2019 marks my tenth year as a parent. But even though it’s been a decade, I still have so much to learn. For example, if we’re being brutally honest, up until a few months ago I didn’t even realize that I had a ‘tween’ living under my roof. It felt as if the ‘shift’ happened overnight – physical and attitudinal changes, along with some behavioral sass and expanded interest in privacy were a few quick clues that led me to Google.
I’m not talking about Google in the sense of my current partnership with them (stealth disclaimer), but rather the fact that I had to use the search engine to figure out ‘what age constitutes a tween’ and ‘what should I be worried about with a tween’. As my wife likes to remind me, I don’t know everything. In fact, without having kids old enough to have gone through this phase, I’m entering uncharted waters without a directional (or emotional) compass.
The physiological and behavioral aspects are things that I can relate a bit closer to. However, when it comes to the current era of social media, it’s brand new – I didn’t have this in my adolescence. I grew into social media when I was already past the legal age to drive. Cell phones had only become mainstream when I was in college – texting and email wasn’t a thing yet. I certainly didn’t have to worry about too much screen time affecting my sleep patterns or people hacking into my personal data beyond physically stealing my wallet.
When I was a kid, threats really only came at me in one form – and that was generally physical. The occasional tussle, fistfight or bully on the bus looking to put gum in my hair or pull my Hanes over my head was generally something I could see coming.
This entire year has found me with three out of my four kids not only using tablets, but becoming wildly proficient with them. I’m constantly receiving push notifications on my phone – requests for approval on various apps for any one of them. This forces me to take a minute and do some research on age appropriateness, as well as if they have in-app purchases. Do they have a social chat function? Can ANYONE reach them or just people my wife and I approve? Are they able to hit ‘buy’ and all of the sudden drain my checking account?
And if I allow the apps, how much time are they spending on them? I’m always looking for ways to make their online experience safer AND encourage them to build a positive relationship with technology.
Just this week, I went up into Ava’s room (she’s my 10 year-old) and she had fallen asleep with her tablet on her lap. First, I’ve told her time and time again that she shouldn’t be using it as a sleep tool. Second, she was supposed to be reading on Epic. I noticed that she was watching videos on TikTok. Personally, I love TikTok, however, even if you can change the settings to scale to creators her age, I don’t necessarily think that’s enough of a safeguard on content that might be inappropriate for her to view.
One of the benefits of Google’s Family Link is that you can control which apps your kids are using and with what frequency. It also includes a shut off, so that you know your kids aren’t using their devices past a certain point in the evening. Another great tool is within the dashboard – showing you exactly how much time you’re attributing to things like email, YouTube, messages, etc.
Beyond that and in addition to, we’re in the process of coming up with a list of rules for our kids when it comes to devices, screen time and safety. For example:
- We have started making them earn the privilege of using them every day… their morning behavior, whether they take care of their pets before school, and their attitude when they get in the car afterwards are all part of how much time we allow them to have.
- Unless they are reading a book, they cannot use them before bed. (For times when tech is keeping them up, the Family Link app from Google has a sleep setting where the device “goes to sleep” during set times so that even if Ava gets a hold of her device, she can’t access it around bedtime.)
- We also don’t like our kids to be with their friends, but playing on tablets side by side. They need to be interacting as humans… that’s not a lot to ask, is it?
- We eat out frequently when we travel, but infrequently at home. When we do eat out, we allow our kids to have their tablets because Jen and I want some solitude… when you pay $75 for a meal, you want to enjoy it. That said, tablets go away when food hits the table.
- There is ZERO chat function allowed on in any app unless it is an app where we can control who they are talking to (i.e. friends only, no one else).
- There is a two-hour screen time max per day–this may sound like a lot, but they’re home and around some type of electronics (be it a tablet or tv) for about seven hours a day… if our kids decided to watch one Christmas movie, they’d hit that max. The rest of that time is assigned to structured activities, playtime with friends, reading actual books, or outdoor time.
- Family Link also allows you to set screen time limits so that their limits are “enforced” by the device, not me or my wife!
So this is the foundation for our ‘tech daily practices’ list that we’ll use for the kids – I’d love to hear your thoughts and how you implement any kind of standards at home when it comes to young kids and tech devices. Maybe I can add it to my list…
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a sponsored post on behalf of Google and their #GoogleFamilyPartner and #BeInternetAwesome campaign. To learn more about Family Link, click HERE.