Keeping Tabs on Technology

Technology does not drive change—it enables change.
—Canadian philosopher Marshall McLuhan

Growing up, most parents today didn’t have cell phones, text messaging, or e-mail. But lots of us did have our own phone lines, and made calls to formal or informal hotlines for information on everything from movie times to the location of the best weekend party to crisis counseling. Our own parents had their “new” technologies, too. And none of it was good or bad; it was simply different from that of previous generations.

It’s up to us as parents now to figure out how to help our kids navigate their world by being knowledgeable, involved, compassionate, and curious about how they socialize, recreate, and get information through the latest technology. Here are some examples of what we mean:

Tips for . . .

  • all parents
    • Educate yourself about how kids use technology. Check out Parents: The Anti-Drug for information on kids and technology use.
    • parents with children ages birth to 5
    • Pay attention to the messages you model—stay off the cell phone, personal digital assistant (PDA), and other electronic devices when you’re driving or engaged in other activities that deserve your full attention.
    • When you’re spending time with your kids, turn off the devices. That’s what voice mail is for! Your kids need, want, and benefit from your full attention.
    • parents with children ages 6 to 9
    • Make sure your kids know what your limits are for cell phone, computer, and other device usage. Many, for example, know (or can figure out) how to access the Internet to play games online or on cell phones and PDAs.
    • Don’t let your kids use the Internet unattended. It’s easier and more practical to monitor their usage if you have the family computer set up in a common space in your home. You can “watch from afar” or just regularly glance over to see what they’re up to.
    • Online social networking communities such as MySpace and Facebook are very popular, even with elementary-age kids. If your kids use these sites, know whom they allow access to on their pages and make sure they know why you’ve set up limits on this access.
    • parents with children ages 10 to 15
    • Let your kids know that you will regularly check their e-mail, phone, and text messaging content on both incoming and outgoing lists, and that they should limit those lists to friends and family members, not people they meet online. If you see names you don’t recognize, find out who they are and how your child knows them. Consider whether this oversight should apply to MySpace and Facebook online communities, as well.
    • Have rules about when and where your children and you will use handheld communication devices. Suggestions include not using them at mealtimes, when visiting family or friends, when driving or operating other machinery, or when in the middle of another conversation.
    • Know the school rules for cell phones and PDAs in class, and consider limiting their use to before and after school only.
    • parents with children ages 16 to 18
    • Understand that regardless of the way you use technology, it’s part of how young people today build their social networks and their community. Be sure that your teens understand the degree of public and private access that others have to their communications. Talk with them about what’s inappropriate to share publicly, and why.
    • Keep computers out of teens’ bedrooms and in central family areas of your home.
    • Let your teen know that some employers and colleges search the Internet for information related to applicants who apply to their institutions. Discuss the kinds of information that may compromise their chances of acceptance.
  • Find out what technologies are being used in your teen’s school. Do teachers keep blogs? Are student groups organized on MySpace or Facebook? Do teachers use digital whiteboards? If so, check these out periodically.

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Communicating with your kids


Good article. Helps parents to understand the importance of communication about technology, not only for teens, but for younger children as well.