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Dealing With Devices

They are a blessing and a curse. Screens everywhere: phones, tablets, games, televisions, and computers. Many things we find on them are good, clean, and fun. However, kids are able to find trouble or stumble across things that are not good for them too. As interactions with electronic devices increase, so does the risk of exposure to the trash that is floating around out there as well.

There are numerous ways kids can see inappropriate things. Unfortunately, much of it is inappropriate for adults as well. It can seem so overwhelming- like there is no way to have control over what they find. Here are some ways that we deal with it in our family.

We have only one computer in the house which is out in our main living area. We also only have one television in our house. I know, it’s shocking. It has always been very important to us that our kids be out where we can see them and not holed up in their rooms watching who-knows-what. But it’s getting harder to keep that up.

Smart phones are quickly becoming the only option for cell phones and the school even has “electronics days” as rewards for good behavior. On these days the kids are allowed to bring tablets from home to play with for a short time at the end of the day. It doesn’t feel like much of a reward if you are one of the only kids who doesn’t have an electronic device to bring in. (Don’t get me started on what I think of rewarding kids by giving them more screen time. That’s an article for another day.)

Recently we decided to allow our teenagers to have smart phones and our elementary kids a tablet. We did a lot of research trying to find the best way to enable parental controls so that we could be aware of what the kids are looking at and doing. I have no deals with any companies I will talk about, and give brand names only so that you can be better informed of what their capabilities are.

As for phones, we settled on iPhones because that is what my husband and I are familiar with and we knew how to turn off browser and internet access. There are parental controls in the Settings where we also have turned off access to the app store. The kids need us to enter a password before adding any apps. We also turned off deleting apps so if somehow they add an app without our knowing, they will not be able to delete it before we see it.

We do trust our kids to make the right choices, but we also would like to keep up on what they’re doing without having to go in and check every day. Having them come to us for permission to add to the phone keeps us in the loop without requiring so much time looking through everything. There are also many apps that open into their own browser (such as Pinterest and Facebook) and the kids can access the internet through them. We try to avoid allowing these types of apps on our children’s devices.

Our cell provider, Verizon, offers a parent program so that we can see who our children call and text with. We don’t read through all of the texts, but we do like to know who their friends are, and since it’s so easy for someone else to give out their phone number, there may be unsolicited texts coming in from people outside their normal circle of friends.

We also use Verizon’s parental control that allows us to turn off texting and calls at a certain time. (We chose 9:00 pm.) For times when the kids are out late at an activity and we still want to have contact, we can also make a list of trusted contacts, like parents, that they can always contact.

For the tablets, we chose the Kindle Kids Edition because it has Free Time which allows us to decide what kids can see and when. We are able to control the time of day they can have access and how long the kids spend on the categories: books, games, and videos. We have also used a feature within Free Time to set up a requirement to read for a certain amount of time (We chose at least 15 minutes per day) on the device before they are allowed into games or videos.

The books, games, and videos come from a specific list in Free Time and they all are rated for young children. (I really wish there was a teen version of this too!) The videos our girls have been watching lately are things like the animated Pink Panther or PBS Kids shows. E-books can also be added through a library app like Overdrive, so the kids can read things outside of what is provided by Free Time.

We had a family meeting on the proper use of devices, and to talk about our family rules regarding them. I scoured the internet for ideas and came across a lot of contracts that people have written for their children to sign. We are law oriented in our house since my husband is an attorney, so this seemed a natural way to go.  I used one from the news article, “Mom Has Son Sign 18-point Agreement for iPhone” as my starting point. I took away some things and added other ideas to fit our family. 

Following is the list of dos and don’ts we went over with our kids. Some are rules, and some are manners or common sense. It is nice to have discussed them together so now everybody knows what is expected and there should be (oh please let there be) less complaining because we have gone over it already.

Before introducing this contract we also emphasized the idea expressed by T.S. Eliot that there is no system so perfect that people still don’t need to be good. There is no way we can cover every situation in our list, so it’s still up to them to use their own good judgment.

1. This is my parents’ phone/tablet. They are loaning it to me. I know my parents can and will look through my device. I will not delete text messages without asking them first.
2. I will be sure my parents always know the password.
3. If it rings, I will answer it. I will say “hello” and use my manners. I will not ignore a phone call if the screen reads Mom or Dad.
4. I will plug in my screens in the family room, not my bedroom, at bedtime or by 9:00pm every school night, and every weekend night by 10:00pm- Unless I am out of the house.
5. I will follow school rules for electronics. At school I will have conversations with people in person. It's a life skill.
6. If it falls into the toilet, smashes on the ground, or vanishes into thin air, I am responsible for the replacement costs or repairs. (Mow a lawn, babysit, save some birthday money. It will happen, so you should be prepared.)
7. I will not use this technology to lie, fool, or deceive another human being. I will not be involved in conversations that are hurtful to others.
8. I will not text, email, or say anything through this device I would not say in person or that I would not say out loud with their parents in the room. I will censor myself.
9. I will not bring my device into the bathroom. When I am using my device in a bedroom I will keep the door open.
10. I will not look at or read porn. If I see something inappropriate I will turn off my device and talk to my parents about it. If a friend is inappropriate on social media I will un-follow them. I will search the web only for information I would openly share with my parents. If I have a question about anything else I will ask my parents.
11. I will turn it off or silence it, and put it away in public- Especially in a restaurant, at the movies, during church, or while speaking with another person. I am not a rude person and will not allow electronics to change that.
12. I will not send or receive pictures of my private parts or anyone else's private parts. (Don't laugh. Someday you may be tempted to do this despite your intelligence. It is risky and is always a bad idea. Cyberspace is vast and more powerful than you. It is hard to make anything of this magnitude disappear -- including a bad reputation.)
13. I will not take a zillion pictures and videos. (There is no need to document everything. Live your experiences. They will be stored in your memory for eternity.)
14. I will leave my device at home sometimes and feel safe and secure in that decision. It is not alive or an extension of me. I can learn to live without it.
15. I will try music that is classic or different. (Your generation has access to music like never before in history. Take advantage of that gift. Expand your horizons.)
16. I will not text or be “friends” on social media with people of the opposite gender until I am 16 years old. When I am 16 I will be respectful in all of my interactions with them. I will set boundaries and be brave enough to stop contact with anyone who is not respecting me, and I will talk to my parents about it.
17. I will keep my eyes up. I will not text or look at my device while walking. (See the world happening around you. Stare out a window. Listen to the birds. Take a walk. Wonder without googling.) When a parent or other adult is talking to me, I will close my screen and give them my full attention.
18. If I would not make a call to someone's land line, where their parents may answer first, then I will not call or text. (Respect other families like we would like to be respected.)
19. I will not bring my screen out during family meal times without asking a parent first. (We understand that sometimes calls or texts can be urgent.) If it is not urgent, I will return a call or text after the meal.
20. After school I will complete all of my homework and family chores. On weekdays I will plug in my device in the family room from 4:00 until after dinner.
I will mess up. I understand that I may lose device privileges when I do not follow the rules or am disrespectful or disobedient to other family rules. (We will sit down and talk about it. We will start over again. We are always learning. We are a team. We love you.)
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