Taking an active role in our kids' digital lives


Ok, these points might, indeed probably DO make sense for, say an 8 or a 10 year old. But, they are not ironclad rules of how tech can or should be used, nor should they be taught as such, and are increasingly inapplicable as kids age past that. And any parent who thinks that they should be permanent ways of thinking about tech is dangerously deluded.

Quote 1: People lie or deceive each other all the time. Sometimes for good reasons and purposes. It’s liberating to be able to experiment with a new persona, to be something you arn’t, strictly speaking, are, at the moment at least. A lot of growing up is getting to try out being new things, and, tech can enable that. Are some deceptions bad? Of course. But, they’re bad with or without the tech when they are.

Quote 2: Don’t say anything they wouldn’t want their parents to read? Really? God I feel sorry for those children. I don’t expect that my kids, now fairly young but growing every day, will have all positive things to say about me all the time, deservedly or not. They need to be able to have that space, that life, to vent, if nothing else. And, as they get older, they deserve to have discussions that they would ordinarily have with their peers in a different medium in another time, but, that would be embarrassing to them if they found out their parent was listening in. THAT ISN’T A BAD THING! I’ll go on, but, that leads right into the last quote so, I’ll include that idea too.

Quote 3: Kids, as they reach their early teens, are exploring their sexual nature. As a parent, you want to hope that it’s just the toe dipping sort of exploration, not the swan dive, and that they are OK coming to us when they have important questions, but, expecting that they feel OK with having their sex lives, nascent and relatively innocent (or, not) as they are, an open book to their parents is completely unreasonable.

Additionaly, the article rightly notes how ingrained that tech is to them, hell, to many of US. Why would we expect that for that one aspect of their lives and development, that they’re going to suddenly make a distinction? It’s insanely silly. Of course they’re going to investigate, both passively and actively, using technology and the internet. Why wouldn’t they? Other than the artifacts of how some who don’t agree with that have treated things, why shouldn’t they?

The best we can do as parents is A) educate them on the risks of doing so, and B) start to make a world where people stop believing that normal behavior + computer = horribly mangled person. I’m talking about insane laws that treat sexting teens as producers of child porn. Employers who think it’s OK to snoop on and make moral judgements on things posted on social media. At some point, employers are going to have to grow some skin, or just stop hiring human beings. People are no more or less deviant then they ever were, they don’t do stupid things more or less in their youth than any of us, or our parents, or grandparents. The only thing that’s changed is they can see it, and can’t just pretend that anybody that didn’t get “caught” never did anything.

It’s time, Past time really, that those of us in the vanguard of the connected generation start using our increasing influence in the adult world to tone down the insanity, “social change X is destroying our children” response to how tech is treated. I’m talking about the external negative consequences of how tech is regularly used that are basically vestiges of old thinking and circular logic, not from any inherit wrongness. Rock and Roll didn’t corrupt our parents and grandparents, DnD didn’t doom any of us to demonic ritual abuse. The internet and associated tech is not going to doom our children any more than those other things.


I agree with you that there are some details in that list which show helicopterism rather than true parenting, but on the whole I’d say it’s a decent list for parents to work from.

would you be willing to share what you discovered regarding brain development and screen time? references. appreciated. very thoughtful article. much appreciated. also have to agree with commenter above that every good point may have exceptions.

If the advice in this post were the behaviour of a government we’d be crying to overthrow it. I teach my kids to be wary of virus-laden honey traps, of “Download” buttons that are actually ads, to distrust the promises of corporate happiness-peddlers but I utterly, thoroughly, completely respect the privacy of their devices. My oldest lost a year of game effort when he shared a password he shouldn’t have shared, and learned a painful, tear-streaked lesson that taught him far more than my rule set did. My youngest swears like a trooper with his friends on chat but knows he can’t he do that at home, and is learning a valuable lesson about appropriate behaviour being a matter of context rather than an absolute. Treat kids like adults and they’ll behave like adults. Try to insulate them from experience or declare forbidden zones and pretend you’re able to police their lives? Good luck with that. You’ll either raise serial-killers or sheep.


The idea of “screen time” seems pretty ridiculous to me. That’s like bundling up talking with friends, doing homework, looking up interesting things, checking the news, playing games, reading books, creating art, and watching TV together and saying “you have X amount of time for that stuff per day. The rest of the time I want you to hang out with friends, do homework, find out new things, read the newspaper, play sports, read paper books, and create art.”

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his parents made the point that he should never view porn […] Best to make
sure that never happens.


This list is a perfect recipe to make sure your children actually start hiding everything from you as soon as possible. Sure, it “works”: on the surface, it will look like kids are angels… because they’ll be so proficient at subterfuge, you’ll never even suspect they’re doing what they do. Parents control your phone inside-out? They’ll just buy a cheap featurephone (or even a smartphone: Mozilla just launched a $33 one, and Androids now are a dime a dozen) and swap SIMs. And so on and so forth.

The overall sentiment is correct: we should tell them these instruments can be used for good or evil, and evil has consequences (the UK police force now prosecutes people for twitter comments, like they didn’t have anything better to do). The more you use them, the more likely you’ll be to experience the dark side of humanity (from bullying to goatse).

