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To Smartphone? Or, not to Smartphone?

Focus on the “Why”… and the “When” will be a lot easier.

“When should we give our children their own smartphones?”  Spoiler alert!  There is absolutely no consensus on how to answer this fundamental question for raising kids in the Digital Era.  The most common and most logical recommendation goes something like, “there is no specific age at which a smartphone should (or should not) be given to a child.  Rather, parents should determine the right time based on their child’s maturity.”  Again, not very helpful.

FamPlan provides strategies and actions parents can take to give their children a head-start at maintaining a healthy relationship with their digital devices, reaping the rewards we have all been promised, and hopefully, avoiding the dire outcomes so many of us fear.  We organize these strategies into four, easy to learn categories.  Model – Delay – Manage – Connect  In our previous post, Kids and Smartphones… Be a Good Role Model, we described the concept of parents as positive role models.  This blog post explains the concepts of “Delaying” your child’s smartphone all together.

The only strategy that ensures your child will not experience the negative consequences of having a smartphone is to Delay giving them one.

Rather than ask “when should my child receive a smartphone”?  Ask the question a bit differently, and from your own perspective.

Why do WE (parents) want our child to have a smartphone?

This is a question you have a chance of answering.  But first, let’s quickly review why you might NOT want your child to have a smartphone.  For all of the research we have done on this topic, no person or group has stated the challenges associated with “Kids and Smartphones” more succinctly than Wait Until 8th (go check them out).  Founder and Mom, Brooke Shannon sums it up like this, “concerns over social and relational impairment, as well as addiction, distraction, depression, and exposure to mature content.”  Whoa!  This is scary!  At a minimum, it should cause you to pause and consider your options.

So with all of the potential bad outcomes related to smartphones, why do so many parents decide to give them to their children at increasingly younger ages?  (Kid’s and Tech: The Evolution of Today’s Digital Natives citing 2016 statistics states “kids are getting a first [smart]phone at 10.3 years old“.)  Of course, we hear many answers.  However, the one answer that almost every parent we interview includes in their response is, “we (parents) need the ability to be connected with our kids”.  Some parents qualify this statement with “in an emergency”.  Others cite the complexity and urgency of their busy schedules.  The point is, we all gave our kids a phone for the ability to connect with them when we are not together.

As honorable as our intentions may have been, in many families, connecting with our children via their smartphone regarding urgent and/or important matters represents a small fraction of how we (and they) use our devices.  As parents, it is our responsibility to determine when the Need of having a smartphone outweighs the Risk of having a smartphone.  And unfortunately, FamPlan cannot tell you when you should make that call.  We can offer this simple advice;

Parenting Tip… If they do not need a smartphone… Or, if they have not earned a smartphone… they do not get a smartphone.

In summary, delaying the day you give your child a smartphone ensures that they are safe from the potential negative impacts of having a smartphone.  And, whether you “Wait Until 8th” or you decide your child is mature enough for a smartphone earlier, always remember Your Why.  And finally, don’t be overly worried about what you ultimately decide.  There are strategies for ensuring your child’s smartphone experience is safe and productive.  We will share some of those strategies in our next post, “Manage the Phone… Not the Child“.

And, until next time #DoMoreHappy

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Kids and Smartphones… Be a Good Role Model

You are your child’s most Important Role Model

If you read the first post in this series Smartphone or Dumb Distraction, you are already aware that FamPlan believes that without their parents’ guidance, kids are just as likely to have negative experiences with their digital devices as they are to have positive experiences.  And depending on the age and maturity of the child in question, the outcomes of these negative experiences can have significant and lingering consequences.  Don’t worry.  We have a Plan!

FamPlan provides strategies and actions parents can take to give their children a head-start at maintaining a healthy relationship with their digital devices, reaping the rewards we have all been promised, and hopefully, avoiding the dire outcomes so many of us fear.  And, we organize these strategies into four, easy to learn categories.  Model – Delay – Manage – Connect

Best Practices to Model with Smartphones

Success is a well studied discipline.  Whether we’re discussing the best approach school or work, how we interact with friends and family, or best practices for how to use our smartphones, following the same strategies as positive role models often leads to success.  And when we are talking about our children, the most important role models most kids will ever have are their parents.

