As parents, many of us are good at overcomplicating things; managing the mix of technology and family life is no exception.
We may feel that we have to have it all figured out. Are we up to date on all the latest apps, skilled in every social media channel, aware of every harmful website, and on top of all the trends?
That, of course, is impossible for any of us. But as busy parents, there are a few simple steps we can take to keep ourselves a little more “in the know” when it comes to our kids’ digital lives.
There are some great parent bloggers (especially moms) currently writing about technology and kids. Do a quick Google search using a string like “blog parent technology,” and click through to the more promising ones.
When you find a blogger you like, bookmark the site. Better yet, subscribe to their newsletter if they have one. You can always unsubscribe if it’s not a good fit, and you can organize all incoming emails from bloggers into a folder so you can read them all at once.
Advanced tip: Create an account with a reader like Feedly. This allows you to subscribe to a blog or site’s “feed”, which will pull any newly-published content and deliver it to one spot. If you add five blogs, say, you would be able to look at your reader once a week and read all the posts from all five blogs all at the same time and in one place. Pretty slick.
Much like you did when finding blogs, you need to get really efficient at searching for the right information. You don’t want to spin your wheels endlessly when you are looking for something online.
Let’s say you just heard about a new video game and your child has mentioned wanting it. If you go to the game’s site, of course, you are just going to get a massive sales campaign about how cool the game is. Likewise, if you just Google the game’s name and the word “review”, you will mostly find gamers who are reviewing how cool or lame the game is. Not helpful.
Add the word parent or parent guide with the game title. For example, “parent guide” Minecraft should get you some parent perspectives on the game. You can also do this with apps, websites, and gadgets.
Read a book
Because of the speed of technology and new apps popping up daily, you aren’t going to find a book about all this stuff that isn’t already out of date. My favorite guide-type book on various apps and devices is Clayton Cranford’s Parenting in the Digital World, which has great step-by-steps and is relevant and practical. But I’m sure the day after he sent the book to the publisher, three new questionable apps jumped into the iTunes store.
Quite a few authors have tackled this subject in a way that teaches us how to think about technology in our home and how to talk about it with our kids. Devorah Heitner’s Screenwise reminds us that mentoring is far more effective than monitoring. Janell Burley Hoffman’s iRules lays out clear and practical guidelines for setting up a smartphone contract with your teen.
A good search of Amazon or your local library collection will keep you going for a while.
Join a group
Why not use the technology to connect with others about the technology? If you are already on Facebook, find and join a few groups that focus on parenting and tech (or just parenting, as the tech topic comes up a lot in any group of parents!) Search for those terms as you would in Google, filter for Groups, check a few out, then join or request to join. Anything posted to those groups will then appear in your news feed.
Even better, find a face-to-face group in your area. This might be a group specific to raising the digital generation, or it might simply be a group of fellow parents. Try searching MeetUp to find groups and events in your area, or see what your church has to offer. Your school’s parent group could be a source, too. Suggest a regular meeting to talk about technology issues.
It’s not really a “group,” but Pinterest can also provide you with an endless source of information and ideas, even relating to digital parenting. You won’t get the conversation like you will in other social media, but there is no shortage of posts and articles on the subjects. Again, search for specific topics relating to parenting digital kids (screen time, safe apps, YouTube channels…whatever) and follow people or boards that seem helpful.
Ask your kids
That’s right. Don’t feel like the expert in this stuff? Then go to the “expert”!
Believe it or not, our kids don’t expect us to have all the answers. And most kids enjoy having the tables turned and being able to “teach” Mom and Dad. When they express interest in a new app, ask them what they know about it or what they hope to do with it (before launching into the Standard Parental Warning speech…) If you have older kids, load the app on your own phone and ask them to walk you through its setup and use.
Feel free to make an excuse for asking. “Hey, I heard about that app and some kid who was [insert dangerous situation here] from using it. Could you put my mind at ease by explaining it to me?” Or, “My colleagues at work were talking about that but I didn’t know what they were talking about. Can you get me up to speed?” Kids usually love to “debunk stupid parent myths” or become the expert, especially in your eyes. Again, listen openly and without judgment. Make it a conversation, not an inquisition.
Which of these do you already do? Which step are you going to take next to add to your toolkit? I’d love to know what you are doing to keep yourself up to speed. Add to the conversation in the comments below.