Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Negotiating Technology with your Child

Negotiating Technology with your Child
Adapted from A Practical Guide to Keeping Kids Out of High-Tech Trouble
 by Russell A. Sabella, Ph.D.

                Some things are simply not negotiable, such as letting a child cross a busy street by herself at the age of, let’s say, 5. And, even though she may already be a good driver as evidenced by her high scores on the Crazy Taxi™ video game, you would probably just have to say “No” to letting your 9 year old take the family van out for a spin. What about getting a FaceBook or Instagram account? How about watching a movie rated “R” or chatting online? Should she really own her own cell phone at this age? These questions are not as clear cut as the risk may not be as apparent. Yet, your child may have some logical and compelling arguments for doing these things which may be tough to debate. So when and how much do you give in?

Before we go further with some possible answers to these questions, we should remind ourselves of a few things:

  • Technology (including social networking) has become highly integrated into our society and world. These are 21st century tools that all kids should know how to use as part of their ongoing career, personal, social, and academic development. 
  • Technology is not inherently evil. What a person does with these powerful tools is what gives them their value. 
  • Most kids use technology responsibly. Don't let anyone convince you that anyone under the age of 19 who is looking down at their mobile phone is probably up to no good. Like just about anything else, when it comes to cyberbullying or online harassment, a relatively small number of children are doing the majority of the damage. At the same time, technology can "fuel a fire" much more quickly and intensely than is possible without technology. 
  • Technology is everywhere and we as parents can't be (or should be). That is, as parents, we should monitor, supervise, and set up family policies although the bottom line is that we have to teach kids to watch out for themselves and follow rules even when nobody else is looking. Similarly, if we "helicopter" over our kids and not let them make some mistakes, they will not learn the important skills and attitudes needed for coping and recovery. They won't learn. 
  • Kids mature at different rates and have different decision making abilities. As a caretaker, you will need to judge best what your child can handle. 

Here are some factors to consider and tips for negotiating technology with your child:

      First, don’t give in just because it’s easier on you. Kids can wear you down although it’s important to stay in the game and continue focusing on what is right. If you are tired, delay your decision until later, catch your breath, and think it over. Make sure your spouse or partner is “on board.” If your child continues to engage, explain that asking more than twice is harassment and harassment is against the rules resulting in a default “No” and possible other consequences. If your child is not willing to wait for a decision, then again, the immediate answer is “No.” If he is willing to wait for you to “take the decision under advisement,” then negotiations may continue.

      Second, realize that technology can be very powerful and extend our capabilities in incredible (and fun) ways. Let’s remember, however, that “Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.” It is true that your child can stay in constant touch with his friends and get the latest gossip before it hits the streets. It is also true that he can correspond with almost anyone in the world at any time -- although should he? One of the ways to determine this is evaluating the purpose that the technology serves. What is your child trying to achieve by using the technology? For instance, what is the purpose of having a Facebook or other similar social networking account? Ask questions such as, “What do you get out of being on Facebook?” If the purpose is legitimate (having fun, for both kids and adults, is legitimate), then, ask yourself, “Is this the safest and most secure way to achieve this purpose?” If yes, then okay. If not, then the adult must help the child figure out how he or she can achieve their purpose in a better way. How about calling those would-be Facebook “friends” on the phone? What about a more private e-mail or text message directly to the friend? Could the same goal be achieved by meeting at the park to hang out? Can the child increase his or her circle of friends in the existing community by joining a club or team?

       Perhaps your child’s rationale for having a social network account is to avoid being left out (i.e., “Everyone I know has one.” Now known as FOMO disease). Although not having something that others have can be uncomfortable or unpleasant, it is not fatal.  In fact, in some cases, not having a social network account actually gives your child something that other children do not have – more time and focus for other important things such as studies, outdoor activities, and family time.

You get the idea ... Let's ask ourselves, "What purpose does a cell phone serve for a 3rd grader?" Usually, cell phone ownership can be justified by the peace of mind extended to parents who can communicate with their children almost instantaneously (that is, if the child decides to respond). I agree, this is a wonderful advantage (although realize that instant communication does not guarantee that you will have access to your child or that you can help in a given emergency). But what about the potential pitfalls of owning a cell phone such as access to inappropriate content and potential distraction from school to name a few? This is the part of negotiation that begs for a compromise, a situation where everyone gets some of what they want although has to give up a little as well. This can lead to a win-win outcome. In the case of cell phone ownership, remember, if the goal is to give the child the capability of anytime and anywhere communication with her parent/guardian and members of the emergency response community, then this can be achieved by a limited use phone, such as one that has unlimited texting and calling but no data plan.

In Summary

          In the course of negotiations, remember to be objective. Again, be careful not to allow sensational stories, especially propagated by the media, to skew your judgment. Do your homework. Investigate any technology by searching online and asking other parents. There are always both potential benefits and risks to using any technology. Remember that the value of technology is determined by its use, not the technology itself. A hammer can be used to build a house or commit a murder, depending on the user’s intentions. Assess the benefits versus the risks and whenever you deem it safe enough, do allow your child his or her request. Negotiating is never about control or the upper hand. Always keep in mind outcomes that are in the best interest of your child, and also how the negotiations can enhance your relationship.

                I would also add that allowing your child to deal with some reasonable risk can be a valuable learning experience and allows her to demonstrate to you that she is responsible. Realize too that rarely is anything in technology a “black or white” situation. Instead, technologies can usually be customized which allows your child to use them with certain conditions. For instance, allowing the child to have a Facebook account only if she shares with you the password or perhaps, at a minimum, “friends” you to allow access to her profile so that you can help in monitoring her online reputation.  

                Third, as much as possible, focus more on what your child can do instead of what he is not allowed to do. For instance, you may not allow your child to have their own cell phone yet although you may allow him to borrow yours now and then for special occasions. You may not allow your daughter to set up a Facebook account although you may allow her to set up her own blog which you can help monitor. Chatting with strangers is a definite no-no although your kid may chat with school and community buddies using a secure application (e.g., Google chat).

                Finally, the same message may be easier to “swallow” if it came from someone else. If you can get another child, a friend, or other respected adult to relay the same message, it may carry more weight than coming from you.

Resources for Parents

Training for Kids, Parents, and Educators

Good Digital Parenting 
Advice, tips and tools empowering you to confidently navigate the online world with your kids.

Facebook: Help Your Teens Play It Safe A Parents Guide to Facebook Parent Guides

Words Wound: Delete Cyberbullying and Make Kindness Kindness Go Viral
by Justin W. Patchin and Sameer Hinduja

Tips for Parents - Family Technology Use Policy

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