Digital Parenting

The Bible has a lot to say about parenting. The verse that immediately comes to mind for most people is Proverbs 22:6. However, Solomon didn’t have to deal with smartphones, social media, and YouTube. What do parents do in a world where it seems like they have less control than ever?

Disclaimer

I’m not perfect and no family is. Don’t beat yourself up if you haven’t been on top of things like you feel you should. We all have had those moments and experiences. The important thing is that we learn and share with others to help them learn. Balancing is difficult for all of us. We want to give our kids some freedom to learn how to make choices on their own, but we don’t want them to be able to make decisions too soon that could have a long-term negative impact.  No one said parenting was easy. No one should ever say they are the perfect parent. I certainly am not.

(Also, I benefit personally from some of the links in this article. I hope that doesn’t offend you, I have to feed my family.)

Monitoring

I grew up during the boom of the internet. It was fun and awesome. It was also extremely dangerous. It didn’t take long at all for people with the wrong intentions to use the internet to their advantage. Unsuspecting children and adults alike fell prey to some pretty dangerous stuff. It was something new and parents had no idea how to navigate it for their kids. There were also very few guardrails to prevent the bad things from happening.

Fortunately, we’ve progressed significantly in these areas. There are a lot of good products out there to help with monitoring. I’m just going to tell you what my family uses.

Garbage In

We filter all internet coming into our home. There are many routers on the market that have this capability. We use a Google WiFi router for this. Most of the products we use are Google related so this integrates well with our other stuff. If you use other systems you may want to find a router that best suits your needs. The ability to filter content and set up schedules for devices and users is what you’re going to want to look for.

Accounts

The router is a huge help, but your kids are on devices everywhere they go. Today you need to be monitoring and restricting your kids’ devices and accounts. There are many services out there that help you do this. We primarily use Google Family Link. Apple also has family control options for their devices.

This is a free option for use and gives us a ton of control. There are many benefits to using a service like this. First, we can restrict device use to specific times and enforce other time limits (more on that in a minute). Family Link allows us to set age-based limits on the apps and other media they download. We can block specific apps or websites from being accessed. Purchases through the device can be limited. We can also track the device through Google Maps.

Time Limits

Time limits are a huge debate among parents. Every parent uses different guidelines. Watch the video below for some more info on that. Once you’ve decided your limits you should have a router and an account management system that lets you control that. For our setup, we use the router to set bedtimes for each device. There’s a schedule for a school night and a schedule for weekends. We can easily turn these on and off for special occasions or unique circumstances.  We use Family link to also set bedtimes. This locks them out of their devices at a specific time.

Family link also lets us set screentime limits. For example, if we set the screentime limit on a Chromebook for two hours, the kids’ account will be locked out of the Chromebook after two hours of use regardless of the bedtime. You can also set app time limits. For example, you could set a one-hour time limit on Instagram. Once they’ve been on Instagram for an hour it will gray the app out and they simply can’t open it again until the next day.

Alerts

Let’s be honest, no parent has the time to read every text, look through YouTube history, and check all the social media DMs. You also can’t really expect to keep up on all the teenage jargon. Research actually shows that teen jargon continues to change at an increasing rate. That means words and phrases they use are going in and out of style way faster than it did when we were teens. It was hard enough to keep up then. We can’t do it now.

For this reason, we use Bark. Once your kids’ devices and all of their accounts are connected, Bark will scan their web history, the history of all their social media and apps, their texts, and more. It will only alert you if there is a problem. You can also adjust the sensitivity if you feel like you’re getting too many alerts. This allows the kids to have privacy to talk with their friends in healthy and appropriate ways but allows you to know that you’ll get alerted to anything that’s inappropriate or potentially harmful. You won’t have to spend your entire night looking through devices or looking up words on urban dictionary.

Physical Spaces

Where kids use devices the most can also impact their behaviors. Set rules for when and where devices can be used. This can be tailored to ages or specific kids’ needs. Not letting kids use devices in solitude is a great way to go. They need to know that anyone could walk by at any moment and see what they’re doing. This provides a natural boundary for kids to follow.

Parenting Time

Nothing replaces simply being with your kids and talking to them. Talk to them about easy stuff and hard stuff. Spend time doing the things they enjoy and navigating digital spaces with them. They can learn from watching you and you can see potential dangers in the way they do things. This is why organizations like Protect Young Eyes discuss the benefits of CoPlay.

Recommended Reading

There are a ton of good books out there on this subject. More and more research is being done on how we engage the digital world and what kind of impact that really has on us. I’m not going to say any book is bad to get, but I will recommend one in particular. The Tech-Wise Family by Andy Crouch is more than just a practical “do this not that” kind of book. Andy is honest about the fact that his family isn’t perfect. He also discusses more of our motivations behind why we use tech in our homes. What does that motivation say about us as a family and as Christians? You may not agree with his take on everything, but you will be challenged and learn.

I hope all of this is helpful. If there’s more you want to know, please leave questions in the comments.