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How can we parent a generation for the real world when they are spending over 56% of the time they’re awake in a virtual one?

I recently took my daughter and son to a concert and watched in awe as the entire stadium glowed with cell phone screens. Every time the music built, the lights changed, or a new prop was introduced on stage, the arena strobed as phones began to flash and record video. I was mesmerized by watching these middle school-agers snap selfies in mid-conversation like it was as natural as breathing.

Here was this popstar on stage, putting on this incredible, high-budget performance—and everyone was watching it through their phones. “Why not save the ticket money and watch it on YouTube?” I thought.

It’s the same story when I go out to dinner! Everywhere I look there are four-year-olds with iPhones in their hands, drooling in front of the dimly-lit screens entertaining them throughout the meal.

Technology has become the modern parents’ go-to pacifier, but how is this affecting our children?

DID YOU KNOW?

  • According to a study done by Michael Wolff and Bradley Bridges, children now spend more time using technology than they do with their families, in school, or sleeping.
  • The same study found that the pleasure-seeking part of the brain responds to video games the same way it responds to cocaine.
  • Nine out of 10 boys and 6 out of 10 girls are exposed to pornography online before the age of 18. (Covenant Eyes.)
  • The New York Times reported that teens and adults check their smartphones 150 times a day. That’s once every SIX minutes!
  • Over 5 million Facebook users are under the age of 10. (Forbes.)
  • Seventy-one percent of teens have done something to hide their online activity from their parents. (Covenant Eyes.)
  • According to the Consumer Technology Association, more people own a cell phone than a toothbrush.
  • Forty-five percent of teens said they would change something about their online behavior if their parents were watching. (McAfee.)

Setting Boundaries in an Online World

If our children are spending more time on their phones learning about life than they are spending with us, then the sad truth is our children are being raised by their cell phones! As parents, we have to confront the fact that we live in a different age, and that means we have to set boundaries that parents 20 years ago didn’t have to.

On the Internet today, your children no longer have to seek out violent images, pornagraphy, or harmful messages from the culture. Marketers are bombarding them with this kind of content 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Seemingly harmless websites like Facebook can feature graphic, unfiltered videos of shootings. Instagram pictures can be pornographic in nature. So how can we protect our children in a world that gives them instant access to everything?

Healthy boundaries can cultivate our children’s ability to make the right decisions. Proverbs 22:6 says, “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.”

First of all, you have to accept that being the cool mom isn’t your goal. Being the respected mom is! Your children may not thank you for those boundaries right now, but 15 years down the road they will. (I’m speaking from personal experience!)

I encourage you to use whatever boundaries work for you and your children. Here are some great places to start!

  • Install parental controls so inappropriate content is filtered out or blocked.
  • Live by the “no phone at the dinner table” rule. (I think that’s a good one for all of us!)
  • Establish a charging place for laptops and phones at night other than their bedrooms.
  • Limit video games and extra screen time to weekends.
  • Wait to introduce social media and interactive online gaming until they are old enough to use it wisely.
  • Talk openly to your children about Internet safety.
  • Limit computer use to common areas in the house (i.e., YES: the kitchen, NO: the bedroom).
  • When it’s time to do homework, have them leave their phones charging in a different room.
  • Establish a curfew for technology at night and encourage them to find entertainment elsewhere before bed.
  • Prompt a phone-free environment for the whole family during family activities. It’s not enough to be present in the relationships around us, we need to be engaged.
  • Create a family media plan to monitor how much time your children are watching television and using social media. Here is a free tool to create one: http://bit.ly/2epneyO.
  • Instead of immediately sticking a screen in front of your children when they’re bored or upset, allow them time to work it out by themselves. Boredom teaches our children creativity and problem solving skills!
  • Encourage your children to live in the moment by modeling it for them. Take the time to put aside your cell phone and be present. Listen. Help them feel that they can be understood and validated from somewhere other than social media.

No method is perfect, but the good news is it is possible to establish boundaries to protect our children in this media saturated era.

What boundaries work the best for you? Let me know in the comment section below!

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