By Susan Parmelee
I often field questions from parents about “screen addiction” and how to get their kids off their cellphones, video games and computers. Fifteen years ago, as a parent of grade-school children, the battle seemed a little easier as it was limited to the TV and the Gameboy. My kids’ first phones flipped open and could not even text. Now the current “smart” technology is here, causing even more conflict and stress within families, and it is a challenge to figure out how to welcome this technology into our lives. It seems like cellphone etiquette is in a constant flux, and our kids’ need positive role modeling and clear rules to use technology safely and healthfully.
I encourage families to discuss rules and expectations about technology use and to regularly check in and reevaluate guidelines as children get older. Most importantly, experts recommend that cellphones and other data-enabled devices not be kept in bedrooms. Sleep is very important for both adults and youth, and the interference of email, texts and social media in the bedroom is not conducive to a good night’s sleep. Studies also illustrate that unplugging from tech for an hour before bedtime also helps the brain to start the process of slowing down and to start the process of consolidating the day’s learning.
Youth need guidance about sharing information on social media. Social media sites require members to be 13 years of age or older. This rule may seem silly, but it has merit. Developmentally, 13 year olds are better able to understand the implications of posting information. By following this guideline, parents can send a message about the importance of following rules and acting with integrity. Additionally, as a family, it’s important to set some guidelines for posting information, such as, “If you would not want your grandmother to read it, do not post it.” Let your child know they must have permission before they post a photo of someone else.
Another suggestion is to commit to “family digital detox” times. Certain settings, such as sitting down to dinner, out at restaurants and family celebrations, are good cellphone-free times. Encourage your child to discuss current events, life goals and highlights of their day. Model your own ability to ignore texts, tweets and sport score updates for special events. Teach your child that when you get home from work you expect thir to put the phone down and greet you. Monitor your child’s devices—insist on privacy settings and know what apps they are downloading. Discuss who he can friend or share with. Explain what a digital footprint is—colleges, potential jobs and future social acquaintances will use the Internet to inspect your child, and it can have an impact on his or her future. Most importantly, put “in-person” time ahead of tech time. When you greet your child in the school pick-up line, make sure your phone is put away. Keep the phones away until you get home and have time to talk, have a snack and decompress.
Should you want to learn more cyber safety and how you can protect and monitor your child, one of Orange County’s leading experts, Clay Cranston, will be speaking at Shorecliffs Middle School, free of charge, from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 25. This event is for parents only. I have seen Mr. Cranston speak and I value his knowledge. You can also visit his website www.cybersafetycop.com for more excellent information.
Susan Parmelee is a mental health social worker and one of the founders of the Wellness & Prevention Center, San Clemente. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.