This is the time of year we are madly assessing the latest and greatest toys and devices, hoping to fulfill our children’s hopes and dreams. In this era, many of these gifts will be electronic - and not just the train sets or remote control cars of earlier days. Now they are programmable, app-controlled robots, video games, or actual smart devices that we are hoping will thrill our children, and, at the same time, we are not sure how we will handle their presence in our homes.
First of all, be assured that what your family chooses to do regarding electronic toys and games should fit your family’s individual style. Second, young children do not need smartphones or other such powerful devices to carry with them to school. Our old fashioned method of having adults communicate with each other about our children and their activities still works. I recommend you hold off on giving your child a phone until they are independently traveling on public transportation. At that point, it makes sense for them to be able to stay close touch. It is common for children to try to convince their parents that “everyone else has one”, when, in truth, that is not the case. Don’t feel pressured by these rumors.
When you do give your children a device that is connected to the Internet, you should also consider the limits you need to place on how much time they will use it, who has control over app downloads, and how you will manage keeping track of where they wander online. I advise you to have the adults in the house be the only ones who can make app purchases. This means never sharing the password to the app store, and reviewing apps for their quality and age-appropriateness. If the Terms of Service requires a user to be 13+, then that app will track your child's usage and collect data from the user. The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) identifies apps like that as inappropriate for children under 13. This is another way to explain these limits to your children. And, once again, the fact that peers might be using these apps or social media sites does not make it right - it means they are lying about their age and taking unnecessary risks with their personal information.
The Family Online Safety Institute has a set of contract cards you can download and print to give with your gifts this season. They are a way to open up the conversation about how the devices or games will be used before bad habits begin.
Have a wonderful holiday season, with lots of rich and rewarding family time!