While at an airport I saw a darling girl, maybe age 14, sitting on a different row of seats than the rest of her family. The parents and brother were trying to engage her in their activities and conversation, but she was in her own little world and wouldn't participate. For hours she sat looking at her phone with a smile on her face and ear buds in her ears.
When parents see such a smile on the 14-year-old's face, many may think the girl is engaged in something good. But I saw a missed opportunity to bond with her family because she was living in a digital world instead of a real world.
This scene isn't unique. Youth worldwide are becoming more disconnected from family and reality. How is this happening? Do parents need to accept it just because it's part of our modern culture? What can parents do to prepare their children not to fall into the digital traps waiting to take their children's time and attention?
Here are six of the most common digital dangers (not in any particular order) facing families, along with a solution:
1. Danger: Digital devices are used as toys and distractions when there's nothing else to do
Adults and children easily fall into the trap of becoming dependent upon digital devices during idle time. During free time, it's popular to "zone out" on devices instead of practicing social skills.
Improve family time and relationships by thinking of devices as tools, not toys. When parents set the example, children will do likewise. Classifying the device as a tool creates a feeling of ownership and empowerment. This allows us to govern the devices, instead of having devices govern us. Create a "Family Standard" that details how and when devices will be used.
2. Danger: Children are given their own digital devices
Devices oftentimes tend to create a type of freedom in children's minds. This is an unhealthy freedom. Since digital devices are tools, they should be respected just as a power saw would be respected. Parents repeatedly tell me of media and device addictions their children have, and then express concern about not being able to take the device away because it belongs to the child.
Decide what level of self-government is required for a child to use a digital device, and then only allow children to use devices, not own them. If they already think they own them, make sure the children know that at any time you as the parent can give them a "no" answer about using that device.
3. Danger: Trusting a child will never become overly attached to the device or get into inappropriate media
No matter how well children are raised or how good they are, they're always at risk of encountering and becoming addicted to inappropriate media. It happens to the best children.
Never allow children to have a digital device in their bedroom, especially at night. Most inappropriate digital activity happens when people are alone with their devices. Have a rule that digital devices never go into bedrooms and that they need to be in the parent's care at night.
4. Danger: Letting children use digital devices whenever they want to
Obsession of digital distraction or stimulation easily results if children don't have limits.
Set time limits and teach your children that even if a media time is promised, you can give a "no" answer anytime.
5. Danger: Allowing children to set passwords and protections on devices
While this sounds convenient, it can make it really hard for parents to keep children safe. This allows computers and devices to be use at any time by children - without parents knowing.
Parents need to control logins, use time and protection measures. Install filters (even on phones) and access usage reports regularly. Be in the room when children are on devices. This will set a lifelong pattern of only looking at things that could be viewed in a group.
6. Danger: Not regularly talking about media dangers and inappropriate usage
Even though it can feel awkward, parents must regularly discuss pornography, as well as addiction to games or other media, with their children.
Each week have parent/child mentor meetings to discuss media addictions, treatment plans, boundaries and the feeling of power over the devices. Also discuss other topics such as relationships, personal behaviors, desires, friends and school. When parents take 15-30 minutes weekly to talk with their children, then issues are addressed before they become too big. These discussions help forge strong bonds that will create a lifetime of good parent/child communication and understanding.
This article was originally published here. It has been republished with permission.