This month’s educational column of Montreal Families Magazine was co-written by my 14-year-old twin daughters, Sophie and Alex. They list and describe some helpful apps kids can for school. Check out the article here. Show your kids how to put French verbs right at their fingertips, turn their smartphones or tablets into scientific calculators, and even compress the amount of data they use (reducing your monthly bills in the process).
Tag Archives: responsibility
Your seven-year-old’s best friend is moving away. She’s really upset about it and wants to keep in touch. Can she have an email account? Pretty please? She promises to use it just to keep in touch with her friend. And maybe her grandparents. And her cousins in Florida. What about her camp friends, and the kid she met on the beach during winter break?
You know it’s the tip of the iceberg. Email is a powerful and immediate way to stay connected, but it also opens up a whole host of questions about safety online, from protecting one’s privacy to enabling the kind of digital communication that can easily be abused, misused or misunderstood. And it also invites questions about all kinds of other activities online, from Instagram to Tumblr and Facebook.
So what age is the right age for a first email account?
It’s a variation of the same question I often hear from parents at my workshops – what age is the right one for surfing the Internet, or getting a cellphone, or starting a blog, or online gaming?
My answer is always the same: there is no magic age when every kid is ready. You need to balance your family values, your child’s level of maturity and responsibility and your comfort level in supervising their activities.
However, I do think that introducing school-aged children to email at home — at a point where you feel comfortable — offers a golden opportunity to establish responsible use of online tools. Here are just some of the topics that you can discuss with your kids about using email:
- protecting passwords,
- manners, civility and “netiquette” online,
- how typed-out words on a screen may not convey nuance, sarcasm and irony the way spoken words do,
- trusting superficial identification – people can use email to pretend to be someone else,
- how digital conversations can be forwarded, copied or taken out of context without permission – always assume more than one pair of eyes may read what you write,
- digital permanence – you can never be sure anything you’ve written or posted is completely deleted.
If you do decide to allow your child to open an email account, consider implementing the following guidelines:
- parents should know their usernames and passwords, but ask that they don’t share that information with anyone else,
- request that they ask permission from parents before opening any new account,
- anything written out in a digital format is not to be considered private and off-limits to parents (if they want privacy, it should be written out longhand on paper),
- review emails with your child from time to time (not behind their backs, unless you think they might legitimately be in danger), not to read what their friends write, but so they doesn’t get fooled by spam, viruses and Nigerian princes,
- limit the places they use their personal email address, so they don’t become overwhelmed by sales pitches from companies eager to market to children,
- that they be good “e-friends,” respecting what others write,
- that over time, with demonstration of consistent good judgement and responsibility, parents will give their children additional increments of privacy online.
The goal is support and teach your children how to become good digital citizens — after all, this is the world they will inherit. They need to learn these healthy online habits somewhere, and it’s ideal if they are reinforced in the home. So go ahead and let your second-grader open her (or his) very own email account, but make sure s/he has the tools, resources and supervision to handle it responsibly.
“Can I have a Facebook account?”
“My friends are going to the mall alone — can I go too?”
All of these requests have one thing in common: freedom. They are each small increments of freedom from parental control. In each case there are potential risks; they all imply a level of trust.
As parents, we need to make decisions about what our kids can handle, and balance them with the things that can go wrong — and right. And when parents ask my advice on what the right answers are for many of these things at different ages, I suggest one overall guideline:
Freedom is a privilege to be earned through the demonstration of consistent, good judgement and behaviour.
That means that the child who regularly gets his homework done without a fuss after dinner should probably be allowed to watch TV (or play a video game or whatever is agreed). The child who makes healthy choices should be allowed to pack her own lunch for school. The teenager who checks in regularly when she’s out with her friends, respects her curfew and answers her cellphone when you call may be ready for additional incremental steps of freedom.
Each freedom suggests its own rules: the cellphone must be kept charged and answered when you call. It can’t be used in school in violation of school rules. Usage can’t exceed agreed upon limits for talking and texting. They need to review their text messages with a parent from time to time.
The teen who wants to borrow the family car needs to follow the rules of the road, keep it clean and gassed up. Never drink and drive.
And so on.
What about when kids break the rules? Because that’s going to happen. Testing limits is part of growing up, after all.
When my kids break the rules, we discuss what it means. Usually, there is some backpedaling on their freedom for some time: the iPad that isn’t supposed to be used after lights out gets put back downstairs in the kitchen charging station where it used to go. The weekly Facebook page reviews with mom or dad that have fallen by the wayside become a part of our routines once again.
And as they demonstrate good judgement over time, we continue to offer back those increments of freedom and independence.
Yes, it does sound like common sense. Most parents practice this in one form or another. But the critical thing is to explain the underlying logic to your kids. They need to see the cause and effect logic in their behaviours and privileges.
They also need to understand that if we choose to let them go downtown alone with their friends (or go on a date, or walk to school by themselves), it’s because they’ve earned our trust over time.
And since you know your own kids, you can help decide when they are ready for the responsibilities that come with each freedom. One child may be able to handle her own Facebook account at 12; another may need to wait until they are older. There is no magic age when kids are ready.
Those freedoms aren’t doled out like random rewards — they are their due for playing by our rules.