Apologies if you feel you have been tricked.  But Yes, this post is about how you should be using our technology…  And No, parents are not always the best role models.  However, we owe to our kids to be the best role models we can be.

“The surest way to achieve success is to model someone who is already successful.”  Anthony Robbins

The following list was generated by a group of teens and preteens in my living room.  This list took less than two minutes for them to create.  And they not only implied, but they outright stated that their parents (yes, I am one of said parents) were providing these bad examples.

  1. Put away the phone during conversation.  Don’t just turn of the sounds.  Place the phone in airplane mode and leave it somewhere you cannot see it.  It is amazing how codependent we have become with these little devices.  Remember… there is no relationship more important than that of parent and child.  Treat it as such.
  2. No phones while driving.  Yes, the public service reminders tell us not to text and drive.  But, this goes for almost every function the phone provides.  If you need to check maps or other travel-specific information while in the car, find a place to stop.  And 9 times out of 10, calls can wait.  Here’s a Parenting tip… if Mom calls while you are driving the children, ask the children to answer the phone.
  3. No videos, alarms, or ringers in public.  Noise pollution!  Please be considerate of others.
  4. No phones at the Dinner table.  Once again, relationships make the world go round.  And for your family, there is no better opportunity to share experiences, thoughts and dreams than at the family meal.  Pro-Dad tip… Make time for Family Dinner and ditch the phones.
  5. No screens before bedtime.  This advice supports both physical health and mental health.  The “blue light” emitted by smartphones is interpreted by our brains as daylight.  As such, it stimulates your brain at the very time when you want to be winding down.  And form a psychological standpoint, searching for that one last affirmation in the social media haystack is far more likely to lead to anxiety that it is to lead to contentment.

This list is by no means scientific or exhaustive.  It is based on a variety of sources and readings, and as stated earlier, the observations of a group of kids.

The most important concept to remember from this post is that your children watch you… they learn from you… they want to be like you.  Be mindful of what you are teaching them.

Check out the second FamPlan strategy for Kids and Smartphones, Our Kids. To Smartphone? Or, not to Smartphone?

And as always, #DoMoreHappy 

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“Smartphone” or “Dumb Distraction”

Your Kids and Smartphones… You Better Have a Plan.

In at least one urgently important way, childhood is radically different for today’s kids than it was for their parents.  Kids can now, quite literally, be connected with the entire world, the good, the bad, and the ugly!

Parents, educators, and the medical community have good reason to be concerned.  Cyberbullying, screen addiction, inappropriate content, and myriad other challenges are real issues for young people navigating a complex, online world.  And when kids run into challenges, the results can range from “bummer” to “life-altering”.

While being “over-connected” to the outside world can be scary, the flip-side of this “connectivity challenge” is just as important.  Children are becoming less connected with family and friends.  And, this makes sense…  when all that is required to steer clear of a challenging conversation is a quick tweet and the requisite emoji, it’s little wonder that today’s kids find it increasingly difficult to communicate face-to-face.  And though this side of situation may not seem as directly negative in its impact, the outcomes are no less serious in a child’s long-term ability to thrive and be happy.

In fact, the physical and mental-health impacts that are now attributed, both directly and indirectly, to smartphones have been well documented (see The Atlantic’s, Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation).  Smartphones, sleep patterns, lack of exercise, relationships, anxiety and depression are all now interconnected.  And as painful as it may be to admit, smartphones are going to remain a part of modern life for all of us.

What can parents do to prepare and protect their kids?

Now that we are all on the same page regarding the importance of the challenge, what is a conscientious parent to do?  Don’t lose hope just yet!  Truth be told, there are quite a few actions parents can take, to both protect their children from the most destructive impacts of using smartphones, and to teach kids habits and life-lessons that will serve them well into the future.  FamPlan adheres to a straightforward methodology described as “Model -> Delay -> Manage -> Connect“.  In a nutshell, one might refer to this as “Strategies for Parenting Digital Kids”.

