At first I wanted to title this ‘How to help your child manage devices’. However, this post is really far from that. We do not use apps to limit devices, though I will share useful apps and resources. More importantly, I wish to share some informed ways of how we manage techwise through a few guiding principles as parents of this IT generation.
When to have a phone?
1) Level of Maturity
For us, we discovered that it is not the timeline that matters, but the level of maturity, personality and tendencies of an individual. We have three kids and each of them have different temperaments, tendencies and levels of maturity even during the same stage of age.
Ever since my firstborn turned one, I quit watching television as it was impossible to watch without him watching together with me. I did a lot of research and readings to know screen time for babies and toddlers would hinder their young brain’s development. Therefore there was no screen time for my kids till they reached two years old. In summary, I slowly increased their screen time on weekends throughout the primary years. It is much easier to slowly increase screen time than to reduce it along the years. Back to my point on tendencies and level of maturity.
One child is drawn like a magnet to any screens since young, even if it is a blank screen. Another cannot sit still after an hour or so watching television. And another is comfortable with or without a screen. Hubs and I debated on whether giving the phone ownership at P6 is better or post PSLE or only into Secondary life. His rationale- while Yi is still under our charge and strong influence, it would help ease him into this phone usage and as parents we can play a more important role in helping him on the usage. However, I begged to differ. Knowing my eldest tendency to be drawn to screens, I felt it would be a distraction instead and we may end up having a bigger contention on top of the academic pressures. I felt he was not ready at this stage of his life. Nonetheless, I considered giving the phone post PSLE instead of delaying till Sec One. It would be a good time to help him manage his phone usage and guide him without the distraction of the phone during PSLE.
How did we hand over the phone?
2) Agreement on transparency and integrity
We began with a contract agreement drawn with our teen. Basically, we seek for transparency and integrity in the use of phone which is paid by us and loaned to him.
We established at the beginning on the values he needs to abide by to earn our trust and develop a sense of responsibility in the usage of his mobile phone.
– we have the password access to his phone and may monitor his interactions at any down time. In other words, we will not peek over behind him while he is using the phone. We respectfully ask him directly on what he is doing with the phone. In fact, my hubby and I know each other’s passwords to our phones. We do not mind each other looking at our phones. We are unafraid to show each other when either of us happen to look at the messages or when we are engaged on the phone. We model the transparency for the kids to see.
– we explain our rationale; to be a guide and sounding board to help him in his decision making. To step in if safety and the well being of himself and others are being compromised. With enough guidance and support, we pray our children will learn how to use the phone meaningfully and positively.
– By allowing us to monitor his phone activities, we wish to help him see that integrity is vital to communication. Whatever messages exchanged, if it is not beneficial, mostly, my hubs will raise the issues with him personally. In the beginning, hubs do more checks on chat groups dynamics. We then raise up certain red flags and get him to think about them. In the process, we teach communication and social skills.
One thing we value highly- the use of our precious time on beneficial matters. Therefore, if a chat group doesn’t yield any positive or wholesome outcome, decisions will be made on how to continue or cut the conversations.
By being transparent, our kids know that whatever they do not dare to say to the person face-to-face, they do not text in a message or social media. Also, if their parents do not approve, it’s most probably wiser not to text such messages too.
Why do we have such a phone agreement?
3) Let everything be done in
~ Fear of the Lord ~
‘ And Moses said to the people, “Do not fear; for God has come to test you , and that His fear may be before you, so that you do not sin.” Exodus 20:20.
‘Without the fear of God, man will do as he pleases.’ (Growinghearts)
The first fear is the unhealthy, negative, guilty, afraid and ominous kind of fear while the latter fear means reverence where God as our Father is deeply respected and therefore we honour and obey so that we do not need to have the first kind of fear by having the righteousness of Christ. The fear of the Lord drives out all other fears and keeps us from wrongdoing. In this media world, we need the moral compass from the Bible and the holy spirit to empower us to do the right thing.
~ Faith ~
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”
Philippians 4:8 NIV
What Would Jesus Do? (WWJD)
We share our social media with our teens and also follow them. We explain why we are active on social media- to post things that may benefit others and offer encouragement in this complex virtual world. We wish to share spiritual encouragement and offer a space on practical Christian living.
In the same way, we hope they can see how they can manage their engagement in whatever platforms they use to glorify God.
~ Hope ~
“let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
Hebrews 10:22-25 NIV
We wish to be a support to others in holding unswervingly to the hope we profess. In this, we also encourage our children that we will make mistakes along the way in our use of phone interactions and engagements. We will learn and grow TOGETHER by the grace and faithfulness of Christ. There is always hope in our conversations and how we can be that voice of hope in our use of our tech.
~ Love ~
We do not enforce transparency in order to control our children. We ultimately do it out of love for them. We love them enough to walk the talk together with them, fall and rise up together with them, enjoy and be blessed through our use of tech as a family. We want to be a part of their lives and do life together with them.
“Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.”
Romans 13:8 NIV
We also hope that they will in turn share this love to those around them.
Internet filters and controls can assist in restricting your child’s usage, but it cannot replace a parent’s connection and communication on how to be a responsible user.
The worst kind of parenting is to dangle the screen time as a carrot says my hubs who also does it ever so sparingly when needed. (Lol) Yes, we’ve been there too! Nonetheless, let us still keep working on ‘upgrading’ our parenting ‘heart-ware’ skills even as we upgrade our hardware.
