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Go Ask Mom

Three ways technology is making it easier to parent my tween

Posted February 27

Children say they feel sad, angry, frustrated, and lonely when parents check their devices.

We are not early tech adopters in my household. We aren't staring constantly at screens. The television is rarely on. And the kids have strict time limits on the Kindles that Santa brought a couple of years ago.

My husband, a software developer, and I feel that the best way for our kids to figure out who they are is to have them actually do stuff - instead of being stuck on some kind of screen at all times.

Experts back up our parenting decision. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Canadian Society of Pediatrics agree that infants aged 0 to 2 years should have no exposure to technology; kids ages 3 to 5 should be restricted to one hour a day; and kids 6 to 18 should have no more than two hours per day of screen time.

I wrote a few years ago about Chris Rowan, a pediatric occupational therapist, biologist, speaker and author, who shared the 10 reasons why handheld devices should be banned for kids ages 12 and under

Rowan wrote that research shows that too much exposure can have an impact on a child's brain growth, development, weight gain, sleep, mental health and more. "Children are our future, but there is no future for children who overuse technology," she writes.

So I was not going to give my tween a phone once she hit middle school. I survived without one. I don't need to know where she is every single minute of the day.

And then we went to middle school orientation. The question at her Wake County public school wasn't whether she has a device. It was what kind of device she has. Teachers told us that students use their phones and tablets for daily work - from watching Spanish language videos in Spanish class to taking a math test to doing research for school project.

Don't get me started about what this means for students without a device. (The school does have extras that students can borrow, but sometimes they have to wait in line for one).

But, my husband and I decided, grudgingly, that we'd give my daughter a phone (an old one I'd nearly worn out) to use almost exclusively for school work.

I'm incredibly proud of her. She has no desire to hook up to any social media sites. She has abided by our pretty strict rules. It's never in her room. And she can't have it on her at all times. She uses it mostly at home to watch math videos, research school projects and, very occasionally, communicate with friends.

And, to my surprise, there are been some pluses to this entire episode. It's not been all bad. And I don't have the stereotypical tween, who is attached to her screen.

Here are three ways technology is making things a little easier:

Logistics: A friend missed the bus. The bus is running late. I forgot my lunch. These all are quick texts that she's sent my way, and I appreciate them.

In the case of the missed bus, I was able to text the mom, who texted another mom waiting in the school's carpool lane, so the friend could get a ride. In the case of the late bus, I was able to pick her up so she wasn't late for art class. In the case of the forgotten lunch, I told her I hoped she enjoyed the cafeteria's food.

Communication: During her lunch time, I'll sometimes hear from her. A little celebration about a grade. A picture of something she did in a class. I appreciate these little glimpses into her daily life, sometime I never got before she had the phone.

Brian Foreman, a Raleigh dad and social media expert, shared here a couple of years ago that technology can be a really effective way to communicate with older kids.

"Teenagers need healthy relationships with their parents," Foreman writes on his website. "Communication is the key to a strong relationship. As they express themselves online, you need to be there with them. ... Even if you are not interacting with them regularly through social media, you should be aware online, so that you can be present offline."

While we're not on social media, I now understand better where he was coming from.

Connections: Our extended family is spread across the country, but she has their contact information in her phone. Now she's sharing news, photos and more with her aunt and grandparents. I'm thrilled that she's building these connections, on her own, with them. And I know they love it too.

So, we're still keeping a tight clamp down on technology access. (No data plan is coming any time soon). But I'm pleasantly surprised. So far, so good.

Sarah is Go Ask Mom's editor and a mom of two.

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