Parenting in the Digital Age: Navigating Devices, Technology, and Social Media with Kids of All Ages

Parents always want to focus on their relationship with their children. The digital age may pose some challenges to that.

Parents need to lead by example when it comes to technology and social media. Jamesha from Thornwell‘s Building Families program shares some quick tips for parents of children of all ages to help you embrace this new concept. Hopefully you will learn more about social media, devices, and setting reasonable limits. This is not specific to foster parents, but it is an important conversation for all our children.

Thornwell’s Foster Care Team
Photo Credit: Thornwell

What does it look like to parent in a world where there are cell phones, internet, social media? How do we handle cell phones when we’ve never had to deal with setting boundaries for device usage with our kids before? What is reasonable? What is responsible?

Jamesha is a Family Specialist from Thornwell’s Building Families program. Thornwell is a great organization that was founded by Dr. William Plumer Jacobs, a Presbyterian pastor. He saw there was a need for children who didn’t have a home after the civil war. He opened an orphanage and overtime it evolved to meet the needs of the current age. There are many programs including foster care, residential care, strengthening families, serving teen moms transitioning from childhood to adulthood. There is a child development center that is seeing children thrive and excel by leaps and bounds. Thornwell is doing great work in the community. They believe in a world where everyone belongs to a thriving family!

Why is this conversation (about the digital age) important for parents? 

Every parent’s goal is to create successful adults. That’s what we want for our children- foster children, biological children, adopted, nieces, nephews, cousins. We want them all to be successful adults, and that means being responsible, being mindful of what is put out in the digital world. We want to focus on building relationships. Often digital devices take away from that one-on-one conversation that we have with our children. A lot of times it’s, “Mom, I’m home. Can I have my cell phone?” And we never get to engage with our children. We miss that when we don’t do it as much. Devices can take over dinner times. That’s important. I used to love having dinner with my parents. We could talk and communicate. It’s how we built a relationship of trust and we built rapport. They got to know what was going on in my life and I learned what values were important to them through our conversations. 

Photo Credit: Thornwell

When we think about children in foster care, we know they are coming from hard places, backgrounds that some of us can’t even imagine. They’ve experienced so much. They may have had exposure to things already that many of us have not experienced even in adulthood. So when are we going to have that conversation about what’s important to them if we don’t do it at the dinner table or when they’re unplugged? If they are always plugged in, you may never get to know that child personally other than they like pizza and chicken nuggets. But what is really going on with them? You can’t do that with a phone in your hand. 

We have to model appropriate behavior for children. It’s not just about their device use. It’s about ours too! Teach appropriate device etiquette. Put your phone down during meal times and when others are speaking to you. Follow the same safety procedures you ask them to. Use empathy and self-control when dealing with others online.

What ages of children is this really most applicable to? Just teens?

All children. We have to be mindful of the content that all children are accessing on the internet or their devices. There are so many sites that are targeting children specifically for human trafficking reasons. They may put cartoons online but when clicked it’s really pornography. They see the cartoon that they recognize so they click on it, but that’s not really what it is. Children under 10 are more prone to click on these things because they feel familiar with it and it leads down avenues that are dangerous. We really need to talk to all our children especially if they have their own devices. 

The current recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics call for no digital media use for children age three and under, and no more than one hour a day for school-age children. Please limit as much as you can to devices and online social media access. It affects their eyes, their sleep patterns. It’s so much stimulation from cartoons or video games. You can up the hours of usage by age and by maturity. Practice setting limits. When the time is up, practice taking the devices away. You might set a timer. It helps with responsibility. With children 10 and over, we want to monitor their maturity level. They are susceptible to feedback from friends, even cyber bullying. 

Photo Credit: Thornwell

For children under 10, social media is really not valuable. It’s too young, but maybe you can set up a Facebook page for the whole family. There are age restrictions for most social media platforms, but maybe not for the reasons you think. In 2000, a law went into effect called the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. The law requires websites/apps to complete tedious data tracking procedures if they collect information from children under age 13. Because of this, most sites make it a requirement that every user be 13 or older. 

Using social media may be a great motivator for a child who is struggling with consistent responsibility. We have to remember that our children’s brains are still developing and they experience intense emotions due to hormonal changes and development. Sometimes these hormones can make it difficult to make a good decision. 

