On December 17, 1963, “I Want to Hold Your Hand” played for the first time on American radio. It ignited a fire that quickly spread across the country—Beatlemania. By February of 1964, “I Want to Hold Your Hand” was Billboard Magazine’s number one hit.
Following the Beatles’ rocket to fame, American culture was bombarded by British music, fashion, and film (think James Bond, Mary Poppins, and miniskirts). This shift in culture was labeled “The British Invasion.” In an editorial dated December 29, 1963, the Baltimore Sun warned, “America had better take thought as to how it will deal with the invasion.”
The digital invasion is upon us. Our children are able to navigate around the world wide web with incredible speed and agility. With one click, they can learn about space exploration. One more click, and they can learn about sex.
Parents had better take thought as to how they will deal with the invasion.
We have fairly strict guidelines for screen use at our house. Even still, after an inappropriate conversation on the school playground, one of my kids took her curiosity to Google. She found more than she was looking for; certainly more than her innocent eyes were ready to see.
Beyond Internet filters and locking up all the technology, how do you make wise choices as a family regarding the use of technology in your home? If you do not have boundaries for screen use at your house, here are a few places to start.
Limit Screen Time
When my kids started using the computer, we didn’t have limitations in place. I began to notice sour attitudes when I cut off tech time. They resisted activities that pulled them away from their screens—homework, housework, dinner time. We went drastic: no screens during the week with the exception of homework. This helped deal with some of their resistant behavior and resulted in less procrastination when it came to responsibilities.
The American Academy of Pediatrics replaced the two-hour screen time recommendation with general guidelines. It will be up to your good judgment as a parent to determine how much time your kids should engage with screens (TV, tablets, and computer). Also, consider establishing screen-free times such as meal times and two hours prior to bedtime.
Establish Screen-Free Zones
We decided to limit screen use to family areas. It only takes one miss-stroke, one wrong click, one innocent search to expose them to danger. My daughter’s first glimpse at erotica came from an online Barnes and Noble search for a book about animals while in the school library. She was six at the time. This occurred with a filter in place and several adults in the room.
The internet is a doorway for inappropriate things to bombard us and our children. Keeping tablet and computer usage in family areas helps all of us stay accountable and monitor our content carefully. It is also a good idea to stay nearby when children use Google and YouTube. Children can satisfy every curiosity with a quick search. This curiosity is bound to lead to a Pandora’s Box or two. It is up to the parent to make sure searches and related content are age-appropriate.
No Smart Phone
If you ask my third and sixth grader, they will tell you they are the only kids at school without a smart phone. They each have a “dumb phone” in their backpack in case of emergency, but this has not stopped the requests for the newest iPhone. I remind them I was in college before I got my first cell phone. This elicits an eye roll and a groan, as it should. After all, they live in a digitized world.
My kids may live in a digital world but I am not ready for them to have unsupervised internet access at their fingertips. A friend’s son was exposed to pornography during a middle school P.E. class courtesy of a classmate’s smart phone. Do we really want that kind of an all-access device in our kids’ pocket?
No Social Media—Yet
My children also claim to be the last of their friends to have personal email and social media accounts. Most email and social media sites set a minimum age of thirteen. Neither of my kids are thirteen yet, so neither are engaged. No Instagram. No Facebook. No Snapchat (never ever, don’t even ask). Once they reach the magic age, we will base our decision to allow social media on their character and trustworthy behavior.
By holding off on social media, we not only keep internet and app usage age-appropriate, we also teach the important principle of respecting and following rules. No lying about ages or signing up under a false name. The truth and nothing but the truth, please.
It isn’t so much what your guidelines for screen time are, only that you have some kind of boundaries in place for you and your children. Sit down with your spouse and predetermine limitations for your family. Clearly communicate these guidelines to your kids. You may get some pushback, but an uncomfortable “no” now can save your children from developing unhealthy habits and addictions.