How to Teach Your Kids to Be Safe With Tech

Children and adolescents don’t always have the discernment needed to safely handle technology. When presented with gadgets and devices, they dive into the pool—and rarely test the water first. That’s why so many teens spend hours daily mindlessly interacting with screens. This can leave them open to everything from becoming a victim of cyberbullying to stumbling across inappropriate content.

If you’re a parent, you can’t necessarily pull the plug on giving your kids access to technology, particularly if they’re going to school online. They need some interaction with websites, as well as the ability to connect with teachers, peers, and family. However, there are a few steps you can take to guide them into a healthier relationship with technological tools.

1. Untether yourself from the 24/7 Internet news cycle.

Your kids are watching what you do, even if you don’t realize it. When you pore over the Internet for hours at a time, they notice and may imitate your behaviors. Therefore, the best way to train your children on the importance of taking tech breaks is by putting down your devices.

Set aside time to be without technology, even if you’d rather be browsing Pinterest DIY pictures or watching chef-inspired recipe videos. You’ll find it’s much easier to get your kids to distance themselves occasionally from technology if you do it, too.

2. Let kids “age up” into different tech levels.

You wouldn’t hand your middle schooler the car keys and say, “Go for a joyride!” But you might let her sit in the driver’s seat, turn on the radio, and maybe adjust the mirrors. In other words, you want her to get comfortable with the idea of cruising around eventually.

This same “stepping carefully into the adult world” tactic can be used with technology. For instance, when buying a kids phone, look for one that offers limited services. What more does your younger child need than the ability to text, talk, and take pictures? You can then give them a “real” smartphone when they’re older and are more responsible. 

3. Talk honestly about social media.

Social media can be a fun playground, no doubt about it. Nevertheless, even adults can get worked up over another user’s posts or fall into a cycle of craving social validation. That’s the danger of all social platforms: They can become emotionally and psychologically addicting. Additionally, many people spend far too much time liking, clicking, and exploring their favorite social sites.

Before your child ever sets up his own social media account, talk openly about popular social platforms. You don’t have to act as if social media has zero value, but keep an objective viewpoint on its pros and cons. 

As an example, you may want to sit down with your child and look at your Facebook page or check out a TikTok video together (after reviewing it privately first.) Talking frequently about social sites can help lessen their charm and allure. As a side note, make sure your youngster understands that social sites have strict age limits, and that setting up an account when you’re too young is essentially illegal.

4. Set house rules about tech use.

It’s your house, which means you get to set the rules. Those rules should include how and when kids are allowed to use technological gadgets. Case in point: You might not want your children to have their smartphones in their bedrooms after a certain time at night. Or, you might not allow the kids to use technology at all until 30 minutes before they head upstairs to brush their teeth—if homework is finished, of course.

Expect some pushback, especially if you’ve been fairly loose about technology up to this point. And, be prepared to police yourself as well. Yes, you’re an adult, but that doesn’t mean you should game for hours every evening while telling your kids that gaming’s wrong for them. At the end of the day, you should lay out tech use criteria and etiquette that all members of your household can follow.

5. Engage in non-tech family activities.

Do you turn on the TV as soon as you walk through the front door? Walk around with your phone in your hand and check your emails every few minutes? Constantly use your home’s smart devices? Your reliance on technology may impede trying to teach kids how to have a safe relationship with and, when appropriate, distance from tech.

Begin encouraging kids to get involved in activities that aren’t techy at all, and make sure you’re doing non-tech activities often. Playing a musical instrument, reading a book, and kicking a soccer ball in the backyard aren’t skills that require screens or gadgets. 

When you see your child reverting to technology to pass away time, redirect their attention. The last thing you want is for technology to become your youngster’s babysitter. Instead, keep tabs on how much non-tech engagement your family has each day. Ideally, it should keep getting higher as the weeks go by.

You can’t reasonably keep your kids from technology forever. However, you can teach them to make wise tech choices by switching up your parenting and personal habits. You’ll see a difference in your youngsters’ reliance on devices and feel less worried about the tech decisions they’re making.