Holiday Gadget Safety: Five Things Every Parent Should Do By implementing a few simple rules, thereís no reason to fear buying your child a tech gadget this year. BY MARY KAY HOAL
Feel safe letting your child unwrap their first internet-connected device this holiday season.
“ You shouldnít lose sleep over technology. Responsible parenting these days demands being digitally involved, digitally educated, digitally aware and digitally proactive.”
The countdown to Christmas has started. Santaís elves need help, so you may have asked your children to create a holiday wish list, and if your kids are like mine, thereís at least one technology gadget on their list this year. My 8-year-old wants a new iPod, my 12-year-old a new Xbox and my 13-year-old wants an iPhone 5.
Whatever the gadget is, if it connects to the internet, there are five things you need to do before giving it to your child. These precautionary steps are key to making sure your child has a healthy, happy, safe, and age-appropriate experience with their new digital device.
1. Talk to your child. Regardless of their age, itís important that your children understand your ground rules for technology use. Technology isnít a right, itís a privilegeÖ and a fun and educational one at that. Conversely, there are many concerning aspects to the use of technology that pleads for parental involvement and oversight.
If you have room in your budget to purchase the specific gadget that your child wants, let them know that you want them to experience all the great benefits that it has to offer. Also let your child know that there are rules they will need to follow if they want that gadget, and that you expect them to follow those rules without any exceptions.
Once youíve established a comfortable dialogue related to their technology use, keep the conversation going on a regular basis. Itís critical that your children confide in you when they have questions about safe tech etiquette or, worst case scenario, something really concerning comes up. Soon they will realize that, while you may not be an expert, you care about their safety and youíre fully aware of the fact that thereís much to be gained with new technology when used responsibly.
2. If necessary, steer your child in a different direction. I told my 8-year-old daughter, who is an avid reader, that Iíd much rather see her reading than spending time in front of an iPod just playing games (thatís why she wants one). We sat down and I showed her some alternatives that cater better to her interests, such as Amazonís Kindle and the Nook by Barnes & Noble, or the new tablet from Toys R Us. While Santaís purchase decision is still-to-be-made, she had no idea that tablets like these could hold hundreds of her favorite books, and games too!
3. Consider waiting a year before you jump in too far. Recognize that a smartphone is the exact same thing as putting a computer in the palm of your childís hand, minus all the safeguards and filters you have on your home computer. Four out of five of my children have their own cell phone. Each of them had to wait until they were 12 to get their first phone, and you can bet we didnít start with smartphones.
I wanted each of them to first prove, for a year, that they could follow our familyís technology rules. A year later they were able to graduate onto a safety-enabled smartphone that came with limitations, like AT&Tís "Smart Limits." Most of the major cell phone providers have family safety plans like this. These tools made it easy for me to put the same types of filters and restrictions that exist on our home computer on their smartphone, allowing my children to follow our family rules more easily.
4. Get a firm commitment from your child before you gift the digital device. My son, who wants an iPhone 5 for Christmas, knows his phone will be safety enabled. That means Safari will be replaced with the AVG Family Safety browser, restrictions will be set related to his age on apps, music and video.
My son also wants an Instagram account, to which Iíve said no. He and I have talked about my specific concerns after he read the research related to the app. While he understands the reasons for my apprehension, he isnít happy with my decision. He still hasnít committed to putting the phone on his final wish list since it wonít come with everything heíd like. So Santa is giving him another few weeks to decide since his buy-in is key.
5. Safety-enable any gadget that you give your child before itís wrapped. These links provide you with step-by-step picture instructions that show you how to safety enable the following:
Don't forget to let your child enjoy their technology! There are lots of age-appropriate apps and games that you can set up on your childís new digital device.
The bottom line is: You shouldnít lose sleep over technology. Responsible parenting these days demands being digitally involved, digitally educated, digitally aware and digitally proactive. Exercising these simple steps will help you become that kind of parent, and thatís a wonderful place to be in this holiday season and as we move into the New Year!
Mary Kay Hoal is a nationally recognized expert on childrenís social media and online safety. She is the founder and president of Yoursphere Media Inc., which focuses on the family and publishes the kidsí social network†Yoursphere.com†- sign your kids up today!††Mary Kay also offers parents Internet-safety information at YoursphereForParents.com. She has been profiled on CNN, BBC, E!, Fox & Friends, TIME, Lifetime TV and many others. Mary Kay is a contributor to ABC's 20/20 as their family Internet-safety expert. For more information visit www.marykayhoal.com.