5 Ways to Keep Kids Safe When Gifting Technology

Liz Repking, Cyber Safety Consultant, BECO Ambassador

November 2020

kids tech article 2

Hopefully, you are putting the finishing touches on your holiday gifts and are ready to enjoy the beauty of the season. Maybe you are anticipating the squeal of your daughter’s joy as she opens up the gadget that has been on the top of her list for months! Maybe you are anticipating the days of peace after the holiday when the constant begging and badgering for the latest technology will gleefully be absent from your life!

You may also be feeling a little anxious about the world of smartphones, iPads, or gaming platforms that you are about to enter. It can feel like opening Pandora's black box for many parents. You are entering the world of constant Internet connectivity and the risks that come with this. Or maybe you are dreading the impending battles over screen time, getting your child to look up from a device, not bringing a phone to the dinner table, or to stop the constant texting.

The good and the bad. The yin and the yang. There is always a price to pay for enjoyment. Nothing is free. The question becomes ‘how high a price do you want to pay for your child's euphoria?' The answer is up to you. Here are 5 things to consider before you put the bow on the box and give the gift of technology.

        1. Your negotiating power is on the front end. Parents are in the strongest position to set rules and boundaries BEFORE they give their child a device. Talk through rules, limits, and plans before you give the gift. This is the point at which you will have the strongest voice in the conversation. If your child is resistant to the terms and conditions, then hold back on giving the technology. It is extremely difficult to attempt to impose rules once they have the technology in hand. You have forfeited much of your negotiating power. It is not impossible to put rules in place, but it is much easier on the front end.
        2. Create a digital road map for your family. Creating a Digital Road Map is an article that I previously published which explains how to create a plan that lays out what, how, and when technology will be rolled out in your home. In conjunction with #1, this is best done before you allow access to phones, apps, iPads, Xbox, etc. Make your decisions up front and have a plan with policies in place that are clearly communicated to your child. Also consider building in tech free time with your family and tech free space in your home.  And if possible, ask your child or children to help you develop the digital road map. The more bought into the plan they are, the less resistance you will receive from them and the easier it will be to carry through with it.
        3. Set parental controls on devices. Everyday parental control settings get better and better on the technology that kids are using. Take the time to investigate what is available on the particular device. On iPads, iTouches, and iPhones, there are many settings that can be engaged through the Screen Time settings to increase safety. Gaming consoles, like Xbox One, also allow the ability to set time limits, filter games, tv, and movies, and limit access to Xbox Live.
        4. Consider using 3rd party monitoring software. You will need to determine what the primary objective is of the monitoring software. There are many options when looking at monitoring software. After you figure out what you want to monitor, then you can look at the various options that meets your objective. Here are some examples:
              • If your child has a new iPad, you may be looking for a way to filter content, set screen time limits and establish a ‘bed time' for the device. In conjunction with the Screen Time settings on the iPad, you can also use a product like Circle with Disney that works through your Wi-Fi connection in your home.
              • If your child is receiving a smart phone, she will now be able to access the internet through data instead of home wifi. You may want have access to things like texts, phone calls, apps that are installed, time limits and location. Try using Bark. This software works with iPhones and Android phones, although they have different functionality depending on which it is.  Bark also has a free one-week trial and the ability to monitor multiple devices under one account.
        5. Engage in conversation and be involved in your child's online life. Monitoring does not replace parenting! This is the most important part to increasing your child's online safety. While your 12 year old may have the knowledge of how to open up the box and have that device connected and running in minutes, your child does not have the knowledge or experience to navigate online threats or how to demonstrate solid digital citizenship qualities online. Parents need to develop an ongoing conversation about these topics. In order to have quality conversations with your child, you need to build your technology credibility:
                • Understand how the technology works
                • Stay current on what is trending with your child and friends
                • Be proactive in your conversations
                • Ask your child questions about likes and dislikes around technology, apps, etc. and listen to the answers
If you can do some or all these things, your pain will likely be reduced over the long term, and most importantly, your child’s online vulnerability will be reduced. Being safe and appropriate online with rules and limitations to technology will not limit your child's opportunity to enjoy the device. Good luck!
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