Kids with SmartPhones: Can it be done?

Managing your family is tough. Add tech tools like smartphones, and something that a couple of years ago seemed excessive is now the norm. All three kids at home in our family (and the one who’s overseas) has a smartphone, and they use them. Make no mistake – even if your kid is less than 10 years old, if you give them a technology they will be on top of it, downloading your week’s wages in apps and answering messages while at the dinner table quicker than you can say “put that down.”

The beginning screen for NQ Family Guardian. See how comprehensive the coverage is?

The 6 million dollar question is how do you control it? It’s simple when they’re in front of you. No phones at the table is easy. When they’re away from you, not so much.

You don’t want to limit your kids, and you see the benefits of them having a phone – after all, it would mean you always had contact with them – ideally, just like an executive producer on a tv news show. In their ear. Better than even the angel on their shoulder. Ahhh, we dream.

But the truth is, we don’t really know. We never really will. We have to protect and support their relationship with their own privacy because that leads directly to responsibility. We want our kids to be responsible, especially as they grow through their teenage years. But then we see all those scary mass media images and stories of kids who have horrific experiences that are facilitated and exploded through technology – and sometimes they end in utter, heartbreaking disaster. So you crack down.

But what if your child buys their own phone with their part time job? When should you check it? Can you? Should you confiscate something they own outright? The questions are never ending.

Our family has addressed this with our Family Technology Contract. It’s a one-page sheet that covers everything from making sure your hands are clean before touching expensive tech devices through to responsible surfing and interaction with others. Here’s a great version by safekids.com (We wrote our own, with our kids in mind.). Then we all talked ourselves through it, so we made sure we all understood what was involved. And we signed it. Yeah, it’s an idealized view of tech. But you know what? We all signed it. Even the parents. (Even me, at Jed’s pressing. God bless my husband, he even posted each signed contract next to each kid’s computer. People should do that with their marriage vows – just sayin’.)

Does it automatically stop our kids from behaving badly or making poor choices? Nope. We’re all learning (and I’d say that’s true of all people, not just kids – heard of Weinergate?). But the contract sets the standard for how to start, and we’re all on the same page. It means I’m not always the bad cop. I don’t change the rules at will. I’m not the mom-tyrant.

We also have implemented other security measures to support the “trust but verify” approach we have taken. While we monitor the family’s use of their computers with Microsoft Family Safety (and also ensure the internet is switched off for the kids and me from 12am to 6am every day – that’s good for all of us), I’m looking forward to adding the new security tool called NQ Family Guardian being offered through NQMobile that focuses on smartphone security. You can download the beta version of it here!

With that, we’ll have monitoring that supports our family, not limits us. We want our kids to embrace technology, and to discover friendships, knowledge and a worldwide understanding of diversity that the internet offers. We also want to keep them safe. I’m glad technology providers like NQMobile understands that.

Here’s the interview NQMobile did with me at BlogHer 2012, talking about our family contract and how it works.

But I know all families are different. Sometimes we confiscate, sometimes we ignore. How do you manage your kids’ involvement with technology, and do you think it’s working?

 

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