Helping Children Navigate Technology

Helping Children Navigate Technology

5 min read

While we have seen great blessings and opportunities come into our lives though technology, it is important to realize it is a tool which can be used for both good and for ill. We believe our responsibility as parents is to love our children and help them learn how to use their agency in choosing ways to respond to life that lead to positive outcomes. Technology can be a tool for us to meet these responsibilities, but we must also be aware of and mitigate its risks. The following are our strategies for helping our children navigate technology.

General Items

  • We have frank, open discussions with them about things on the internet:
    • We talk to them about the dangers of spam, scam artists, and predators.
    • We explain to them that coming across pornographic material is a when, not an if.
      • We’ve read the book “Good Pictures, Bad Pictures” with them starting at ages as young as 6 or 7.
      • We emphasize with them that they are not in trouble for seeing pornography and that they should come to us and talk about it.
    • Often children accessing pornography is about their normal curiosity about sexuality. We believe it is important to give them access to detailed, accurate information about human sexuality and have conversations with them about how we frame our beliefs or morals on sexuality around that information. We’ve found Lynda Madaras’ books for boys and girls do a good job in introducing detailed, accurate information for us to have this conversation. These books are most appropriate for pre-teens (10-12).
    • We encourage them to respond kindly, but firmly to friends or classmates who may show them pornography and tell them that they don’t want to see it.
  • We create and manage Google accounts for them to use to sign up for various accounts.
    • We have their passwords for these accounts.
  • We explain to our kids that we cannot control how their friends and family will use technology and that they should seek to live by our family’s rules in and out of our home.

Limit screen time

  • The AAPA recommends the following screen time recommendations:
    • For under 18 months avoid screen time except for monitored video chat with family and quality programming.
    • For children 2-5 years, ~1 hour of quality programs.
    • For children 6+ years, establish consistent time limits ensuring that habits do not negatively impact sleep, socializing, grades, or behavior.
  • Computers the kids can log into have login restrictions independent of the internet. Here are instructions for Windows and Linux.

Content Filtering

  • We use Circle by Disney (here’s a $10 off coupon code) to:
    • Enforce time limits. Access to the internet is shut down at bed time on any device the kids have access to.
    • Create content filters appropriate for each child’s age and maturity.
    • Reward with extra time.
    • Track usage of devices on hour home network & WiFi.
    • The internet can also be “paused” (nuclear option) from home or even remotely.
  • We use OpenDNS as a house-wide, DNS filter.
  • Note entirely necessary (and more advanced to setup), but I have Pi-hole on our network which cuts down on ads.
  • Use child accounts for Netflix or Hulu which have appropriate content restrictions.
  • We do not allow M-rated games. Games rated T are considered on a case-by-case basis.

Usage Behavior

  • Computers kids use are in a public spaces (family or living room).
  • Any personal devices (cell phones, tablets, & laptops) are turned over to parents at bed time to remain in our room and charge overnight.
  • Designate media free times and zones:
    • Cell phones are not allowed at family dinner time.
    • Tablets, laptops, TVs, or game consoles are not allowed in children’s rooms.
    • We change our media consumption habits to be more moderated on Sundays as part of a Sabbath practice.
  • No MMOs or MMORPGs. Online games with friends and family are fine (e.g. I host a private Minecraft server). We avoid our children playing games where players join online communities with strangers.
  • Technology privileges are tied to academic performance.
  • We encourage them to use technology for things other than entertainment and introduce them to resources like Khan Academy, TED Ed, drawing apps, music apps, books, and coding apps.

Cell Phones

  • Children younger than 12 (maybe 10-12) may be given a pay-as-you-go, non-smart phone.
    • For this, we’ve used Tracfone with phones which simply make calls and send/receive texts.
    • This serves as kind of cell-phone training wheels to asses whether they are mature enough for a smart phone.
  • For children 11+ that have shown maturity, smart cell phones are managed using Google Family.
    • We whitelist apps and web pages. Our kids can send us a message via Google Family for us to approve a site or app they wish to use.
    • We can see their locations via GPS tracking.
    • Time limits and bed times are set.
    • When the bed times or time limits are reached the device is unusable (except for emergency call/text).
    • Remote device locking (the nuclear option).
  • Children with smart phones sign a cell phone contract with us.

This is an evolving set of guidelines, tools, and rules and is likely incomplete. We’ll evolve this resource from time to time as technology changes and we learn and grow with our kids.