As with most things that are worthwhile, the concepts are simple, while the details are a bit trickier.  So, we’ll dig in deeper in our next post, Kids and Smartphones… Be a Good Role Model.

Until next time…  #DoMoreHappy

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Connect with your Kids… Digitally

Make Technology a Force for Good in your Family

Technology as a “force for good” in your family may sound a little (a lot) counter-intuitive at first.  We hear about the downside of technology on a fairly consistent basis these days.  And, whilke it is true that everything with tech is not always “hunky dory”, technology has many amazing things to offer when used responsibly.  With a little research (see Social Media – Be There for Your Child), an open mind, and some perseverance, you and your children can enjoy the upside of healthy technology while avoiding the pitfalls.

The most critical component of your kids’ ability to safely and successfully navigate today’s technology landscape has nothing to do with technology.  In most situations, their success is highly contingent on their relationships with their parents… as in YOU!  Of course, the love and trust between parent and child is the cornerstone of much of a child’s development.  How and when our kids use technology is no different.

Kids need to know that Mom and Dad have expectations with regard to apps, games, social media, messaging, and even television.. do kids watch TV these days.  They need to understand that their use of technology is a privilege and not a right.  Most children do not have the financial means to purchase and maintain their computers, tablets, and phones, not to mention the requisite networking and data plans that make them useful.  As such, we parents need to be direct in explaining that we have every right to impose rules and consequences when our children misuse technology.

More Important than Control… Connection

All the “control efforts’ in the world will not keep a child from “exploring” or making the occasional “error in judgement”.  The stronger our relationships with them and the closer our connections, the less traumatic these missteps will be.  Admittedly, connecting with our kids on their own “digital turf” (i.e. SnapChat, Instagram, etc.) is going to be difficult, if not impossible.  It’s not that they don’t want to connect with us online.  It’s just that they don’t want us imposing on the connections they are building with their peers.  What Families need are solutions (apps) that are custom built for Parents and Kids.

And this raises an interesting question, “what do parents and kids both find important enough to actually get them to use a common app”?  Given all of the obligations and activities we find ourselves trying to manage these days, it turns out that sharing basic information about schedules, assignments, documentation and the like is critically important to every member of the family.  FamPlan brings all of this information together in one place, and brings it to life with a “social feed” that allows family members to discuss this information in context.

And the best part, the kids can now contribute and learn to be responsible for their own schedules and activities.  If you have ever tried to teach the kids to use a calendar, you already know that paper calendars just don’t meet these “Digital Natives'” needs.  They want their information with them and available at all times.  If we are honest with ourselves, we parents do also.  We have these capabilities through our employers, and perhaps even with our spouse.  But, a shared Family solution, designed to engage the kids has been, until now, out of reach.

In summary, be purposeful in your efforts to connect with your children digitally.  The shared experience (aka “Connection”) will provide the opportunity to guide their learning and ensure they have positive experiences with their technology.

Happy Parenting!

This is Part 3 of a 5 Part Series on Kids and Social Media

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Social Media – Be There for Your Child

Is Social Media “Really” Bad for Our Kids?

Many parents today, myself included, are concerned about the effects social media (and computer games, etc.) is having on our children.  If we are to assume that what we see on TV News (not to mention many of our own social feeds) is an accurate reflection of the experiences of most of our children, then the situation indeed may be dire.  But, is this actually the case?

Let’s be clear.  Social Media has definitely changed the way many of us interact with one another, adults and children alike.  Some of these changes are definitely for the better.  It’s great to be able to stay up to speed on the happenings of those you care about, but might otherwise never hear from.  The best example of this type of Social Media platform is, of course, Facebook.

