Our Technology Rules

By Sherri Klingensmith

Being a parent today is a hard job. We are busy cooking, cleaning, taking kids to soccer, band, dance, church, youth group and coordinating everyone’s schedules! This can be exhausting! At times we forget how impressionable kids are. The role model that we are for our own kids is important when it comes to their spirituality, healthy eating, spending money responsibility, being respectful to others, holding good morals and beliefs, and so much more. We can easily forget that we are also a role model when it comes to using our electronic devices. We need to think about how much our kids see us “playing” on our smartphone or tablet. We think it is so cute when our kids take after us and play a sport that we played or find enjoyment in things we enjoy such as taking walks, riding mountain bikes or doing yoga. It is not so cute if our kids check a snapchat story, text message or check Instagram notifications while driving.

We need to remember that they are like sponges and are taking in everything in their environment. It is our duty to teach them responsibility when it comes to technology. I wanted to share with you some of our house rules that we have put into place because of the current technologies. I have an 11-year-old son and a 14-year-old daughter, and I want to teach them to be wise with technology. This is not something that I learned from my parents or grandparents, because tablets, smartphones, and the Internet were not around back then. When we were ready to introduce our kids to technology, we had to decide what the rules and boundaries for using technology in our house would be. We then had to share the rules and boundaries that were developed with the kids, so everyone was on the same page. These rules have evolved over time as the kids have matured and have shown responsibility with electronics.

When our kids were little, they had Leap Frog LeapPads. These were age appropriate and congruent with their developmental stage. They played games that were fun, but also educational. When they were a little older, we introduced a basic MP3 player and they enjoyed listening to music with the devices. There was no internet connectivity with these devices. As they grew older, it was time to introduce technologies they would be exposed to in school such as a computer and personal tablets.

The first piece of technology that we introduced in our home was a shared “family iPad.” This was when our son was about 6 and our daughter was about 8 years old. In a world of everyone having their own device, we felt it was important to make it clear that this device belonged to the family and it was not “owned” by either of the kids. When a digital device is titled to an individual, it can make it feel, to the child, that they have more rights to it than others. We felt that this device was too powerful (and expensive) of a tool for a child to have sole ownership of. When it’s called the “family iPad,” it becomes a community device to be used and respected as such. There is no feeling of personal ownership to this family device. The power struggle over “it’s mine” was neutralized from the beginning.
Here are some of our first rules for the “family iPad” which proved to be very successful:

  1. We outlined the expectations before the device was available for use. For example, they must complete chores and schoolwork before any use of the “family iPad”.
  2. We set expectations around how much time they will be able to use it per day. They were able to play approved games for 15 minutes. They set the timer on the iPad before they start playing. Once their time was done, they were done for the day. If they wanted to play more, then they used an educational app (math, spelling etc.) for 15 minutes. If they chose to play an educational app, then they earned another 15 minutes to play a non-educational game.
  3. We have the Wi-Fi password. They do not.
  4. We have the App Store password. They do not.
  5. We must approve any apps before they are downloaded and they must fit the age range identified in the App Store. Caveat: Our starting point is the age rating attached to the app. We do not consider lying about age for our child to use an app. We teach our kids not to lie. Allowing them to lie about their age for an app is bending that rule. We also first learn about the content on the app and see if it’s age appropriate. Example: TikTok has an age rating (as of the date of this writing) of 12+. Here is the content disclosed by the App Store that is defined as appropriate for a 12 year old:
    “Rated 12+ for the following:
    Infrequent/Mild Profanity or Crude Humor
    Infrequent/Mild Cartoon or Fantasy Violence
    Infrequent/Mild Alcohol, Tobacco, or Drug Use or References
    Infrequent/Mild Sexual Content and Nudity
    Infrequent/Mild Mature/Suggestive Themes”
    This content is not acceptable for my kids at 12 years old. We use the app age as a guideline, not as the final decision. App ratings are assigned by the developer and not by a developmental psychologist. Content on apps is often not congruent with child development.
  6. The kids are permitted to iMessage myself, their dad, the babysitter and a family friend. They have to ask to message someone and tell us what they would like to message.
  7. The iPad must stay in an area where we can be with the kids. The iPad is not permitted in the bedrooms. This has two goals:
    A) It deters potential misuse.
    B) It sets the standard for not being permitted to keep phones in their room when they do eventually get phones.
  8. The iPad is not connected to any form of Wi-Fi when we take it on the road. We don’t use it to stream movies in the car or on vacation. They are permitted to use non-connected games on the iPad for 15 minutes in the car. Otherwise, we use old school car games and vacation fun to occupy our time outside of our home. We encouraged a balance of screen time and real-life activities.

