Sometimes I wish that I could raise my kids in a different era. I long for simplicity. Things these days are so complex. And fast paced. And busy. There are so many distractions that suck up our time and can take our attention away from the things in our lives that matter most. As much as I love some of the modern conveniences that we have, I also worry about all of the ways in which they can backfire. Technology, with all of its wonders, can also be a trap.
Raising children in this age of technology is a whole new ballgame. Our kids have access to a world of information that we never dreamed of at their age. It is awesome that answers to questions are just a click away. But, other things are also just a click away – darker things that can suck these innocent children into a world that they are not prepared for.
I worry about pornography – the plague that is accepted by so many as normal behavior. I worry about its addictive nature and how it can ruin relationships and families. Some statistic show that the average age of exposure to pornography is 11 years old. By the time they are 18, 93% of boys and 62% of girls report having seen pornography (source). This is dangerous stuff.
I worry about cyber bullying. It takes bullying to a whole new level – one from which it is difficult to escape.
I worry about sexting and inappropriate texting.
I worry about the way that technology can be a huge time waster, keeping us from nurturing relationships and living “real life.”
I worry about the addictive nature of video games. I hate them. With a passion. Too many people are wasting their lives away gaming, and failing to engage in their families, jobs, and other vital aspects of life.
I love David A. Bednar’s talk entitled “Things as They Really Are,” which talks about the potential misuse of technology. (It is fantastic. You should read it.) He said:
“Sadly, some young men and young women in the Church today ignore “things as they really are” and neglect eternal relationships for digital distractions, diversions, and detours that have no lasting value. My heart aches when a young couple—sealed together in the house of the Lord for time and for all eternity by the power of the holy priesthood—experiences marital difficulties because of the addicting effect of excessive video gaming or online socializing. A young man or woman may waste countless hours, postpone or forfeit vocational or academic achievement, and ultimately sacrifice cherished human relationships because of mind and spirit-numbing video and online games. As the Lord declared, “Wherefore, I give unto them a commandment … : Thou shalt not idle away thy time, neither shalt thou bury thy talent that it may not be known” (D&C 60:13).”
Amen to that.
I don’t know that I can fully detail all of my worries about technology here. They are ever-present in my mind. I have shared the biggest ones with you, but technology is always changing, bringing more wonders and worries with it as it evolves. The fact is that it plays a HUGE role in our lives, and must be addressed from a parenting perspective with thought and care.
I will be honest, sometimes I wish I could entirely shield my kids from technology. I wish I could turn off the TV, the internet, and the cell phones and just pretend like we are living in the 1950s. Man, it sure seems like that was a good time to live. I fought the cell phone thing for a long time. I didn’t feel like my kids needed them, and it felt like an invitation to trouble. But, I finally broke down and gave the older boys phones…and iPhones at that…something that I swore I would never do.
Allow me to explain why.
These kids are only with me for a few short years before they will be out on their own. The boys are getting closer and closer to that day, with Jordan leaving in three years and Andrew in four. I know that this technology is not going to go away. I feel a HUGE responsibility to teach them to use it appropriately while they are here with me. I can’t do that if I don’t let them use it. So, we broke down and bought them smart phones…and an iPod touch for Elise, with a whole lot of worry…and a whole lot of prayer that we were not making a huge mistake.
We bought the Pandora’s Hope internet router that filters all wireless devices that are connected to the wireless in our house. Although it doesn’t catch everything, it is pretty darn good.
On their phones, we disabled the Safari browser and installed Mobicip, a filtered browser for mobile devices. For now, the filters are pretty strict. I get a weekly report which shows me all of the sites that they have visited on their phones, as well as the ones that they attempted to visit and were blocked. Once again, I know it is not perfect, but it does give me some peace of mind. (At this point, we disabled all internet browsers on Elise’s iPod touch. We don’t feel like she needs access to the internet on her iPod at this stage in the game.)
Along with the phones and iPod touches, the kids got the following contract that we went over as a family, and they were asked to sign if they wanted to keep their new devices. (I got the idea on this blog and adjusted it a little to fit our needs.)
You are proud owners of technology that we never dreamed of having when we were your age. You are good and responsible children, and we want you to have these things. However, as your parents, we feel the need to present some rules and regulations because we love you. We have been around a little longer than you have. We have seen the marvels of all of this great technology and we are grateful for it! But, we have also noticed a gradual decline of good old- fashioned communication that we feel is so important to you and society in general.
We hope that you understand it is our job to raise you into well-rounded, healthy young people. Part of that job is to teach you how to function in the technologically advanced world in which we live, without letting technology take center stage in our family, or in your relationships with your friends.
Failure to comply with the following list will result in a termination of your technology freedom:
- Any cell phone in our home is a family phone. We, your parents, pay for these things. We are loaning them to you with the understanding that you will act responsibly.
- If you choose to put a password on these devices, we will always know the password.
- Do not ever ignore a phone call if the screen reads “Mom” or “Dad.”Not ever.