One way to do this, again, is to model behavior for our children. If we want our children to learn that it’s appropriate to turn off our devices at key moments (such as at the dinner table), then everybody shtus off the devices and you, as the parent, engage everyone in conversation about topics that interest them. If we want to model the importance of playing outside, we need to make the time to play outside with them. And if we want our children to become young people who can and do give their full attention to others, we can model how to listen respectfully, perhaps even asking them to show us their favorite online spaces as a way of demonstrating our interest in their interests. 

Does any of this change when we are parenting children in foster care?

A tip I would give to foster parents who are accepting children into their home is to have a conversation with that child. Set time aside for just you and them. Get to know each other. These children may have been bounced from home to home and they may never have that intimate connection. So just sit down and be honest. Tell them when using social media in the home what sites are acceptable and which ones are not. I encourage foster parents to research as many social media sites as you can think of. Youtube- there’s tons of content! Is it all appropriate? Work with your routers or internet service provider to limit the amount of hours, but also the websites that can be accessed in the home. It’s possible to limit those things. Children are smart and they’re clever, but you can monitor those things. If a child is playing a video game, sit together. Spend time together doing that. If they’re on social media, scroll with them and ask questions. “Who’s this friend? How long have you known them?” It starts with relationship. Kids won’t open up if you don’t take time to get to know them first. They have experienced so much and they are the expert on their life. They are. They know what’s important to them. Listen to them.

Starting out, give a newcomer an hour of screen time. The rest of the time may be dedicated to relationship building, homework, other activities that aren’t as distracting. 

What are some of the major issues that parents need to be looking out for in terms of safety?

  • Monitor the sites they are using. Don’t’ just ask them. Watch things together.
  • Monitor who they are talking to and what they are sharing. Sexting is sharing inappropriate/explicit photos or suggestive messages. This is one of the most concerning- and fastest growing- problems of today’s youth.
  • Talk to them. Hover a little bit. Engage in conversations about what they are doing online.
  • Consider mental health. Cyber bullying can be rampant. Are your children mature enough to handle social media? If they are being aggressive or disrespectful in the home, they may be doing that online also. Look out for signs of withdrawal or defensiveness. 

How can parents set age appropriate boundaries to keep kids safe in ways that still respect their privacy? 

Photo Credit: Thornwell
  • Use the TKN method. True. Kind. Necessary. Ask them about what they are posting? Is it truthful? Is it kind? Is it necessary that it is posted today? Because what we post now will live online forever. 
  • Google Yourself– I encourage parents to Google themselves and their child. Discuss what comes up and how that may impact (positively or negatively) your reputation. Things can get out and spread. Be mindful. 
  • Know what apps can and cannot be monitored. KIK, GroupMe, or Whatsapp cannot be monitored by third party apps. Ask to see the child’s phone. Do a quick scroll of their phones. If you see any red flags, use that as an opportunity to teach responsibility. Consequences may be helpful in teaching responsibility. Be intentional and show them that you care. Model the expected behavior! 
  • Create a device free zone. Put all your phones (parents too) into a box at dinner time. That teaches the child that this is an important time for us. Bedtime is important too and should be devoid of devices. So use the device box. 
  • Create a social media/ device usage contract with the child to set limits. Know the child, their maturity level, their triggers. Once you have a set of rules for device usage, it can be applied to everyone in the house. It has to be consistent. Be open and honest with the child. If you see they are responsible, give them more freedom.

Parenting in the Digital Age

Parents should always focus on their relationship with their children. The digital age may pose some challenges to that.Parents need to lead by example when it comes to technology and social media. Jamesha from Thornwell's Building Families program is going to share some quick tips for parents of children of ages to help you embrace this new concept. Hopefully you will learn more about social media, devices, and setting reasonable limits.

Posted by Care2Foster on Friday, March 6, 2020
Kaley has been a foster parent since 2017. Kaley, her husband, and their dog Rosie currently reside in a small town in Upstate SC. As Director of SC Operations for Care2Foster, Kaley focuses on recruiting and supporting families as they take their next steps learning more about foster care. She is passionate about supporting foster families with authenticity, vulnerability, and hope. She is also President of her county Foster Parent Association.

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