About making time for Vitamin D, and online safety

You know the old saying, “April showers, bring May flowers?” (And May flowers bring pollen, but let’s stay positive.) It’s proving to be true this year. The abundant flowers, trees and bushes are in full bloom and provide truly spectacular scenery. The perfect beauty of lilies, daffodils and cherry trees are a visible reminder that everything in life is here by the grace of God.

Are you and your family enjoying it? Even beautiful scenery and weather isn’t enticing enough for many of us. Overscheduling and overworking may be part of the problem, but technology is a larger part.

It’s hard to deny that there are benefits of technology. Today there are apps and websites that can do everything but eat and sleep for us. In fact, there are some that will help with those too.

Our kids have grown up in a technology-driven world and are experts on cell phones, laptops and gaming systems. We want our children to get help with math, spelling and grammar on the internet’s excellent academic websites. Students can take practice tests online and access tutoring sites for lessons taught by real people on every subject imaginable. Teachers use their school pages to communicate with students and post lessons, practice work and homework.

Parents always want to be able to reach their children and for their children to be able to call for help if needed. There are apps that allow parents to see where their kids are and how fast they are driving.

The problem isn’t the existence of technology, but the amount of time our kids spend on social media apps and websites like YouTube. It’s been proven that young people spend too much on their devices – enough time to be detrimental.

However, we are not completely helpless when it comes to our children and technology. Here are a few steps parents can take to gain control over their children’s use of technology.

  • Find and use the parental controls on your child’s device to block inappropriate web sites.
  • Say “no” to your children if you do not want them to have certain social media accounts or any social media accounts.
  • If they are on social media, create your own account (you don’t have to post anything or have “followers”) and inform your child that they must accept you as a “follower,” and monitor their activity.
  • Insist on having the passwords and user names to each of your child’s accounts. Have the passwords to their phone, laptop, and anything else that requires one.
  • Ask if they have a “finsta” account. This is a second Instagram account that some kids have, where they post more personal and unfiltered information than they post on their main, “public” account (read more about this concept here). If the answer is “Yes,” have them accept your request to follow them, and check for appropriate content on a regular basis.
  • Be clear about what they are, and are not, allowed to post.
  • Be clear about the types (and specific sites if you know of any) of sites that they are allowed to visit online.
  • Have a limit on the amount of free time your child can be on devices each day.
  • Make a rule that homework must be done before “fun” time on devices.
  • Have a docking station in a common area of the house, where children (or the entire family) are required to leave their devices each night.
  • Have your child spend at least 20 minutes a day outside. If nothing else, they can do homework, walk the dog or read.
  • Make it clear that your children’s devices ultimately belong to you. Even if they purchased one with their own money, it can be taken away. They are children living under your roof. You’re the boss.
  • Don’t be afraid to take away devices or have your child delete social media accounts and stay off social media as consequences for undesirable behavior, whether online or not.
  • Have a rule that during non-school hours, your child has ten minutes to call you back if they don’t answer your call or text. Remember that one of the primary reasons for kids to have phones is so we can reach them, and they can reach us.

Our children, and those in the future, will probably never spend the amount of time outside that previous generations did. I’m sure some of you remember long summer days spent outside with friends and neighbors playing pickle, riding bikes, running through the sprinkler and selling lemonade. At dinner time some moms rang a big bell that could be heard at least four houses away and after dinner all the kids met outside again to play until popsicle time.

It’s probably unrealistic (you never know though, give it a try!) to expect children to spend every weekend and summer day like we did. But we can take baby steps. Spring is the perfect time to start spending less time on technology and more time outdoors. Don’t be surprised if you hear complaints like “There is nothing to dooooo.” That’s good. Let them figure it out like we did. Maybe by the end of summer we will need a bell to call our kids to dinner. There’s a bell app, isn’t there?