Now’s the time to set up and reinforce healthy tech habits.
Children at the grade school age level will likely be using technology on a daily basis. As they still look to you for guidance, this is a pivotal time to establish and reinforce the appropriate use of technology and the benefits your family can gain from it.
SET UP CHILD ACCOUNTS
Kids in this age range may need to use a computer for homework. The built-in parental controls in Windows (called Microsoft Family) and macOS (called Parental Controls in system preferences) can help you set time limits and also limit apps and web usage.
As much as you might try to train them, there will be accidents: a laptop dropped on the floor, milk spilled on the keyboard, screens broken from mysterious “I didn’t do that!” causes. The best protection is to designate certain devices specifically for children to use (maybe your old ones); if you have a mission-critical computer or tablet that you use for work, keep your kids off it.
Chromebooks are inexpensive laptops, so those might be a good choice for young children. And if you keep devices in a central location, such as a family room, you’ll be better able to monitor your kids’ tech usage and be more engaged with them when they go online.
Technology has a lot to offer children, but the apps you choose to expose your kids to make a difference. If your child is a tinkerer and likes to build things, you could try:
Osmo, which merges real-world objects with digital ones on the iPad for a more tactile learning experience.
Scratch, developed by M.I.T., teaches children logical thinking through creating stories, animations and games.
Toontastic will boost creativity for your future movie maker or writer.
Start the safety conversation early and speak about it often. Remind kids that what goes online stays online and that they should never share personally identifiable or sensitive information. “It may not be realistic for parents to become experts on every new app that becomes popular,” Mr. Balkam says, “but by establishing an open conversation with their child from the start, they can help them stay safe. Children who are used to talking about what they do online are more likely to tell someone if they are worried or upset by something that happens in their digital life.”
F.O.S.I.’s online safety cards for kids’ technology can help you set up the ground rules for your children when you give them a new device.
WATCH OUT FOR CYBERBULLYING
Bullying — both online and offline — becomes a potential issue for children once they’re in grade school. “The research on this topic generally shows that kids’ online lives mirror their offline lives,” says Lisa Damour, author of “Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions into Adulthood.” Her general guidance for parents to give their kids:
Do not be a passive bystander if you witness bullying, online or in real life.
Alert an adult.
Stand up to the bully on behalf of the victim.
Go out of your way to support the victim, such as including the person in your activities or checking in to see they’re O.K.
Stopbullying.gov offers more advice for parents and children to prevent and deal with bullying in general.
THEIR OWN PHONE?
At this age, your kids might be clamoring for a phone of their own, since it’s likely some of their friends have them. According to Nielsen research, the most predominant age when kids get a phone with a service plan is 10, followed by 8, and then 9 and 11 (tied for third). Most parents give their children phones so they can easily get in touch or to track kids’ location for safety reasons.
But just because all the other kids have a phone doesn’t mean your child is ready for one. Things you’ll want to consider before buying them phones:
Are they responsible with their belongings?
Will they follow your rules around phone use?
Can they be trusted to use text, photos and video responsibly?
You’ll need to check your child’s maturity level here and consider your family’s values. For example, if a phone is needed for safety reasons, a “dumb phone” (remember those?) or burner phone might be a solution. There’s no magic age number, but most experts recommend waiting as long as possible to delay kids’ exposure to online bullies, child predators, sexting and the distractions of social media.