“Your ultimate goal is to raise kids who use the Internet safely and responsibly and think critically about their actions, but a little technical assistance can help. And, as your kids get older, you’ll need to dial down the restrictions to help them develop their own sense of responsibility.” (Common sense media)
The Tech Wise Family by Andy Crouch
My recent read on the tech wise family makes a poignant point –
‘we most often give our children screens not to make their lives easier but to make our lives easier.’Andy Crouch
It is indeed easier for us when kids are occupied on the screens, a convenient babysitter. Nonetheless, the repercussions can be damaging when obsession overtakes. It will be worthwhile to invest the time and attention on our children which the family will reap its fruits in the future. Let us embrace it- parenting IS hard work.
He also puts tech in perspective with the 10 commitments that we can make as a family. This will be a very helpful guide for us and our kids as we manoeuvre through the waves and storms of this tech savvy world. To have the PDF print out and details of this book, head to Cru org.
10 Tech-Wise Commitments
- We develop wisdom and courage together as a family.
- We want to create more than we consume. So we fill the center of our home with things that reward skill and active engagement.
- We are designed for a rhythm of work and rest. So one hour a day, one day a week, and one week a year, we turn off our devices and worship, feast, play and rest together.
- We wake up before our devices do, and they “go to bed” before we do.
- We aim for “no screens before double digits” at school and at home.
- We use screens for a purpose, and we use them together, rather than using them aimlessly and alone.
- Car time is conversation time.
- Spouses have one another’s passwords, and parents have total access to children’s devices.
- We learn to sing together, rather than letting recorded and amplified music take over our lives and worship.
- We show up in person for the big events of life. We learn how to be human by being fully present at our moments of greatest vulnerability. We hope to die in one another’s arms.
The above commitment may vary according to the dynamics of your family. In essence, we do not allow screen time to take control of our lives. We prioritise active engagement together as a family at work, home and play. We also may have to nag more (I realised my mum’s nagging did stay with me in my later years), discipline more, disciple more, discuss more and be more vigilant since we do not use any apps or software to curb usage (except the free iPhone data that tells us how much time we spend on what activity during the week). The data helps us monitor the kids and inadvertently remind myself on the wisdom of our usage.
We trust that God will be their personal guide. We hope our love for them can weather the teenage years with tech and a lot more times without tech as we DO LIFE TOGETHER with them outdoors and indoors.
Another Christian parenting resource (AXIS.org) is richly informative and provides current affairs in the teens’ media world and how we can connect practically with them.
You can download the app on your mobile and you can access their free resources, get updates on their happenings and latest teen trend news. In particular, do download the ‘A parent’s Guide to smartphone addiction’ and also go for ‘the One conversation model 7 day challenges by axis. They are valuable resources for parents of teens.
Brain Defense Digital Literacy Course
For those looking for local resource and practical courses to attend, here is a detailed review by Little Day Out, on Brain Defense Digital literacy classes conducted by Carol Loi from Village Consultancy. They are catered to children aged 8-12yo. My children will also be attending the sessions in January. You can register via the information given on her facebook. It is free to join and functions on a pay-it-forward basis. Parents are encouraged to attend using a separate device so that we can engage our children with post discussions. This is ideal for parents who need support and resources to assist in digital talks on sensitive topics like pornography.
Carol also recommended ‘Parental Controls we recommend by Protect young eyes‘.
Screen Obsessed Parenting in the Digital Age
In my quest for more information on digital literacy, I bought the ebook of ‘Screen Obsessed Parenting in the Digital Age’ by Wonsun Shin (University of Melbourne, Australia) May O Lwin (Nanyang Technological University, Singapore).
It contains in-depth and interesting research as well as data analysis from western (North America & European) and non western, in particular the Asian parenting context.
It shares extensively on styles of parenting and mediation that showed better results as well as covered topics from risk of constant exposure to media like violence, pornography, to advertisements. I like the authors’ description on how
“Parents’ knowledge of what children do with digital media is crucial in detecting and decreasing contact risks. While parents acquire knowledge of their children through various sources, knowledge gained through the children’s willing disclosure to parents (i.e. self-disclosure) would provide parents with the most accurate picture of what is going on in children’s lives……Parents should create a communication environment where children feel free to talk about their lives and share their concerns. This, in turn, will enrich parents’ knowledge of their own children and the digital media landscape and enable parents to deal with various contact risks.” (Screen obsessed Parenting in the Digital Age)
The following websites were also their recommended guides.
- Privacy of child
- what leads a child to connect with strangers online
- What’s the impact of media violence on kids
- Use of kids friendly youtube https://www.youtube.com/kids/
- Entertainment Software Rating Board: Family discussion guide on games
- Common Sense Media (United States)
- Connect Safely (USA)
- ThinkUKnow (Australia)
- MediaSmarts (Canada)
- Cyber Safe India (India)
- Go safe Online (Singapore)
- How to make a family media use plan and this site gives you the tool to customise your family’s own media plan
- imom’s printable cell phone contract
- A publication on Children and Adolescents and Digital Media
- 5 questions to ask before you get your kid a phone
- 4 ways to talk to your kids about phone addiction
- App Reviews For Most Popular Social Media, Video, Photo, Lifestyle, And Gaming Apps Used By Kids Today
Let me end with Andy’s reminder
“Technology is in its proper place only when we use it with intention and care. If there’s one thing I’ve discovered about technology, it’s that it doesn’t stay in its proper place on its own; much like my children’s toys and stuffed creatures…… it finds its way underfoot all over the ouse and all over our lives. If we aren’t intentional and careful, we’ll end up with quite an extraordinary mess.” (The tech-wise family)
How are we intentionally spending our time? It will determine if techonology has its proper place in our lives. Let’s be a Hands-On Parent, not a Handphone On Parent. : )
My husband and I are still learning the ropes of managing tech-wisely. This post has been more than a year of consolidated resources and readings. I hope this post serves as a reminder for you and our family’s commitment to growing a thriving family in the Lord.
If you have more recommendations of useful tech-wise resources, please share in the comments.
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