Dear Your Teen:
Now that we have entered a whole new stage of teenagedom and technology, I need some help. What rules should we have in place for the use of iTouches and iPads? I want some control without seeming like I am controlling. So how should I limit Facetime and texting? Should I restrict usage during the day or night? Should I limit the places they can use their devices? Can I limit who they add to their contact list? And what are appropriate consequences for broken rules? Signed, Mommy Trying Desperately NOT to Lose Her Mind or Constantly Fight With Her Children.
Don’t lose your mind! We can parent kids with kindness and clarity in this highly digital age. Teens are often early adopters of new technology, certainly earlier than most of us parents. Since that is the case, they need rules about technology. Answer these questions for your family and then go over them together.
Some rules for technology
Where do you want tech-free zones?
The dinner table is a great tech-free zone; perhaps bedrooms are another. Maybe you don’t want cell phones to be used in the family car so you can have a more chances for conversation with your teen, and to get your future teenage driver in the habit of leaving the cell phone in the trunk.
When do you want time without screens?
Family time, or when you go to your house of worship together, or while homework is getting done are good options. If you have a child who would spend every waking moment in a screen, you might want to establish time limits so they can get some balance. Be sure to set sleeping hours as no-technology times, especially for younger teens. Portable devices should be plugged in and charging in a parent’s bedroom each night.
What content is unacceptable?
In keeping with your family’s values, are there sites or games that you want your family to avoid entirely?
Who can your teen contact?
Are they allowed to “friend” people they’ve never met in person? Friends of friends? Friends of family?
Keep a “Password Pad”
This can be an actual pad of paper or an Internet password keeper site. Let your child know that every account they have must be listed and the passwords kept up to date.
What are your expectations?
Since we can’t think of everything, remind kids of the basic character traits you expect when they are using technology. Go back to your family’s values; you might mention honesty, inclusion, caution, kindness, or other traits.
Self-monitoring leads to more autonomy
They (not just you) are responsible for their own safety. If they see something or talk to someone that seems “off” they can earn your trust by telling you about it. The more you know you can trust your teen online, the less you will need to check up on them.
What are the consequences for breaking the rules?
Determine consequences beforehand, like loss of phone privileges or increased supervision. And clearly state the consequences as part of the contract.
Ask your teenager for a list of technology privileges he or she would like to earn. By following this contract for three months, let them know which of those they can achieve.
Make a list of technology privileges your child already enjoys. Be clear about what he or she will lose if these rules are not followed.
These rules have to be plain. Discuss them with your kids and write them down. As parents we need to be in control as we guide our kids from total supervision to more and more autonomy. That autonomy is the main privilege kids earn by following these rules, and autonomy is what most teenagers want!
Dr. Deborah Gilboa is a Pittsburgh-area physician.