Christmas is here! I feel like we were celebrating last year’s Christmas, well, yesterday. Time sure does fly. I think being a parent immediately puts all of us in a time warp. Speaking of, how much do you miss the “old days” of Christmas? If you are north of 30, you know what I am talking about. Devices were not the “main gift”. We used to ask for bicycles, coloring books, Lite-Brites, Cabbage Patch Kids, or a baseball bat. Okay, maybe you need to be north of 40 to remember some of those, but the reality is that devices didn’t become the main attraction until about 10, maybe 15, years ago. Other than the occasional Nintendo, our parents were not out buying cell phones, iPads, or gaming devices that had access to the entire world.
I am also willing to bet if you had approached one of your parents with the idea of “do you want to buy a device that will allow your 8-year-old to have access to anyone across the world at all hours of the day,” they would have told you to take a hike. I think there is something to be said for the “go outside and play” generation. Our gifts usually brought us together with friends or, at the very least, spurred a safe, creative outlet.
But as much as we can wish for the old days, we are most definitely in a new and different generation. And if your child has their first cellphone or gaming device on their list, there are a few things we must consider first, as parents, to protect our kids. First, how old is your child? And I do not mean just chronologically. What is their maturity level? I have met many 16-year-olds I did not think should have access to any online activity. Take some time to think about how your child acts and reacts to situations. Do they follow your rules? Will they obey the boundaries you set, or will they test them at all times? This will help you decide if it is time for a device, if they need restrictions placed on it, or if they may not need one at all.
Secondly, are you ready for a part-time job? What does this mean? The parents I work with always ask, “What is the ‘best age’ for a device?” I always respond with, “Are you ready for a part-time job?” Are you ready for your relationship with your child to change? Because the reality is that to protect children, we MUST look at what they are doing. This means we must learn how to operate their phone. You need to know how to use each app on the phone. How to access their folders and pictures. And then you must invest the time, weekly in the beginning for our young kids, doing random device checks. This is time-consuming. And the harsh reality is it will never feel like enough. You will always feel like you need to protect them more. And you will always wonder if they are doing things you cannot access and should not be doing.
Third, are you ready to set boundaries and rules around the device? You must do this to protect your child. Not just from others but from themselves. And, these boundaries must be established early. I encourage you to talk about kids before purchasing a phone or device. Because if the limits cannot be agreed upon, then it may not be time for a device in the home.
While all of this may sound exhausting and stressful, we must ensure we do what we can to protect our kids. If your gut feeling is that your kid is not ready for a device, it is okay to listen to that feeling. And to wait. They will survive. Maybe a “throwback” Christmas with toys that encourage time together is just what everyone needs.
Kristi Bush serves as a national education consultant and social media safety advocate. She is a licensed social worker with greater than 15 years of clinical practice and health care experience. She attended Troy and Auburn University where she studied social work and counseling. Kristi travels nationally and has spoken with thousands of children, parents, professionals and organizations about the benefits and threats associated with social media. You may reach Kristi through her website at www.knbcommunications.com.