What is your primary “technology rule for teens” or screentime rule for your children?
Over the years, I have had a lot of conversations with moms of teens, and it has become evident that technology can be a tool to allow us to help others, or it can be a way to hurt others (or ourselves).
I want our kids to CHOOSE TO BE KIND. (I know that you do, too.)
With our guidance, help, examples, and daily reminders, we can achieve that goal. I try to remind them often that being kind is always the right choice.
This reminder is the first thing they see when they come downstairs every morning, when they walk in the door, and before they go to bed each night. It is a little chalkboard that hangs in the middle of our hallway, and it says, “In a world where you can choose to be anything… be kind.”
Last year, I partnered with Google to spread the message online that It is “COOL to be KIND.” It was then that I introduced our technology rules to their team.
Our family has two major rules when it comes to technology.
Of course, we have ground rules, too- those set rules for technology like:
- No Phones in their bedrooms
- No phones at dinner time
- Don’t watch tv & play on your phone at the same time.
- Phones charge in our bedroom at night.
- They can’t download apps without permission (they don’t have the password)
- They can’t use their phones at night. We have time limits for cell phone use & internet access that fall between the hours of __ and ___ (depending on ages).
- They know that we are monitoring EVERYTHING.
- Video games need to be appropriate.
- We maintain Parental Control over all devices, so we set boundaries for their phone usage. We let them use their device, and we can take it away at any time.
The two rules that I’m talking about are the ones that matter for our children’s character.
I don’t typically share these rules with anyone outside of our family because I don’t want anyone to feel judged. However, I wanted to share them today since our kids spend so much time online for school right now.
Our Technology Rules: the ones that make a difference in their character.
I would never judge another parent about the screentime rules in their home because I know that every family is different. Some allow phones; some don’t. Some allow game systems; some don’t. What works for one family might not be right for another. Please know that I am NOT suggesting that everyone should adopt these rules- only that this is what works for us.
This is simply what works for us.
Rule #1: Our kids are not allowed to call, send pictures, or send videos of themselves hanging out with friends to anyone who is not with them.
If our kids are hanging out with someone else, they are not allowed to call another friend (one that is NOT there). It’s rude. It’s hurtful.
If our child has Friend A over, they can not facetime, text, or call Friend B because Friend B will feel bad that they were not invited.
They are not allowed to send photos or videos of themselves hanging out to anyone else.
If our child meets a group of friends to hang out, they cannot send photos of themselves “just hanging out” or “having the best time” to anyone not hanging out with them.
I have explained to our kids that while they might see it as fun, it isn’t kind. It won’t make anyone feel included, but instead, it will do the opposite.
I’ve asked them to put themselves in the shoes of the receiving end of that text:
- “What if all of your friends are hanging out, having a blast, and you weren’t invited?
- What if you heard your phone alert you that you had a text, so you checked the text only to see that your friends are having the time of their lives while you are missing out.
- How would you feel to know that you were not invited or couldn’t be there?”
IT IS NOT FAIR & IT IS NOT KIND.
I want our children to CHOOSE to be KIND because they WANT to.
I explained what life looked like for me when I was that age, and how I never had to be on the receiving end of a video text of my friends having fun when I wasn’t invited… and I am grateful for it.
- When I was in middle school, in the early ’90s, if my classmates were having fun without me, I had no idea unless they told me the next day.
- When school ended at 3:00, I had no idea what my classmates were doing, because I was home, and as far as I knew, they were home, too.
- I never knew what happened over the weekend until we came back to school on Monday morning.
I want our kids to know that every day, they get a choice: Lift others up… or Tear others down.
By being kind, respectful, and aware of how things make others feel, they can always make the right choice.
Rule 2: Never go along with gossip.
Teaching our children how to respond to gossip online or via text is very important. They will be put in this situation over & over again. I want them to know how to handle it.
First, I teach them the PRACTICAL part of it:
- Everything can be saved.
- Anyone can screenshot it.
- Everyone that you know and don’t know can see it.
- If you write something or post something (they don’t have social media yet, but they will at some point), just remember that everyone can see it.
- Even if you delete it, there are ways of recovering it.
- Once it is out there… it’s out there.
How to Teach Children to Handle Gossip via Text
We talk, a lot, about how to handle different situations online.
This is one of the main reasons that we monitor their phones, iPods, iPad, or tablets. We want these years to be teaching moments. We can use these situations to talk to them about how to handle things.
If we weren’t monitoring their devices, receiving alerts of specific situations, we might never know what they are seeing or hearing. We might never find that “life experience” that leads itself to a teachable moment.
