It’s Christmas…that means gifts! For most preteens and teens, it’s a perfect opportunity to beg their parents for a cell phone. Granted, a cell phone comes with an expensive monetary tag but it also has the potential to cost your son or daughter more than you realize- emotionally, psychologically, socially as well as physically. Here are a few things to consider before you give this expensive gift to your child.
It’s more than a cell phone! The fact is, today’s cell phones are smart phones. It’s an instrument that houses all things ‘technological’. It not only allows you talk (I know you want your child to call home and check-in) but also text, access music, take, receive and send pictures, receive IM’s from all kinds of other devises, surf the web for good as well as damaging content, engage with social media, game, be bullied or engage in bullying, meet strangers, watch videos. Yikes! That’s a lot of ‘horse power’ at the tip of our children’s fingers!
As parents, we try to prepare our kids for every milestone in their lives. We may even fight against their arguments to drive, drink or marry before they can handle the responsibility. A smart phone requires the same diligence them for its use. Based on age and maturity, it is important to plan and prepare for technological milestones that support child development to avoid expensive mistakes that might have a life long impact on your child. Like everything else in life, our kids need to be trained, educated and supervised to develop healthy technology habits.
Don’t gift it! I might have ruffled your feathers when I said – “don’t gift it”. There goes your Christmas gift idea. Think about it for a moment. When you gift someone something you can’t take it back. Once the gift leaves your hands, you give up the right to tell the person how to use it. Instead, your child needs to know that you own it and you’re allowing him or her to use it with guidelines in place as a privilege and to gain freedom. They may roll their eyes at you and scream at how unfair you are – it’s okay. Your child is more likely to strive to earn your trust by respecting your expectations since they want continued use of your phone – in the process they will learn how to handle technology at a pace you set.
Set limits- the brain needs it! Technology has a profound impact on attention span as well as how children think and feel. Dopamine, a powerful neurotransmitter produced in the brain, influences our attention span, motivation, likes and dislikes, along with other important functions. We feel rewarded when we use and interact with technology because it releases dopamine. This creates a strong need to continuously use technology to feel rewarded. God has created our brains to feel pleasure, but without limits, the release of dopamine can cause unhealthy emotional dependencies and addictions. Since your child’s brain is still developing it’s important to set daily ‘time’ and ‘content’ limits. As parents, we are called to teach our kids how to guard their hearts (Proverbs 4:23). Do your homework and make a list of all your expectations that reflect Godly decisions to safeguard your child’s heart, mind and soul. List them and create a contract (include verses). Go over it and have him or her sign it. Here are a few things to consider:
Which Apps, or types of Apps are not acceptable?
Where does the phone charge at night? Growing bodies need uninrrupted sleep for the body and mind to be healthy and develop. Our brains need sleep to repair and reboot for each new day. The best place is your room.
What time frames are acceptable for all family members to use or not use technology?
What type of gaming is acceptable? Be aware that the ESRB ratings may not always line up with your preferred value for each stage EC (early childhood), E (everyone), E10+ (everyone over 10. T (teen) and M (mature).
Which monitoring software will you install to monitor activity? Don’t assume they know what pitfalls to avoid. Make sure you affirm them for making positive choices and discuss the impact their poor choices will have.
How frequently will you verbally check-in with your child to find out how things are going? Stay consistent to keep dialogue going and earn trust.
What consequences will your child have when he or she violates the contract? Clearly share them with your child so that consequences will make them act less impulsively.
How will you restore your relationship with each other once trust is broken?
How will you measure maturity to give them more freedom?
What are your cell usage expectations when they drive? (You can monitor this via available software).
Technology is like a living, breathing organism: It’s changing all the time. Become a student of it so you’re able to understand what your child has the potential to be exposed to and what limits you need to set.
Once your preteen or teen is exposed to pornography commit to seeing a counselor. This is something I deal with regularly with broken-hearted parents. Pornography has a huge impact on a developing brain that impacts social and emotional development. Contrary to what you might think – this is not an easy fix.
We are designed to build others up not tear them down. Talk about what messages are considered bullying as well as why they should not bully someone else.
Additionally, as you set limits, make sure you’re also intentional about asking them to exercise, do outdoor activities and socialize - the brain needs it!
There is a fine line between imposing limits to control behavior versus using age and maturity appropriate limits to build character in our children. Setting technology boundaries is an opportunity for parents to help their children build character to instill internally owned values so they learn to make healthy choices independently one day.
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