For the last five years I have had the unique privilege of speaking to and hearing from parents all over the country. My wife and I are also in the last year of having a child at home before we become empty nesters. Parents continually express that the challenges they face when it comes to technology are their most pressing concerns. I am often asked about what I have learned as a father of teens being raised in a digital age and what strategies I would recommend to parents.
Here is a quick summary of a three-fold strategy that I think today’s parents ought to consider when it comes to managing technology in our homes.
First, we are to protect our kids.
Protection involves several layers in today’s wired world. A comprehensive protection plan involves activating parental controls on all digital devices, browsers, specific social media sites, and apps. Also, adding protection at the router level is important to this endeavor. This will help with devices that are brought into our homes by those friends of our children who might not have parental controls activated.
Filtering and/or monitoring (a.k.a. Internet Accountability) are also important parts of a comprehensive protection plan. Our family has used Covenant Eyes for both filtering and monitoring for several years, and we have found it to be a wonderful piece of our overall protection plan.
The goal is not to bubble wrap your kids, but to reasonably protect what you can. We used filtering when our kids were young and moved to monitoring when they got a bit older.
Second, we are to equip our kids to thrive in a digital world.
If all we do is protect our kids from, we will fail to equip them for. I would much rather send an equipped child out into the world than a protected one.
Equipping means that our homes become incubators for healthy learning, healthy growth, healthy correcting, and healthy dialogue about the impact and influence of technology. Technology can be a positive way to connect with and encourage peers. Your child needs you to equip them to use devices, apps, and websites as outlets for creativity, fellowship, and fun.
Equipping also means teaching the hard lessons of the potential downside of improper technology use. Use recent news stories to talked about the dark side of technology and help them see where inappropriate on-line behavior can lead. (You can find some examples here, here, and here.)
Third, and most importantly, we need to model wise and healthy technology use for our kids.
It remains true that observational learning is the primary way our kids develop understanding and learn behavior. It also remains true that parents are the primary influence in their kids lives. Not peers, not media, not celebrities…parents.
If we desire for our kids to use technology wisely then we must model that behavior in our own lives, in our own homes. One example is limiting screen time for our kids and ourselves by keeping TVs, tablets, phones, iPods, etc. out of bedrooms.
When my oldest son left home for college he received a laptop as a graduation gift. I will never forget him bringing me his laptop prior to moving out and asking me, “Dad, will you install that program [Covenant Eyes] you have on your laptop?” Are you modeling the type of behavior you want your kids to act out beyond your home, and are you being vulnerable about the temptations and challenges you face with technology?
I certainly haven’t done everything right as a parent, but this three-fold strategy involving protection, equipping and modeling is my best advice to parents to help our children thrive in this digital age.
Dan Martin develops pureHOPE’s parenting ministry activities and resources, collaborating with churches and para-church organizations in order to equip parents to raise kids in the sexualized culture around us. Prior to joining pureHOPE Dan was the Regional Vice President of the Southwest region for a national insurance company. He also served as the parenting coach for Chase Oaks Church.