Technology vs teens: A parent's guide to getting it right.

My boys are aged 11 and 5 and they bond over YouTube. They sit there for as long as I let them, watching videos of strange cats and guilty dogs. Then, when I leave the room to make dinner they start Googling and next thing I know they are watching groups of boys pranking their friends by dressing up as zombie girls. My son asked me how to spell Miley Cyrus last night and when I asked why, he said there was a funny twerking video his friends had told him about. Keeping an eye on their online use has become a major part of modern parenting.

As parents, we can no longer choose what our children are exposed to. We can only manage it as much as possible. I joke to my husband that I can’t believe modern parenting involves watching endless funny cat videos, Googling ideas for birthday cakes and frantically signing up multiple devices to WiFi.

I once read safety guidelines on keeping kids safe online and it suggested getting rid of WiFi and having one dial up account set up in the living area. How unrealistic. We have multiple phones and devices…how inconvenient and annoying. I choose instead to navigate my children through this new world. I want them to be savvy when it comes to online and technology.

My best friend’s husband works in IT. Whenever she and I start trying to figure out how to reduce our kid’s time online and on devices he says he feels that would be a mistake. “All jobs involve the internet and devices; they need to be proficient in them all to have a successful career”. He’s right. Kids learn socialisation online, it’s educational and it’s a useful skill to have for future careers. The internet and using devices is now part of their education.

When my son asks me a question I don’t know the answer to, he Googles it. At the moment he is obsessed with volcanoes and natural disasters. Scary yes but he’s 11. He already knows about them so by educating himself it removes the fear and mystery. Now he explains to me how safe Australia is compared to other countries when it comes to natural disasters.

‘Kids learn socialisation online, it’s educational and it’s a useful skill to have for future careers.’

At the same time I still have to monitor their use as much as possible. Just yesterday afternoon my 11-year-old asked, “Mum, what year would I have to be born in to be 18?” Obviously I wanted to know what the hell he was up to. He was signing up an online account for a new game he’d found and he had to be 18. This was the first time he’d thought to do this.

I explained that the guidelines were there for a reason and I’d have to check the game out before I let him sign up.

I view my monitoring of my boys use of the internet as an important part of modern parenting.

Some of my friend’s ban their kids from using the internet during the week and only let them use it on weekends or for homework, but I disagree with this strategy. By doing this parents are making the internet seem like a toy, like something forbidden that is to be desired and binged on at the weekend.

I prefer a softy and more savvy approach. It can be time-consuming but it is totally worth it:

  • Don’t make the WiFi password anything that is easy to remember. Keep it random and complicated so the kids have to ask to use it. Then you have to retrieve it when you are happy for them to access the internet.
  • Get homework done first. Yes the internet is wonderful and so are all the various devices they get to use but make sure their afternoons are structured. I like my boys to do their homework after their snack when they get home from school. Then they use the computer or their iPods in the living room and we chat about it as they use it.
  • Don’t freak out too much when they access something you don’t want them to use. I have been asked, “Mum, what’s porn” and had to sit down and explain exactly what it is and why he won’t be watching it. I removed the mystery by explaining it and if it comes up in conversation with his friends he knows what he’s talking about.

    It’s important that you know your way around the sites your children frequently use.
  • Use every single site they use but not necessarily in front of them. The rate at which my boys are learning about new sites and services can be alarming. What I do is I keep an eye out on what they are doing and a couple of times a week I sit down and browse through it all. I block some sites and bring others up for discussion with them.
  • Steer them towards more educational sites. My 11-year-old is very curious so we spend a lot of time Googling and watching YouTube videos about wonders of the world, animals and volcanoes.
  • Put shortcuts to sites you want them to use on the desktop or sign them up on their iPods. My son has decided he loves Lumosity, the brain trainer I wanted to start doing because I was becoming forgetful.
  • Make it fun. We always watch YouTube together and I know the games they are playing, ask about their progress and high five them when they’ve done well.

And for more tips for protecting your children online: 

How do you manage your children’s time online?

This post is part of our three-part ‘technology Vs teen’ guide, which we have put together to inform you on the importance of your children’s online safety.