1. Monitor input. A good rule of thumb is that kids should never spend more time in the virtual world than in reality. That simply means that they should never spend more time playing video or computer games than engaging in active play. They should never spend more time watching sports than playing them (that goes for you, too, Dad!). They should never spend more time talking to their friends on Facebook, email or texting than having real conversations.
2. Get online. Parents of preteens should have access to any social networking sites they choose to let their kids participate in or explore. You should know their password at all times and let them know that you can and will check it. Require that they “friend” you on Facebook and let them know you check the Internet and device history on any of the computers or gadgets in your home.
3. Model Limits. Pay attention to the amount of time you spend watching TV, checking email, surfing the net or chatting on Facebook. Kids learn more from watching us than hearing from us. We can talk all day about setting limits, but we need to be modeling that in our own lives.
4. Bombard kids (with information). Education and conversation are our best weapons against pornography and Internet dangers. Consider creating and having them sign a Media Contract that outlines the terms of having technology in your home.
5. Avoid Violence. Violent video games that reward antisocial aggression, such as Grand Theft Auto or Doom, shouldn’t be permitted in your house. Playing violent first person video games has a substantially more toxic effect than watching equally violent television programs. Neither is healthy, but children are even more susceptible to behavioral influences when they are active participants.
6. Teach Literacy. Just because preteens can use media and technology doesn’t mean they are effective at critically analyzing and evaluating the messages they receive. This is called media literacy. An important media literacy skill, which can be developed through parental guidance, is a child’s ability to distinguish between reality and fantasy.
7. Parent in Community. Sit down with other parents that you trust and talk openly about what ages feel appropriate to introduce different stimulants. When are you planning to give a first cell phone? At what age would you feel comfortable with your son/daughter watching this particular show? When are a reasonable number of texts to allow per month? Parenting in community layers more support for when your son/daughter says things like “I’m the only one,” or “No other parent.” You can simply respond back with “that’s interesting, because I know for a fact that at the Johnson’s house, the Allen’s house, and the Whitaker’s house, they’ve decided to wait on that as well.”
Next week, we’ll offer some great parent resources for staying informed and on top of technology with our kids.