With the holiday season approaching all too quickly, Barry Lee Cummings from Beat The Cyberbully offers some key advice around technology use and management for our children over the period.
The latest gadgets are bound to top a number of lists for the man in red, whether that’s mobile phones, tablets or gaming platforms. This year more than ever, we will also need to take into consideration that many families will be apart, and there will be a reliance on technology to allow us to feel closer and ensure that geographically-distant family still feel connected, however at the same time, we want to make sure our children are not stuck to their devices all day.
With that in mind, planning ahead is key, and below are some suggestions for managing technology during the holiday period, in what will be an unprecedented time for all of us.
It’s important to set guidelines so that everyone in the home understands that there are stipulations around the use of the internet, their devices and access to platforms. Traditionally, within business this was referred to as an Acceptable Use Policy (AUP), and was required to help employees, new and old, to understand what was a permissible use of the internet and social media channels during working hours, but this same concept works very well in the home too.
It’s not as simple as just jotting down a list of rules however, if you want your guidelines to be effective and adhered to, then you need to draw these up in the right way:
- Do it together – parents should discuss and pull these together with their children, ensuring that the younger members of the family are actually listened to and their input considered
- Make sure everyone understands – these are not rules ‘cast in stone’, they are guidelines that will be adapted with the release of new technology, and there is the potential for ‘exceptional use’ cases over the holiday period (maybe in line with good behaviour/chores completion, etc)
- Ensure commitment – have a clear agreement from all of the family to commit these guidelines into daily life
- Use clear and precise language – ensure there is no ambiguity and as little chance as possible to conveniently ‘misunderstand’ something
- Outline clear consequences – even though it is the holiday season we have to ensure we follow through when rules are broken
Ideally, try and keep these guidelines short and concise, they could even be refined into a simple visual that can be printed and stuck to the fridge, or somewhere that will remind everyone what’s been agreed to.
Once everyone knows what is expected, it can also be helpful to have a schedule – this could be a wall planner that’s visible to all, for example. Here, you can plan in time for technology, and times when restrictions will come into force. The wall planner can also have times for Facetime/Zoom calls with grandparents, aunts/uncles and other family and friends planned in, as well as homework.
Alternatively to a wall planner or written calendar, we can lean on technology to help ensure these times are adhered to. Monitoring software and parental controls are great in that you can set everything up and then you don’t have to constantly remember and monitor when to turn things off, or limit access. Some recommendations for these tools that could prove useful over the holiday period include Ikydz, Circle and Boomerang. Nischint is a particularly useful tool because it has UAE based parental controls, as well as mobile device management for schools providers.
All of the above software provides more control over online access and activity, with little pre-planning. Don’t forget that it is very important when installing any kind of monitoring software or control to speak with your children about why you are doing it (age dependent of course). If they are involved in the conversation and able to contribute, as with the guidelines, there is a much higher percentage chance of acceptance.
Another thing to consider for the holidays and this lead-up time is the idea of gamifying the use of technology in your home so that this isn’t something that is thrown on the family unit on Christmas morning when the new devices are unwrapped – ‘Surprise, we are changing everything today, even though you’ve just opened your new gadgets and gaming platforms.’
As we countdown to the holidays over the next few weeks, alongside setting guidelines, we can also look at how certain tasks, chores, and undertakings from our children can lead to upgrades in their screen time allotments or to upgrades in the offline world as well. We are certainly not suggesting bribery, but if there’s a specific present on the list, then working towards that in the upcoming weeks can be ‘fun’ for the whole family and also get everyone used to how things are going to work.
There is no reason why strategies and processes introduced now, can’t continue after Christmas, into the new year and well beyond. This way, when it comes to the gamification aspect, our children can actually start working towards bigger and better ‘rewards’ like their summer holidays. They could think about where they’d like to go and devise a points system that contributes to their overall score, and that overall score will determine which destination wins.
It could also be integrated into their school day, either on an individual basis, or perhaps have a word with the PTA and see whether this is something that could be implemented school-wide. These kinds of initiatives on a wider scale help the entire community to look at the subject from a longer-term perspective, which at this particular moment in time, is critical. Gamification is being applied to things like compensation and benefits in companies and the insurance industry, not for the fun of it, although that is part of it, but because it works. So why not look to apply it to our children’s online use?
In closing, the 7 P’s that a lot of adults will be familiar with still apply at home: Prior Planning and Preparation Prevent Pretty Poor Performance – that’s a slightly edited version but the sentiment still applies. If we look to set up our homes and lives to deal with the inevitable, we have a much better chance of navigating what can be a stressful time, by removing at least one of the stressors.
Our final recommendation is one that we’ve only started making recently if you are looking at purchasing a device for your children (whether this is their first or just new upgrade). Take a look at the options and seriously consider an Android-based device. The ability for parental controls and monitoring software on these devices is far greater than on Apple devices. Apple is building its own functionality into its devices, but its proprietary approach is making it much harder for third-party software providers to do what they do best, which therefore means you are beholden to Apple. They do it very well of course (this is coming from an Apple superfan), but when it comes to the safer usage of the online space, we will always lean towards whatever gives the greatest ability to keep our children safer.
By: Barry Lee Cummings