Just let the kids be kids and trust them with their private life. Chances are, it will be much less “interesting” than you fear.

The concept of “screen time” was actually devised for TV, a very passive medium that will really fry your brain if overused. It still applies to some modern items - games in particular, they stimulate your brain feedback loops in ways that are potentially very addictive. Because very small kids won’t typically do much else online except playing games and watching youtube videos, I think you should have a policy for “screen time”, at least initially.

I see it with my kids (5 and 2), they find it very difficult to stop using a tablet once started. My eldest actually gets very angry and frustrated if she can’t beat a game, will start moaning etc. In that case, the tablet goes: she must understand that there are much more important, more creative and more gratifying tasks one can do in real life, than beating a silly game.

It might be a regional thing, but I didn’t hear screen time until fairly recently. Only being allowed to watch a certain amount of TV per day was common when I was a kid but combining TV time and computer time into one pool of time wasn’t.

I think that mostly depends on what the kids do with their time. If you’ve heard so much of Stampy’s voice that you want to stab him in his stupid face, then maybe it’s time for the kid to switch activities. But would you restrict a kid to X amount of Lego time per day? Because to a kid who’s into Minecraft, that’s the same thing.

That seems like a good time to stop her. I remember certain friends would throw their controller when they got frustrated. I would mostly mutter at the game’s bullshitedness.

It’s the arbitrary time limit that (maybe irrationally) bothers me. Beating that silly game is no more silly than solving a jigsaw puzzle or winning a board game. My parents have played countless hours of cribbage and euchre. That time was no more wasted than the time I’ve spent playing Civilization. Well, maybe slightly. They didn’t get to learn that Gandhi loves nuking people.


That’s right, but I think it’s just that, without the internet, “we” would mostly turn a computer off when bored of games. The web was a big change in that regard.

You’re right; but one has to be aware of differences, because not all games are as creative as Minecraft. Civilization is a hard one, because it makes people almost autistic (me too, clocked 136 hours on Civ V in a few bursts) but it showers them with loads of very educational material. Same with Assassin’s Creed (for older teenagers). I might be biased, but I would restrict WoW or most other MMORPGs however; social alienation is a real thing.

I think a sensible reason why someone might want to encourage special ‘extra’ rules for the Internet vs face to face interaction or older technologies is that the Internet is a huge force multiplier. You can accomplish much greater good with the Internet than you could without it; but due to its reach and permanence, you can also get yourself into much bigger trouble. (This is not true of rock and roll or D&D, so while “scary thing the old people don’t understand” is almost certainly part of the concern about Internet usage, I think there is more to it than that.) I grew up just before social media, and bullying was bad enough without the Internet. Also, I’m thankful there are relatively few permanent records of who I was as a child or young adult, because some of it would certainly be socially damaging if not legally actionable. Today I’m more careful: The Internet is legitimately dangerous to both children and adults. I want to compare it to power tools like drill presses and table saws, which are terrifically useful but require more supervision than a hammer probably would.

So to summarize, while anyone expecting total control of kids, especially teenagers, is naive, I don’t fault anyone for treating the Internet as the dangerous tool it is.

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What I’m talking about are the very extreme consequences that exist solely because we as a society enjoy the fiction that people are generally squeaky clean individuals.

I’m talking about stuff like employers penalizing or not hiring people based on things they do or have done on their own time that have nothing to do with work performance.

Or our insane laws that treat sexting teens as child pornographers. I don’t particularly want my daughter sexting at, say, 16, but, I also don’t want her having actual SEX at 16. The talk should be about waiting for sexual activity till she’s prepared to deal with the inherit possible negative consequences, not the artificial external ones. And if a teen is caught sexting with another teen, it shouldn’t be much different than if they were caught having sex with another teen. In some ways, it should be LESS, given the difference in risk for STD’s and pregnancy. But it shouldn’t be that we have to warn them that they could be labeled a felon and sex offender, for something that wouldn’t be true had they been having actual intercourse!

I get that the internet is more permanent. Having the bulk of human knowledge within an easy search has it’s positives, but, we as a society need to start exercising some tolerance for the negatives, that the information includes things that previously would have been forgotten. That means dispensing with the illusions of general innocence and having a tolerance for variation of activities that we could previously pretend didn’t exist, both for the young, as well as for current adults. That illusion is going to disappear, one way or another, like it or not. We can act like shocked, pearl clutching Victorians (and even that might be unfair to the actual sensibilities of the people of that time), or we can start to accept people as they actually ARE, not how we would prefer to pretend they are.

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Dear God I hope so. Because if that’s the case, my son is really really into Lego.

That’s why I got Minecraft for him, and he is very creative with it. But it is also pretty good as “Doom Junior”, too.

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Jardine said:

I think that mostly depends on what the kids do with their time. If
you’ve heard so much of Stampy’s voice that you want to stab him in his
stupid face, then maybe it’s time for the kid to switch activities.

Oh yes. Having watched my children use their tablets and are avid fans of Stampy’s Youtube videos, I know exactly what that means!

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