Teaching Healthy Handling of Technology

For many of us, technology is so alluring—probably because it promises to meet our every need. And it does so with snazzy buttons, bright displays, and touchable screens. But if we’re really honest with ourselves—and admit to falling for the pitch at the electronics store—we can’t deny that our phones and computers and games and gadgets rarely deliver on their promise.

So how can you—and your kids—put technology into perspective?

They won’t really die.

I’ve heard it said that only about half of what a high-schooler says is meant to be taken seriously. When your beloved child tells you he will die if he doesn’t get [blank], interpret this as, “Okay, so I won’t die, but I will be angry with you all day.” That’s okay. It’s amazing what creativity can result from a simple no now and then. Suddenly, he may just find that a terabyte of disk space is enough room after all to run the latest smash ‘em up racing game.

Be an equal opportunity enforcer.

The next time your phone bill shows tens of thousands of text messages on your daughter’s phone, stop and ask yourself if you’d respond the same way if you caught her reading a book by flashlight all night. Or remind yourself of how you reacted to her two-year obsession with K’nex. Like all good parenting, set some limits, be clear about what they are, and then be flexible enough to keep some semblance of peace.

Get involved, stay involved.

Some kids can handle candy that’s always available, while others need it doled out in controlled portions. Same goes for access to technology. Know your child well enough to determine whether or not you need to limit their time or install filters. Despite their weeping and gnashing of teeth, it can sometimes be a secret relief to your kid to be told they have to get away from the machine for a while.

Be careful about your snooping.

No doubt you can gather more information reading your child’s Facebook page than in a face-to-face conversation. But just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Of course, there are legitimate personal safety concerns you need to be aware of, but 99% of what our kids are saying to each other online is harmless—stuff that kids have been sharing with each since time began.

Monitoring needs to happen, but no more—and no less—than any other part of your kids’ lives. It’s a smart parent who keeps the machines in the open and isn’t afraid to ask an occasional, “What are you doing?”

Old dog, new tricks.

That you didn’t grow up knowing about cloud computing doesn’t absolve you for all time from learning something about it—and your own child may be the best teacher. Last year I had to learn the rules of football from my son who was playing on the high school team. Nothing pleased him more than explaining to his dad the complexities of what I always thought to be a simple game. Ask your young Einstein to program your phone and watch closely enough to do it yourself next time. But don’t minimize your own abilities (or the abilities of others) by suggesting this realm is for young people only or by assuming that all young people have an interest and aptitude.

More caught than taught.

How about your own tech time? Are you willing to ignore your cell phone to finish the conversation you’re having with your daughter? Or to shut down the computer you escape into every night? What about your porn problem? Will you address it with the same honesty you expect from your kids? Technology can be a tool or a trap, but with commitment and courage you can steer your family in the right direction.

Take a break.

Maybe the best way to keep all that bright shiny stuff in its rightful place is to put it away for a day (a week, a month). In the end, you might appreciate it more, but you might also learn to love a life without it.

First Published in Nurture by Faith Alive.

About the author — Dean Heetderks

Dean Heetderks manages a non-profit agency providing creative and print and web services. He and his wife also try to manage three teenagers.

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