game or app. But how are their persuasion skills? What if you required a formal slide show presentation that included a summary of how they’ll use the game or app, what it will enhance in their life, how they’ll maintain the balance and a summary of what Common Sense Media says? (They have experts, parents and kids review movies, games, apps, etc and you’ll get a sense for whether it’s appropriate for your family there.)

Having your teen put together the information takes the burden off of you to do all the research, plus it teaches your kids that with new privileges come new responsibilities.

3. Review your rules, restrictions and safeguards every 3-4 months.

You can’t expect to have the same rules for a 16 year old as a 10 year old, online or offline. Sometimes parents think they’ll be able to clamp down and control their teens forever but it’s simply not true. Over-restricting teens leads to sneaky behaviors, kids that doubt their abilities and kids that overcompensate by diving into extremely risky behaviors when they leave home. Giving teens the freedom to try some apps and games while still having some rules and guidelines is the best way to keep the peace and teach them how to behave with more freedom.

4. Look at your overall relationship with your child, not just tech.

The overall question that we ask is “How is the rest of your relationship with your child?”

  • Are you able to have a conversation without blow ups?
  • Do they share what’s going on in their day?
  • Are you a trusted adviser in their life?

If not, there’s work to be done.

Start with “special time” with just one child, no-pressure, no judgment time to just be together. Take them on a no-tech drive. Get out a jigsaw puzzle. Take a walk together. The key is to listen without an agenda. To ask questions out of curiosity. To detach from all the lecturing and “I told you so’s” that you might be feeling. The time for parental teaching is over by 12 years old. Tweens and teens need to internalize their values through mentors, examples, guidelines and a safe place to recover when they make a mistake.

In conclusion, it’s important to know where your child wants to spend time online. Let them persuade you (or not) that the app or game is worth their time. It’s easy to think tech battles are about technology, but they’re not. They’re really about teens wanting more freedom and autonomy online and offline.

So the question for you becomes: How can you give them the maximum freedom they crave while still keeping them safe online?

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