Unfortunately, the good is offset by a number of potentially significant problems.  One such dilemma is our inability to exclude the negative information that we would not otherwise seek out (in your kid’s world, think “cyber-bullying”).  It can be very difficult to disengage from negative conversations when you carry them around in your pocket at all times.  A second serious challenge is that we tend to find ourselves in “echo chambers”, where much of the content we are presented simply reinforces currently held beliefs.  As you might imagine, a child with low self-esteem, who is constantly presented with information that devalues him, may find himself in a downward spiral.

Of course, we all face these problems to some degree.  But, the consequences can be far more pronounced when experienced by our children.  Sadly, they do not possess the experience or the wisdom to always know what is healthy and what should be ignored.  And more consequentially, they often have very limited frames of reference when attempting to understand the situations they find themselves in and what they feel about them.

Which is Why We Must “Be There With Them”

As parents, it is both our privilege and our responsibility to instruct our children with regard to what is “right and wrong”.  When we were children, much of this education was focused on how we should interact with a limited number of friends, family, and situations, most of which were well known to our parents.  Today, our children may literally be interacting with hundreds of other people in far more situations than we might even imagine.  So, how do we ensure their health and safety?

First and foremost, we have to become educated ourselves.  Don’t worry, you do not need to be an active user on every possible app out there.  Start by researching the “Biggies” (here’s a fairly comprehensive list).  SnapChat, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter and Facebook command a high percentage of the average young person’s social media exposure.  If you want to create an account on each of these platforms and be linked to your child’s accounts, go ahead.  But, it is probably not necessary “to spy” on them.  The chances that they would do or say something far enough outside your expectations that you would feel compelled to intervene is slim.  It is probably enough that they know you “are around”.  And, they might even take comfort in the knowledge they are not alone.

This approach makes the assumption that your child understands your expectations.  And, this brings us back to parenting.  Not the “Control” parenting many of us would prefer.  This parenting effort is going to require continuous interaction.  To succeed when it comes to social media, we must be present for our children, understand the challenges they may face, and be prepared to listen, empathize and mentor.  Which is why it is absolutely critical that we know what we are talking about.

And, if you think you and your child would benefit from a private environment where you can connect and share information and technology strategies, you can certainly give FamPlan a try.

Just remember, the only thing parents can do that is definitely a bad idea when it comes to social media is to allow their kids to go it alone.

Happy Parenting!

This is Part 2 of a 5 Part Series on Kids and Social Media

 

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Social Media & The Attention Economy

What is the “Attention Economy” you ask.  Great question… scary answer!

Some of the world’s most recognized technology brands, like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter are in a race for our attention.  They no longer have a choice.  These “solutions” are backed by business models that rely on money from advertisers that, quite literally, pay for our attention.  And, since we only have so much time in a day to engage in social media, these tech titans must continually design and deploy increasingly addictive techniques to keep us “hooked” and glued to their app!

As adults, we must learn to treat this phenomenon as we would any addiction.  A little knowledge, recognition that the threat exists, reasonable goals, and “all things in moderation” and we will probably be OK.  But, what does the Attention Economy mean to our children?

Unfortunately, this problem is one that affects both adults and adolescents.  And, the younger (and less mature) among us have little chance of dealing with this problem on their own.  Social Media has conditioned a generation of children to view “Likes”, “Streaks”, and “Shares” as a measure of their self-worth.  This has been so successful that it is now commonly believed that children are less capable of forming real friendships (see TED Harvard Happiness Study), and engaging with those friends in healthy, face-to-face conversations and activities.

To be direct, the Attention Economy is negatively impacting the health of our children… both in the present and well into their futures.

What Can We Do?  Family is the Key!

First, we must all agree that we cannot count on the large technology companies to be part of the solution.

Second, we must all educate ourselves.  Groups like Center for Humane Technology, Siempo, and #UseTech4Good are great places to start.

Third, connect “digitally” with your children.  As counterproductive as this may sound, we have to be engaged with our children where the problem exists.  We recommend you start with FamPlan.

Fourth, go to extremes to create opportunities for Relationships & Experiences.

And finally, share everything you learn with your children.  They will benefit from your efforts more than you can imagine!

This is Part 1 of a 5 Part Series on Kids & Social Media