- Plug the phone in to charge in Mom and Dad’s room promptly at 8:30 pm every school night, and ever weekend night before you go to bed.
- If you would not make a call to someone’s landline, where their parents may answer first, do not call or text. Listen to those instincts and respect other families and their time.
- If you take your phone to school, it is not to be out during class. Ever. Do not get it out at lunch unless you need to call Mom or Dad. Take advantage of lunch time to have real life conversations with your friends. It is a life skill.
- Technology does not come to the dinner table with you. That is our time as a family, and we want it to be as free from distractions as possible.
- If it falls into the toilet, smashes on the ground, or vanishes into thin air, you are responsible for the replacement costs or repairs. It will happen. Be prepared.
- Do not text, email, or say anything through this device that you would not say in person, out loud, with your friend’s parents in the room. Do not involve yourself in conversations (online, in person, or via text) that would be hurtful to others. Censor yourself.
- We will have access to your texts and emails at all times. We may randomly check them.
- At this point in the game, we reserve the right to be the only ones to give you permission to buy any new apps. Please let us know if you want something and why. We would love to discuss these things with you.
- Do not allow anybody else to text with your phone. That can cause big problems.
- No pornography. If you have access to the Web, search it only for information that you would share openly with us. If you have a question about anything, ask us. We know more than you think we do!
- Turn it off. Silence it. Put in away in public, especially when you are in a restaurant, at a movie, checking out at a grocery store, or while speaking with another person. You are not a rude person. Do not allow your phone to change that.
- Do not take seductive or inappropriate pictures of yourself or anyone else. Remember that, in our family, we seek for goodness and light. We want to share our light with others. If others send you inappropriate pictures, don’t be afraid to tell us about it. That is not your fault, and you will not get into trouble because of it, but we would like to know about it.
- Remember that Cyberspace is vast and more powerful than you. Be careful what you put there. It is hard to make anything that you put out there disappear – including a bad reputation or hurt feelings. If you are not careful, it WILL come back to haunt you – whether for future job opportunities that will be lost, or relationships that will be hurt.
- Keep your eyes up. See the world happening around you. Stare out a window. Listen to birds. Take a walk. Talk to someone new. Remember that your phone is not an extension of you, and there is a whole world out there to explore outside of technology.
- Do not ignore Mom or Dad when they are talking to you. Ever.
- Most importantly, remember that your spirit is the most important thing that you have. Do not let this privilege harm your wonderful spirit. Do not ever let your phone or technology seep into your relationship with your Heavenly Father. Make a practice of reading your scriptures and saying your prayers before looking at your phone in the morning.
- You will mess up. We will take your phone away. We will sit down and talk about it. We will start over again. We are always learning. We are on your team. We are in this together.
It is our hope that you can agree to these terms. You are growing up in an ever changing world that can be exciting and enticing. Always trust in your mind, your heart, and your conscience above any form of technology, and that technology will bless your life for good.
All our love,
Mom and Dad
We had a great discussion with the kids when we presented them with this contract. I think they could feel that we were doing this because we loved them, and not because we want to restrict their freedom. We did not encourage them to sign it because we don’t trust them. Rather, we don’t trust the power of the internet. There is too much out there that can be inadvertently accessed if they are not careful. So, for now, we are helping them with that. In a few years, it will be up to them to have their own internal filters. We are working on developing those right now. Hopefully by the time they leave home, they will have learned what to avoid, and why to avoid it.
In the meantime, we, as parents, have to be on our “A” game. We have to keep up to date on what kids are doing with technology…not just our kids…but kids in general. We have to talk to them about what they are doing online. Often. We have to be frank and candid. Without being embarrassed. We have to assure them that no topic is off-limits, because if they are not comfortable talking to us, they will find their information somewhere else. And it probably will not be presented in the same way that we would have presented it. And that will probably not be a good thing.
I know that technology can be a huge blessing. There are SO many ways to use it for good. But, teaching kids to focus on the good and avoid the bad is sometimes exhausting. I constantly worry that I am going to miss something big, or that I am going about this teaching in all the wrong ways. But, at the same time, I know that if I do not teach them…who will? I cannot expect that they will automatically know the good from the bad, or that they will always gravitate towards the good if left to themselves. I know that they will be exposed to garbage. That is unavoidable at this stage in the game. I know that they will mess up and make mistakes. I just hope and pray that those mistakes will not be too major. I hope that I will be able to help them to understand why they should run from the garbage when they come across it – and that they will want to run instead of digging deeper. Big hopes, I know. Impossible? I don’t think so. I’m counting on that.
P.S. Update 6/2/15 – I just found a fantastic guide that outlines a plan for how to protect your kids on their smartphones. You can find here. It contains some really helpful information that all parents should become familiar with, especially if their kids have mobile devices that connect to the Internet.
P.P.S. Update #2, 3/31/17 – Here is another wonderful reference: What are the Best Cell Phones for Kids? The Ultimate Guide for Parents.