Technology Boundaries for Children and Teens
When people think about boundaries in families, they often think about family members knocking on a closed door, or what type of information should be shared between parents and children or teens. Boundaries with technology are often overlooked.
For years, parents have struggled and debated about how much oversight they should have in their child or teen’s online conversations with friends (and sometimes strangers). Should a parent have an app that allows them to see everything their child or teen does on their phone or other device? Should parents sneak and look at their child’s electronics? Or should parents demand “hand over your phone” at random times to be checked.
Many parents know that even when they try to put these strategies in place, their child or teen is able to get around it, either with apps that quickly make their messages disappear, or by creating secret accounts. They also can access their accounts on friends’ devices. It can easily become a game of “cat and mouse.” It becomes an issue of control that can go way beyond the electronics.
The other issue is parents who casually allow their children (sometimes young children under age 10) to go onto their (the parents’) devices. Parents hand over their phone for a child to play a game or talk to a grandparent. But without supervision, the child (or teen) may also be looking at a parent’s texts, emails, pictures, and sometimes pornography. The child can access porn that was already on the parent’s phone or iPad, but they can also easily go online and look at porn that they find themselves. In my own practice experience, there have been many children who have learned of a parent’s affair, business secrets, and other upsetting and inappropriate things, from being on their parent’s phone or iPad. Children and teenagers may fail to learn boundaries related to tech impacting future friend, roommate and partner relationships.
So what can a parent do? Each child, teen and family is different and there are many different circumstances. Here are a few basic guidelines and topics to consider:
Children seem to be getting phones at younger and younger ages and being allowed access to them for much of the day if not all day, and sometimes overnight. The phone often becomes like part of their body. This is not surprising, as many parents treat their own phones this way. Many parents have the experience of trying to limit their child’s phone access, only to be treated to a tantrum or other negative feedback. Wanting to avoid these unpleasantries, the parent “caves” and lets the child have the phone.
Access and Supervision
When a child first gets a phone, that is the best time to establish boundaries. First decide what your child will be allowed to do on the phone, and what they are not allowed to do. Give them various scenarios about what could happen and what they should do if those things happen (such as a friend texting something inappropriate or hinting at something dangerous, or being contacted by someone they don’t know).