Starting with the family iPad, we have had many opportunities to teach our kids about online safety and privacy, explain to them what a hacker is, and help them develop an understanding of how the Internet works. We have talked to them about things that they might innocently stumble upon while online and how it is important to talk to us when these things occur.

Through our early teaching our kids they have both been able to show great respect, boundaries and judgement with the “family iPad” and technology in general. With us setting a firm foundation regarding expectations and safety with technology we have been able to change some of our initial rules and the kids have not taken advantage of this. Based upon them growing up, some of the changes from the above list that we have made include:
1- We have increased the amount of time that they can play on the “family iPad” within a day especially when they are listening to music, podcasts, taking pictures and videos.
2- They are both able to message other approved friends and our daughter is now allowed in a few group chats over iMessage with friends who we have observed are responsible as well.

We decided in our technology parenting that the next step would be getting our daughter a personal device when she turned 12 years old. We chose an iPod Touch as it was a simple device that was easily manageable and had the basic functions we were looking for, playing music, taking pictures and playing some games. She was only able to use this device for these functions until she was able to show respect and responsibility with the device. After she showed good decision making, respect of turning the device in each day in the evening, staying within the 1 hour a day of allotted usage and of course all the practical things such as not breaking or losing it, we allowed her to add the iMessage app on the device. At first, we used the same process as we did with the iPad (message parents only), but then we allowed her to add additional friends and have a few group chats as her maturity was evident. Since this was her own device, we had to be clear that we will do spot checks and read messages and that messages should not be deleted without approval. These spot-checks have opened opportunities for healthy topics of discussion between us and our children.

During the summer of her 13th year, our daughter wanted to start babysitting. She took an online babysitting course, made a digital advertisement and took preparation very seriously. She wanted to be a professional babysitter in connected digital world. But when she got her first job, we realized that not every family has a landline. We still do, but I am guessing that we might be in the minority on this one! To be a responsible babysitting she needed to have a means of communication, a phone to contact the parent or call if there was an emergency. We did not feel that a device that only worked when connected to wi-fi would be considered a reliable means of communication. After discussion and planning we decided to invest in a “family cell phone”. Either of our kids can use “the family cell phone” when they are working or going somewhere that we identify that they would benefit from having a way to communicate with us when not connected to wi-fi. Beside babysitting, the kids have taken the “family cell phone” to overnight youth camp, marching band and color guard competitions. The “family cell phone” remains in our possession except for when they need to use it for an event.

We have conversations with our children about the external pressures around getting a cell phone and social media apps. Many of the students in their grades have “their own phone” and have every social media app out there. Our kids sometimes say that they want a smartphone because “everyone has one.” We don’t want our kids to feel like they don’t fit it, but also just because “everyone else” has one doesn’t mean that we are alright with them having a smartphone. A saying that I like to live by is, “it is ok be in the world, but not of the world”. This is an important message for our kids to learn about technology that will apply to many other areas of there lives.

This open communication with our kids about their online world has been so beneficial. Co-parenting around the topic and being on the same page is so important. Many of our expectations are outlined in the Technology Contract and the Plan Before You Post Pledge. We want our kids to be smart digital citizens. All of these steps have allowed us to teach our kids and build their wisdom around the use of technology. We feel that allowing them gradual access has given us the opportunity to walk with them through today’s digital world. We can’t sit back and watch, we have to be intentional about our parenting in this world of technology.

~Sherri Klingensmith, LPC, NCC