Good Digital Parenting
Blog | Dec. 16, 2014

Preparing Families for New Technology Devices

Founder, Safety Net of PA, LLC

With the holidays upon us, many children will be getting new tech-based toys or devices. In my nine year old daughter’s case, she is getting her very first tablet. For others, it may be a new smartphone, laptop or even a desktop computer. I've seen firsthand what can go wrong when kids that are too young to use computers safely come across inappropriate content online.

I've also seen too many parents hand a child a mobile device to act as a child’s babysitter. While nothing bad may happen during the actual use of a device, excessive screen time can have negative effects on a child’s development.  

Too often, parents base their expectations for what their children will encounter online on their own GDP Blog Preparing Familiesexperiences. However, since technology has changed so dramatically in such a short period of time, none of the sites and apps really existed when they were kids. Facebook, for example, recently turned 10 years old. That means that no parent that is reading this article experienced it firsthand at the same age as their kids.

To help parents and their kids have the best possible experience with their new toys, I've put together a listing of tips that should help your kids enjoy their new gifts while protecting them from some of the dangers that exist online.

  1. Be sure to open the product and make sure that it works. If possible, charge the device so that your child can use it once they unwrap it. The tablet that we bought our daughter was almost fully charged, but that may not be the case in your situation.  
  2. While you have the device turned on, look for any filters or settings that can help prevent inappropriate content from being available to young eyes. Some cell phones, such as the new Galaxy S5, have a “kids safe” mode. While I don’t expect that many parents will be buying such a phone for their kids, they should know how to enable the mode if they ever plan on giving the phone to a child to keep them busy. I was sure to change the app management settings so that our daughter cannot download new apps without our permission.
  3. If the device has the ability to surf the Web, visit the search engines and adjust their filters to help prevent adult content. While it will not be foolproof, it should prevent most of the inappropriate content from making its way to the device.  For parents that want an extra level of protection, services like Net Nanny can prevent even more unacceptable content from getting through.
  4. Next, be sure to set limits on how and when the devices can be used. Our daughter, for example, can only use our laptop if she is in the dining room, where either my wife or I can see her. We also set limits on how long she can use the laptop. Once Christmas comes around and she gets her new tablet, the same rules that apply to our laptop will apply to the tablet.  

Perhaps the biggest thing that parents can do to help protect their kids is to make sure that they’re ready to be online, especially when it comes to social media. Most sites have age-based restrictions to them, but many of them are ignored by younger users. For example, at a presentation that I gave to almost 100 Girl Scouts last year, roughly 25% of them were under the age of 13, but admitted to having a Facebook account. Beyond the age requirements by the provider, be sure that your kids are mature enough to know what is and what is not acceptable to do online.

Just as some teenagers should not immediately get their driver’s license just because they’re legally allowed to in their state, not all kids should be surfing as soon as they know how to turn on a computer and open up a browser. Make sure that they are prepared for any “incoming” content that could affect them in a negative way. Private and public postings, along with the risk for cyberbullying, may be more than some kids can handle, especially for younger users.

There is no reason why most kids shouldn't be able to enjoy using their new tech devices this holiday season. They (and their parents) just need to be prepared with the tools and know-how to safely and responsibly navigate the digital world. Happy Holidays, everyone!

Cover image courtesy of Flickr.