Helping your son navigate the digital age

Written by Monica Swanson
Published on April 09, 2021

Setting boundaries with technology in the early years is one thing, but the stakes get higher as our kids grow older. When it comes to making decisions about when to get your son his own smartphone or other device, the best advice I can offer is to be purposeful about each digital decision you make. To think through your why before you buy. Peers matter, but they should not direct your decisions. A smartphone may be convenient, but that alone is not reason enough to take the plunge.

We got our first son a smartphone at age thirteen and waited longer for each of the younger brothers. We became more aware of the challenges that come with a teenager using a smartphone, as well as the potential damage to or loss of the phone. My son, Luke, will be getting a flip phone for his fourteenth birthday, even though he is begging for a smartphone. We’ve concluded that a flip phone will serve the necessary purpose of communication, and for now that is enough. (It’s also less costly to replace if it gets lost.) We certainly aren’t trying to punish Luke; we’ve explained to him that we’re learning more all the time, and it is our responsibility to parent with wisdom in light of what we know. Our love for him and our desire to see him develop good habits and noble character qualities are what inspire us to wait another year (or two) to get a smartphone. Certainly, my momma heart would love to make him happy by giving him what he wants. Our reasons for waiting simply carry more weight than our desire to temporarily please our son. Oh, the joys of (upstream) parenting!

Setting Ground Rules

Though technology is ever changing, these general rules will remain relevant as you make purposeful choices amid the pressures of this digital world:

  1. Follow limits set on screen time. Determine what is reasonable for your son and set clear rules. (See some ideas for this below.) I would suggest that game time and tech-related entertainment on a school day be seriously limited; there are plenty of other things to do, even after schoolwork is done.
  2. No devices in bedrooms at night. In our home kids have a 9 p.m. turn-in time for all devices. My oldest son uses his phone for an alarm but still follows the rule of not using it at bedtime.
  3. No computers in bedrooms or behind closed doors.
  4. Only use apps approved by parents. When possible, parents should keep a password for all app purchases so they have to approve every new app. Any child caught with an unapproved app loses his phone for an extended time. (The consequence should be painful enough that they wouldn’t consider getting sneaky.)
  5. No bypassing filters. Parents should install filters on all computers and other devices. (More on filters below.)

 

You may want to post these rules or your own set of rules in a central place or over the computer. I would also suggest you craft a technology contract for your kids to sign before they gain the privilege of a new device or app.

As his mother, you are well qualified to make the hard choices on behalf of your son. The parents I’ve heard from who seem to have the most peace about their sons’ time on devices have set straightforward guidelines for how their boys can earn screen time. Here are a few ideas families might use:

  1. Children read thirty minutes (beyond normal school reading) to earn thirty minutes of screen time.
  2. Children finish all homework and chores before they get on a device (and even then the parents set a timer for a specific time period).
  3. Children run a mile to earn twenty minutes on a device.

 

I love these creative approaches, and I highly recommend that all parents determine what is best for their kids and how they might enforce the guidelines they set up.

I suggest you take a good look at your son in light of his educational goals, social skills, health, and past use of technology. Set the rules you think are best, and then stand your ground. It might be helpful to team up with other parents in your son’s social circle whom you respect and work together to establish shared guidelines. However, if you do not agree with how other parents are doing things, then by all means do not feel the need to match their rules.

Keeping Technology in Its Proper Place

Many experts recommend families set aside certain days and times of the day when all devices are banned. This is good for parents as well as kids.

Our family does not allow devices at the dinner table, and I try to keep everyone off devices in the car. (“Car time is talk time” is one of my mom mantras.) I love the idea of Sundays being a technology-free day, though I confess our family hasn’t established that rule yet!

Keep in mind that our own use of technology sets an example for our kids, so taking time to evaluate where you need to set some boundaries is a good idea. When I speak to groups of moms on the topic of kids and technology, often a good number of women say their own use of technology may be a bigger problem than their kids’. It is important we keep ourselves in check. Many of us work from our computers and phones, and I confess the lines get blurred when my “work” turns to mindless scrolling. (Tell me I’m not the only one.)

It is important to note that you can set controls on devices and download apps that turn off phones or the Wi-Fi at a certain time. (And you can use these for both your kids’ devices and your own!) You can also use apps to track what sites your kids are visiting and how much time they are on their devices. A list of filters and other related resources is included at the end of this chapter, and by the time you read this book, more options will likely be available. I encourage you to use every resource you need in order to feel confident your son is safe and responsible with technology.


Excerpted from Boy Mom: What Your Son Needs Most from You. Copyright © 2019 by Monica Swanson. Used by permission of WaterBrook, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC. 

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Monica Swanson

Monica and her husband Dave raise boys and tropical fruit on the North Shore of Oahu.  Monica has homeschooled their four sons (two who are currently in college in Southern California.)  Monica is the author of Boy Mom: What Your Son Needs Most from You, and host of the Boy Mom Podcast. Monica has been blogging for over 10 years and has encouraged over 10 million visitors to her website with articles on parenting and family, healthy living, and (mostly) healthy recipes. The Swanson boys are all surfers, (Luke, who is 17,  surfs professionally) which keeps Monica on her knees. Monica loves good coffee, running trails with her husband and dog, Thor, the Word of God, and connecting with women all over the world through the crazy gift of the internet. 

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