If you’re anything like myself and other parents I know, the idea of setting technology boundaries for your kids can feel daunting. Whether your child is just beginning to talk or is about to leave for college, the practice of helping them develop healthy boundaries with their devices is an essential and challenging task as a parent. Rather than trying to control their use of technology, which is impossible, I propose that you develop awareness and help them foster healthy boundaries with their devices.

Age Appropriate Boundaries

No matter the age of the children in your home, your first line of defense is a filter on your Wi-Fi and digital plan. Cell phone carriers are getting better about making this easier on parents, so I recommend you research or call to find out what they offer. At home, there are a lot of filters to choose from, each with their strengths and weaknesses. I recommend and use Circle with Disney because of its ease of use, ongoing development and practicality.

Infants and Toddlers ages 0-3

Although there is not a general consensus on the benefits or risks of allowing your 0-3 year old use of your cell phone or tablet, most studies point out that you ought to not use it to pacify your child.

Screen time is stimulating to a small child, which is good, but if it is used in place of teaching your child how to regulate their emotions it can become a crux. There is some evidence that certain apps and programs can help develop literacy and problem-solving skills. I suggest you use it with caution at this age, and always read up on it before giving them access. Whatever you do at this age, it’s important that time spent with technology be time spent together.

Children ages 4-11

Young children are incredibly curious, and technology can be an excellent tool for cultivating their natural curiosity. With this age group, focus their digital engagement on activities that will develop critical thinking and creativity. It is essential that their time with technology be limited and paired with an active lifestyle that can support their growth through play and social engagement. They need more social time than screen time in order to develop empathy and other social skills.

Unfortunately, age 11 is when most children are first exposed to pornography. It’s important that their access to phones, tablets, or other screens be restricted through an internet filter and their time be limited. This helps protect their curiosity while encouraging their creativity.

Adolescents ages 12 and up

As a parent of a teen I know how easy and convenient it is to give in and let their phone console them. In the same way that your teen needs you to train them to drive a car until they are ready to take it out on their own, it’s essential that you continually guide and coach their use of technology. They still need limits and they still need you to protect them, while they also need you to slowly extend them more and more trust in using technology well.

Although your child’s use of technology can provoke fear, bewilderment and absolute frustration, it can just as easily be a helpful tool to their growth and development. Giving them consistent boundaries and your humble curiosity sends them the message that they are loved and valued, which no sound bite, video or digital message can drown out.

Alexander Cruz-Reiners, 7 years old.

5 Tips for Tech Boundaries

1. Contract – Some parents find it helpful to write out and sign a contract for how and when certain technology will be used in their home. This can also spell out consequences for inappropriate use.

2. Social Media – The double-edged sword of tech. Be thoughtful and firm with your child’s access to social media. Form an alliance with other parents and hold to your standards.

3. Going Dark – Have a curfew from tech at least an hour before bedtime, as well as an hour in the afternoon when tech goes dark. Let them get bored and watch their imaginations go to work.

4. School Rules – Know your child’s school’s policies about tech in the classroom and help enforce it. As a former teacher, I promise you will be thanked.

5. Tech Free Zones – Have spaces in your house where certain tech is not allowed. For instance, you might keep bedrooms for sleep, study and play only, while tech can only be used in family spaces.

Special thanks to the Emerging Analytics Center at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock for use of their facility for this month's cover photo shoot.

Branden Henry is gratefully married with four kids. He is a licensed counselor and marriage therapist, specializing in addiction and trauma treatment. He lives outside of Heber Springs and works with adolescent males and their families at Capstone Treatment Center.

For more of his writing, or to communicate with him, visit BrandenHenry.com.

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