By COURTNEY GRAY LAYSON
About four months ago, I put my cell phone on the roof of my car while loading my three year old into the backseat. Because I mostly function on adrenaline and caffeine, I then walked around to the driver’s side, climbed in, and drove away. So long cell phone. To be honest, my husband and I were overdue for an upgrade. We decided to bite the bullet and purchase iPhones. And I have to tell you we love them! Who wouldn’t want to access Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Candy Crush Saga, My Fitness Pal, and so much more—all with the touch of a button? Who doesn’t want to be available 24/7 for emails, phone calls, and texts? (Insert sarcasm here.)
Let’s face it. The advances in technology are a mixed bag. Have they made our lives significantly more flexible? Yes. Have they made our lives significantly more complicated? Yes. And while the pros and cons of the technological revolution will continue to be debated, we must all recognize that technology has drastically and permanently changed the dynamics of our own lives—and also the lives of our children. So how should we handle this age of information access and excess? And do these new demands change the game when it comes to parenting? As a licensed counselor and as a mom, I would say yes.
To simplify a bit, here are five things to keep in mind when dealing with your child and technology.
1. Technology is not the enemy.
Our children are growing up in a world where technology is a first language. You and I may remember a time before cell phones and laptop computers existed, but our kids don’t. Like it or not, technology is necessary for basic school and job functioning. By avoiding technology completely, we are neglecting our children’s appropriate development. However, parental instruction and guidance is necessary to ensure that we don’t give our kids freedom beyond what they can handle.
2. Children are not the enemy.
Sometimes kids break rules. However, we are not raising small criminals. Allow children the freedom to make mistakes and try to take it in stride. Obedience is great, but it is not necessarily the end goal. If we treat our kids like they are the enemy, it will destroy our relationship with them for the future. If you find that your child has misused his or her technology then use appropriate discipline, but if you find yourself playing parent-detective 24/7 then you may want to re-think your strategy. Remember: Children are not the enemy. Repeat 10 times daily.
3. Children are not adults.
You and I have a fully developed pre-frontal cortex (the part of the brain responsible for complex decision making). Our children do not. It’s okay—they are developmentally appropriate for their age and stage of life. However, we cannot expect them to make completely responsible decisions. We wouldn’t give our kids a car and turn them loose on the streets of Jackson without proper training and instruction. And we shouldn’t give them full use of technology without appropriate teaching and guidance. It’s okay to set limits on the access kids have to computer and cell phone use. Our kids cannot be expected to use the same level of discretion that we would, and the consequences for not doing so are far-reaching and long lasting.
4. Security cannot replace parenting.
There are a variety of great security devices that can help parents monitor technology. MobiStealth, Phone Sheriff, and My Mobile Watch Dog, just to name a few. And while all of these advances in security are great, they cannot replace the need for good old-fashioned parenting. Do not simply install security software on your child’s phone and walk away. We must be in the habit of talking with our kids about their friends and activities. We need to have discussions with them about the decisions they are facing and about the thought processes they use to come to certain conclusions. Children who feel emotionally connected to their parents are much less likely to be involved in high-risk behaviors.
5. My kid is a bully and so is yours.
Hold up your right hand and solemnly swear: “I will not portray my child or any one else’s child a sinner or a saint.” Here’s what I mean. We are all human. Our children cannot be labeled as the victim or the bully in each and every situation. Sometimes my child will be mean to yours and sometimes your child will be mean to mine. If you find that either one is happening to your child via technological means then address it—quickly. Just make sure that you remember the tables will turn at some point. So treat the other parent the same way that you’d want to be treated if you were on the other end—because soon you will be.
Courtney Gray Layson is a native Jacksonian and a graduate of Mississippi College and Asbury Theological Seminary. She is the mother of two and a Licensed Professional Counselor at Christ United Methodist Church in Jackson. Contact Courtney at 601.914.7119.