If they see anyone being unkind, they should choose to do the right thing. I remind them that if they see gossip via text, they need to pretend that they are face to face with the person texting… and everyone else is there, too.
This means that if a friend is gossiping about someone else, our children should never respond with anything other than courage, kindness, humility, and integrity.
I tell them that “If friend gossips about someone else, makes fun of someone, or is being rude about someone else – it is your job to show what kindness looks like.
It is your job to be an example of what integrity looks like.”
I remind our kids that “Even sending back a laughing face emoji 😂 is mean when it is in response to someone’s gossip, cruelty, jokes, or bullying. It’s like you are telling them that you agree.”
I’ve gone over this with each of our children- what integrity is, what it looks like, and why it is important.
Integrity is what you do when no one is watching.
Integrity is doing what is right all of the time, not just because someone is watching. It is doing the right thing even when it may not benefit you.
I have talked with our children about how they need to remember to choose the RIGHT thing. I’ve taught them that instead of doing what they think would help them to “fit in,” it is up to them to…
✔️Choose to be kind.
✔️Stand up for that person.
KINDNESS IS ALWAYS THE RIGHT CHOICE.
Did you know that 71% of students have witnessed bullying directly? I want our kids to know that they have a right and a duty to be an upstander in those situations.
Questions to ask kids about gossip:
- What if the person that they are talking about saw that message?
- How would you feel if you were the one being talked about?
- What if they saw that you knew about it and didn’t do anything?
- How would YOU feel if you knew that they found out that you were a part of the conversation? How would you feel if they found out that you were participating in the gossip?
As parents, we have these amazing opportunities to lead our children to be the kind of people that we know they can be.
We have the chance to help them be the people that they were meant to be. It is a big job, and I don’t take it lightly.
I use every chance that I get to teach our kids to be kind and to remember to do the right thing.
When did we start implementing these technology rules?
We started these rules when our kids were old enough to be given the privilege of texting.
Once they received their devices (tablet, iPod, iPad, or phone), we talked about it even more. Even our youngest child uses her iPad to text family and a couple of friends, so this rule is for everyone in our house.
What if they break a rule?
This is a no-negotiation rule & it comes with an unchanging consequence. If they break either of these rules, they will lose all electronic privileges.
We talked about what this would look like, in detail, before we ever trusted our kids with devices.
It is a lesson that should be carried into the real world, and not just online, so I felt like the lesson could be taught young.
Do unto others as you would have done unto you.
How to teach children to be KIND.
- Use QUALITY TIME
Spend time with your kids talking about these things. Set aside quality time to really discuss what it means to be kind: what it looks like online and in real life, what they can do to be kind to others, and how they can stand up for others.
- CELEBRATE KINDNESS 🎂
Example: Talk about a time when the kids were kind.
Have a “Kindness Day” celebration and share examples of kindness. Bake a cake & then…
1- Ask your children to write an example of a time when THEY WERE KIND on a tiny piece of paper.
2. Glue the paper to a toothpick.
3. Add it to a cake to make a KINDNESS CAKE.
Teach your child to be empathetic. A great way that I have found to do this is to read books, like Wonder, that remind our kids that other people have struggled and have been hurt, but they have used kindness and love to come out the other end.
- CONVERSATIONS DON’T HAVE TO BE ‘LESSONS’
Don’t make them feel like every lesson is a ‘lesson,’ but instead, let these conversations and reminders be a part of the daily conversation. There is a time & place to talk about inappropriate content, but we don’t need to plan a lesson for every conversation.
- TALK IN THE CAR
Ask the kind of questions (in the car or at the dinner table) that will invite them to open up about how they can be kind. Talking in the car is proven to be when kids are more willing to open up to parents.
- READ STORIES OF KINDNESS.
I read bible stories, stories of other kids, or tell them stories about kindness from my past. I talk about the importance of being kind (and impacting others’ mental health).
- CONVERSATION STARTER EXAMPLES:
- Tell me about something kind that someone did for you at school recently?
- What have you done to be kind to others in your classroom?
- When you see someone being bullied, what do you do?
- Why is it important to be kind to others?
- Let’s think of some ways that you can be kind to others at school this week.
- What are some acts of kindness you can share with your classmates and friends?
- BE AN EXAMPLE
Our children are always watching us and listening to us. We can be an example to them by being kind to others daily.
Remember, our kids learn from what we teach them daily. Don’t buy them what you wish you had; teach them what you wish you’d known.
Our children are growing up with tools that we did not have while we were growing up. It is hard to navigate these waters, but we have the chance to use these tools to help us.
I remind our kids daily that they have a choice every day, and I hope they choose kindness.
They will never regret choosing to be kind. Neither will we. 🥰