Avoiding devices completely is impossible and impractical despite how much we wish we might. The world is not suddenly going to spin backward, so it would be a disservice not to adapt to the times. I know a lot has changed and it is natural to wish for it all to just slow down. Good luck with that!
Our children are going to learn their boundaries from someone, let it be from us and not their peers who are creating multiple social media accounts to lead duplicitous lives. This age of social media is already bringing some scary things to the surface. The temptation of comparison just took hold in a whole new way. Privacy is nearly nonexistent. Cyber-stalking is real and knowing how to protect yourselves and those you love can seem a bit overwhelming!
How are we to keep our children safe as the new technology intrudes into our lives bringing unknown consequences? I can attest to only the short-term side effects because scarily, my own children are the guinea pigs for the long-term ones. I encourage you to pace your kids. Heck, pace yourself! A device without safeguards and boundaries isn't safe for anyone.
So, here are a few steps I have taken to keep my us safe. I will be writing primarily from the Apple perspective, sorry Android users.
#1 Go slow; give out devices when you are ready.
Missing out, and knowing what you are actually are missing out on, are completely different things. Just because all their friends have them doesn't mean they are ready to have one. Be sure you, as the parent, are ready for setting parameters. Boundaries only work if you stick by them and it is harder to set them after the fact. The moment you cave to your own limits you have lost ground which will only be regained painfully. Devices have an addictive quality and if you don't believe that, see how long you can go without subconsciously reaching to check your own phone!
We have a sharing policy in our house. All the devices are mommy and daddy's because we pay for them. Period. End of story! Using them is a privilege, not a right. The kids are allowed to use them as long as whatever requirements we have set are met. Requirements can be anything and everything - you are the parent - chores, attitudes, respect, and consideration. Sky's the limit!
Each house will be different depending on the age of the child and the parents' views. In our house, chores need to be done, schoolwork completed, and some time of physical activity performed before devices can be utilized. Road-trips and summer vacation we allow more leniency, but I try not to let boredom dictate usage.
We have already established the rule that social media platforms will not be happening until double digits, a history of trust and maturity in peer choices is established. This leads me to the next safeguard...
#2 Be the keeper of the passwords.
Start strong! All passwords should be known by mom and dad or the device is lost or restricted...more on how to restrict later. When I upgraded, my old cellphone programmed with my iTunes account was loaded with educational games for our kids. Anything that is downloaded to that device is also automatically downloaded to my own new one. I love this and see it as a great safeguard. I can easily delete the app without affecting the other. My kids have to come to me to input my iTunes password first. If a child learns the password (they are smart!) and wishes to bypass the asking step, I will be alerted and obviously, consequences will occur. I set up emails for my children and have full access to their accounts because mine is the emergency backup. That means any notifications of activity or password changes are sent to me.
Until they turn 18 or pay for their own phones, there will be set and discussed ground rules.
#3 Set device and app restrictions.
Under General, there is an awesome Restrictions menu. Thank you, Apple! There is even a separate restrictions pass-code (not the same as the unlock code!) on Apple devices which I highly recommend for safety. Do not give this to your child. If they are older and you trust them with their own iTunes account, great! BUT please turn off the explicit content at the very least. (sidebar: If you battle pornography, have someone you trust restrict your own device!) You don't want to deal with therapy issues when you can avoid that. Set your kids up for success! Children will test their limits and peers will be sure to enlighten them to all the wonderful and not so wonderful capabilities of their new device.
Location tracking is another beautiful thing to turn off under privacy. Switching apps to location tracking only to While In Use or Never will safeguard against cyber-stalking. Turning off all unnecessary app notification is a must for adults as well as kids. The device is a time suck, so limits its pull!
Ratings on movies, books, apps, and podcasts are adjustable under restrictions as well just to name a few. Take the time to learn the device and set the proper maturity settings. They are always adding new features which a quick internet search can help you utilize. Restriction of in-app purchases is a good place to start.
My kids are under ten, so I have restricted Safari, Siri, YouTube and all location tracking from applications on the iPads and iPhones. I downloaded OurPact which allows me to disable all apps on a certain time schedule. Facetime is linked to my device as well, so I am alerted to any incoming video calls for the present time. For a small fee you can add multiple devices and get access to more specific restricting capabilities, but I have only the free version. I find it very helpful - go to bed kid! There are many devices and apps to help do this too. The Google search engine has a safe-search mode and so does YouTube which I have enabled on all our computers in the home.
#4 Set personal restrictions.
Start off slow and let them earn more opportunity rather than having to take it away. Trust is earned and kids test their limits. Be aware of back doors (getting to things via another app - example - YouTube via Pinterest) and other addictive behaviors. Be sensitive to their posture and habits. You want to be aware if a child is changing apps when you walk into the room. A quick confiscation and double tape of the home button can reveal all open apps. I also ask that charging stations be in the main section of the house. Closed door and devices are a no go. Dinner tables should be sacred and bedtime reasonable. Bedtime means devices are dark.
#5 Ask for help.
In this day and age, we parents have a much wider village. Cousin Cody, across the country, can keep tabs on what your kids are up to and into. When social media has finally been earned, have friends and family accept your child's friend request. Hyper-vigilance can raise anxiety, so we need to have some established trust before our kids enter the world of social media. In this case, use your village to your advantage. Family and friends can help safeguard your child by commenting on their accounts or alerting you to dangerous posts. Sometimes this is a good thing and sometimes a bad. Have honest talks about the dangers of social media with your kids and encourage them to look out for their friends too. It isn't tattling when someone is getting hurt or could get hurt; it is called being a good friend. Have honest talks with your village about their sensitivity. You don't need to know every emoji your child has used, but have them monitor for signs depression or danger.
We can only protect our kids from so much. Hopefully this helps reduce a little anxiety. I am always searching for better apps and safeguards for this constantly growing and changing industry. Leave some tips for me!
My Current Mantra
Walk humbly with God and do the work at your hands....