Monday, April 28, 2014

Technology



I have been asked quite a few times on how I deal with technology in the home with teens.

I have learned the hard way when it comes to tech rules.  The hard way being experience, and I have quite frequently felt "behind the ball" so to speak.  I've heard all sorts of different family rules/contracts (here is a great contract and here is another great set of rules from a blog whose author I admire greatly) and one that gave me much food for thought.  I've even read some books on the subject and I've come to the conclusion that no one really has all the answers and many of us parents are struggling with what to allow and what not to allow.

Technology usage ways heavily on my conscience and I know that excessive technology does change children's developing brains.  Beyond that, I think it hurts families, and relationships.  I think technology use is OUT OF CONTROL. I think much of the technology marketed to children and teens is very addicting and purposely meant to be so.  I think too much (which is just a little bit) numbs the brain. There are many studies on this, but they are often buried in the media, or brushed off.

Jeff and I decided that we will not have fancy rules, or rules that are confusing, or rules that are different for this child or that, or rules that require timers or reward systems. (I usually fail miserably at those!)
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These are our family tech rules now.  
Some were our rules always, some were enacted quite recently. 
They have developed over the years and will continue to develop as we have become more knowledgeable, and as technology has changed also.

=All technology only allowed in kitchen, dining room, and den.  (The den is where the one computer we have is located.)

This rule eliminates so many issues in one fell swoop.  You can't lounge on a sofa for hours scrolling through mindless crap,when someone might be trying to have a conversation with you.  You can't sit up late into the night in a bedroom texting to the wee hours of the morning.  Your parents and siblings are around.  We get to SEE you and TALK to you.

Of course the three oldest that have phones, bring their phones with them when going out.  But when they are at home, phones must stay in those areas.

Cell Phones
Right now (and this might change eventually), in eighth grade my kids receive a cell phone without internet for their graduation gift, all the way through high school and then at eighteen years old they receive a 'smart phone' if they wish for their birthday if they have reliable employment (they have to pay the $40 month extra it costs us.)

No locking codes on any personal devices ever.  If necessary for school (the high schools require that the kids lock them) we need to know the code.

Messages are not erased.  If you are under 18, we will and do read them occasionally.  If someone sends a message that they don't think we will like, tell them "my parents read my messages" and that will shut it down quickly.*

No cell phone usage during school hours unless emergencies.  (The schools my kids go to don't allow phones anywhere but lockers, but at the high school level, they aren't great about enforcing this rule.)

Computers and Ipads
Presently, we have ONE main computer in the house. (We do own a laptop but it's so old and broken it takes 20 minutes to start up and no one uses it except for the very occasional ITunes download-it's kept in a drawer.We also own two Ipads for our two oldest, more on that below, that the schools require.)

Our one main computer is for school use only unless permission is asked for some other use.

The computer has a code that Jeff and I (and the oldest kids) know.  Also, I changed the settings on the computer so when I press the power button after use, the computer "sleeps" which means to start it up again, you would need the code.  It also has a program called K9 Web protection on it.

My two oldest children were given (not given-we were forced to buy) Ipads in high school.  A learning curve for us for sure, one I didn't ask for and don't want.  Things will be different for my younger kids coming up, once again, as I have found what works for us and what rules need to be in place.  Since the Ipad is for the purpose of school, it would make a lot of sense for it to be used for school only.  I wish the schools would support this, but unfortunately they don't.  I have seen the schools scrambling, behind the ball, to put rules in place as they are bombarded with serious issues.  I can tell you that for the tiny benefit that IPad has (and I can argue against even the tiniest benefit), the problems it has caused in families, and in classrooms, and most especially with children's brains, far far outweigh any little convenience or new educational opportunity.

Apple's marketing program is genius, if profit (it is, don't be fooled) is the goal-pitting schools against one another to attract students with the 'if you go here you get a 'free' Ipad' lure.  No financial loss to the school, because they force parents to foot the bill.  In the public system, it works the same way, but the taxpayer is footing the bill so kids can play Candy Crush during history class, and waste hours on Instagram instead of writing their paper, or send Snapchats without the teacher having a clue. The convenience for teachers is small, because I think they now must spend time monitoring students usage while lecturing, and often just give up with the excuse "they have to learn good habits themselves, I'm not in charge of that".  I understand this-classrooms are busy enough these days without having to constantly police small tech devices.  And finally, I don't think a kid in this country needs more screen time!  I think school is sometimes the only break many kids get to listen, to socialize, to think and process with their brains. I hope one day schools give up on this ridiculousness, but I have a feeling that might be a pipe dream.

A few more notes:
*There is also a huge learning curve when it comes to social media for kids AND their parents.  How to unfriend someone on Facebook, how to stop too much texting, or inappropriate texts from friends.  I have found that we parents need to help give them ideas of how to get out of sticky situations. What sort of photos posted on Instagram convey the right message?  They need to know these things before they are given the device.  Talk, look, talk and look some more.

I almost never let the younger kids (grade school on down) use the older kids Ipads or Jeff's Iphone (almost never means maybe for a scoreboard app or to check the weather for me)-they still only have access to the one family computer. And they are rarely allowed to use it.

Social media: mostly, we have learned to either friend or follow our kids, or have access to their accounts. As I see fit, I will allow or not allow certain sites, but as I get older and wiser, I get stricter and stricter. I think for the kids coming up into high school, it will be a "pick one" choice to limit time spent and make monitoring easy for us.

We bought Isaac a laptop earlier than high school graduation, but decided from here on, that will be a gift given upon high school graduation or before college begins for the rest of the kids.

One more note: Our oldest is 19 now and a sophomore in college.  The house rule about devices in dining room and kitchen apply to him of course, but the other rules (checking messages, no passwords, etc) don't.

I want to reiterate that this is what works in my family, I know wonderful intentional parents with completely different rules that are raising really, really great kids.

And even with the rules we have, something always crops up that needs to be addressed-kids make mistakes-whether it's the whopping number of texts sent and received by a certain teenage girl in one month, or angst about feeling left out from Instagram postings, or the amount of time spent on devices.  There is nothing, alas, that makes all the issues suddenly vanish.   (Besides moving to some far far away land that doesn't get internet service, but also has cute houses, a white sand beach and a warm ocean, a cook, a cleaning lady, an awesome bookstore...and a big plastic bubble enclosing it all.:)

Extra Help:
How to install K9 Web Protection and a whole house internet filter here.