Building a Safe, Healthy Digital Home, Part Three: Upstairs

  • September 29, 2015
  • / By Cory

Note: This is the third part of a series on Building a Safe and Healthy Digital Home. It’s time to take a walk upstairs…

The Bedroom

To keep this to a PG-rating, we won’t talk about the parents’ bedroom here. (Though there is plenty of material on how technology is interrupting intimate time between them.)

For kids, it is just as critical to keep the technology out of their rooms.

Experts have long advocated for keeping the TV out of kids’ rooms. Handheld devices have made that suggestion even more relevant and critical, for a number of reasons.

  • Devices in the bedroom makes it more difficult to monitor where your kids are online.
  • Remember sneaking a book and a flashlight under the covers and stay up too late reading? In the same way, late night browsing and smartphoning (just made that verb up) will delay precious sleep-time.
  • Also related to sleep, studies have recently shown the light emitted by such devices decreases melatonin levels, making sleep more difficult and less, well…restful.
  • Late night forays into the drama we call “social media” can agitate tweens and teens at the very time they should be “turning off” the day and drifting off. Think about the last time you had something on your mind, something you couldn’t do anything about until morning, and it kept you up for hours. For a kid, hearing someone on social media or a text comment on the zit on your forehead that you didn’t notice all day…that’ll do it.

Clearly, there is a “monitoring” issue when our kids retreat to their rooms, devices in hand. In our house, we are just as concerned about the relationship impact that retreat can have.

We don’t allow devices upstairs (i.e. where their rooms are.) It is frustrating enough when our not-so-social 14-year-old escapes to his room, closing the door off to his family for hours. And that’s just reading, lego-building, drawing, etc. It’s difficult enough to pull him back downstairs sometimes; how much harder would it be if he had his technology with him. Buh-bye, kid.

Of course, our kids need to be able to retreat. They need comforting places when they are upset or need a place to cool off. Some of our kids have just enough coping mechanisms to navigate the complex social world of school each day. The restoring solitude they can get in some time alone in their rooms often allows them to rejoin the family (and society) with a better perspective and attitude. Works for us, right? Why not for them, too?

But technology already invites us to escape. It’s just a little too easy to disconnect from the world around you. Our kids don’t need any more encouragement and training in that “skill”. I want my boys to learn that, while technology can offer a time of play and entertainment and exploration, it should never be a tool for escape.

Instead, I want them to find that restoration and solitude in the outdoors, an exploratory walk, a good book, drawing, music, shooting baskets, or any number of other activities that invite reflection.

The Library

Ok, I’m a little biased on this “room”. I taught high school English for 15 years and currently serve as a library media specialist.

Doesn’t matter where it is: if it’s a separate room or a series of shelves in your house. Cultivate a love of books in your home. And, yes, that means you need to get reading, if you aren’t already.

The act of reading (whether from a physical book or an e-reader) engages an entirely different part of the brain than the usual stimulation we get from our online world. Reading long-form text–fiction or non-fiction–exercises our attention spans and improves our vocabulary. It activates the imagination and forces us to think more critically.

Many of us already read to our children, but don’t stop when they get older. Make it a family, social event to read your way through a book a little each night. Listen to an audiobook together on long car trips. Discuss the reading, but don’t turn it into an English class discussion. (Uh, that last comment was directed at myself…)

Model reading to your kids. They should see you with a book in your hands, too. And if you are like me and you often read from an tablet, make it clear that you are reading. Share a funny passage with your spouse in front of them. If they interrupt while you are reading, you have my permission to say: “Ooh, hang on one minute.” And when you finish that paragraph, you explain: “Sorry, I was just at a really good part of the story! I had to finish that paragraph!”

(P.S. I don’t care if you were reading about the role of government in a free society, tell them you were at a good spot. They need to see you enjoying what you read.

Help them create a spot in their room for a private book collection. Keep giving books as gifts. Require that for every five Lego sets that they waste, er, I mean…spend their money on, they must then buy a good book for their collection. And go to the library often.

For those with younger children, establish these good reading habits and dispositions early. As the middle school years loom, especially for boys, the interest in reading often drops. Re-double your efforts and build on the solid foundation you gave them in their elementary years.

Plain and simple, the successful people in our world are the one who are tech-savvy and strong readers.

The Closet

One of the most significant differences between the Boomer/Gen-X generations and the Millennial/Generation Z children is our attitude toward privacy.

For many of us parents, we grew up in a much more private world. Pre-social media, we were cautious about what we shared with whom, and it wasn’t all that easy to share anyway. We protected (and still do) our social security numbers, our phone numbers, our personal data, our whereabouts, and anything else that “belongs” to us.

Maybe that’s why we’ve become the “hovering” generation; we were raised with a health dose of “stranger danger”.

Our children don’t live in that same world. They live in a world of constant and immediate information and communication. Think it, send it, post it–they happen almost simultaneously. They selfie and Instagram and text and live-stream their every moment. “If it isn’t shared, it didn’t happen”, goes the thinking.

Does every kid do this all the time? Of course not. But this is the pervasive attitude of this generation. If you doubt it, when is the last time your school-age child asked you for their own phone or a Facebook/Instagram/Snapchat account? Yeah, thought so.

So what does this mean for us, the closet-dwellers, trying to raise a generation that has kicked the closet door right off its hinges?

Simply, we have to teach privacy. In the same way we teach them to be cautious of people they don’t know, we have to teach them the difference between what can be shared and what shouldn’t. We have to help them see the potential consequences of sharing too much.

Here’s an example. I cringe every time I hear students sharing a password with another student. When confronted with this, the response is always the same: “But he/she’s my friend!”

Then I’m forced to tell them the story of my friend, Dave, in 2nd grade. One day, I showed Dave where we kept the spare house key, hidden in the flower bed. It was okay, because Dave was my friend. Until a few months later, when we suspected that Dave was stealing things from neighbors yards. I stopped hanging out with Dave, because I didn’t like what he was doing. Problem was, he now knew how to get into our house. I was forced then to move the key and tell my parents what I had revealed. We caught it in time before Dave took advantage of this knowledge I’d given him. At least, I think we caught it in time.

(By the way, I made that whole story up. But it works well to illustrate and teach a point. Judge me if you want.)

We need to actively teach our kids about posting online. We need to teach our children (especially our daughters) to value and protect their bodies and that no one has a right to see anything online that you wouldn’t show someone in church (or whatever other comparison you need to make).

They need to know that new features on Snapchat that try to prevent someone from copying your pictures always fail and there is always a way for someone to grab your photo and share it around. (This last piece of knowledge will totally freak them out when you drop it on them. “You know about Snapchat?!”)

Equally, they need to protect the privacy of others, too. Right now, both our kids have cameras of some kind, and we encourage them to take them when we travel somewhere new. But we’ve had to stress the need to ask for someone’s permission before taking a picture of them. We are trying to instill in them a responsibility to honor everyone else’s privacy, too.
In short, they need to know what stays in the closet.


What are your biggest challenges with technology and the “upstairs” in your family?

Other posts in this series:

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