If there is one universal truth that parents know, it’s that kids learn how to use devices more quickly than most adults do. Working a computer and mouse, unlocking an iPhone or iPad, working the remote for the television—kids have a seemingly natural ability to unravel the mysteries of electronic devices. Our kids had mastered working an iPhone at age two—and that’s with us trying to severely limit their exposure to our phones! With technology becoming an integral part of life in the 21st century, it’s important to understand what they might be exposed to at school, decide what you’ll allow them to use and how they’ll use it at home, and to teach them safety tips to protect them from the dangers of an ever-deepening online world.

Technology at school

Your child will be exposed to some technology at school, even as early as Kindergarten. These days, many classrooms are equipped with smart boards—a system that includes projecting from a computer onto an interactive white board on the wall. These are often used to direct teaching of concepts, skills, and large and small group practice. Desktop computers remain a mainstay in schools; while some classrooms have a few laptops, others have computer labs or classrooms for the purpose of learning computer skills like turning the computer on and off, using the mouse, using programs for word processing, art, creating documents, and using the internet. Some schools utilize laptop computers for similar purposes as desktops. Some more affluent schools will also have students using tablets for everything from games and accessing the internet for research to completing class assignments and homework. Our 4th grader was actually assigned an iPad that he was expected to use extensively and was responsible for all year long. Honestly, I’m not completely onboard with that approach…

Technology at home

Fortunately, we parents have much greater control over the types of technology we expose our children to and the frequency with which those items are used at home. This tech goes way beyond the family television! These days, many families also own desktop and/or laptop computers, smart phones, tablets, gaming systems, and handheld game devices. Admittedly, our family owns at least one of each of these types of devices. And they can be amazingly useful tools for learning, completing homework, communicating with family and friends who live far away, and for leisure times. But with all the options and convenience comes the responsibility of deciding when and how they will be used

To limit or not to limit device time?

This is hotly debated among so-called experts and parents. If you’ve spent any amount of time in an online parenting group or forum, then you’ve surely read responses that run the gambit between those who highly regulate their children’s technology time and those who let their children have free reign with devices. I once started researching what the experts say and found research at both ends of the spectrum and everywhere between! Here’s my advice: you know your kids best. If your child can handle or even thrive with less restrictive time limits, then go for it. If your child tends to become immersed in the tech world in a way that makes you uncomfortable, then take those reigns and set ground rules. Our children have a set amount of technology time each day, once they’ve finished school work and any chores. That’s what’s right for our family. You must do what’s right for yours. If you’re setting limits, then be specific and clear. Practice the expectations you spell out with your kids. Provide guidance and set a timer if you need to to keep things on an even keel. Remember that children tend to copy what they see.

Model what you expect from your children

Since children tend to copy what they see, you’ll want to model what you expect from your children. Sure, you might be thinking I am the adult. They are the child. They need to do as I say, not as I do. A perfectly natural, parental thought. However, look at it this way: if you spend every waking, at-home moment on your smart phone, how will your children take you seriously when you tell them they must have restrictions on their tech time? The more cohesive family relationships are built on mutual respect; modeling what you expect of your kids is a large part of fostering that respect.

The issue of technology looms large in our society. With a little forethought, planning, and active involvement, you and your children can navigate the seas of this high-tech new world in which we live.

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