Parents should mentor their children on how to effectively use technology and the internet — rather than just limiting it or trusting them to make their own decisions, says a technology researcher and writer.

Alexandra Samuel, who will be giving a talk in Vancouver at the SFU Harbour Centre, March. 4, about how to parent in a digital world, says she gathered data from more than 10,000 North American parents on how their families manage technology.

"What that data showed was that by far the most successful approach to managing your kids use of technology is to set some limits on it, but equally to really focus on how you will teach your kids to use technology effectively," she told B.C. Almanac guest host Chris Walker.

Guiding children's digital use

Samuel said that roughly one-third of those surveyed are who she calls "enablers" — parents who let their children have plenty of screen time and trust them to make their own decisions.

Another third are those who keep tight limits on their children's use of technology. She said the other third, those who take the middle path, "end up with kids who are less likely to get into trouble."

"When you have kept such tight controls on your kids use of technology, you sort of miss that window to guide them," she said.

"When you reach those teen years where they do have more access almost inevitably, they are the kids most likely to run into trouble, whether that's impersonating other kids online, quote-unquote borrowing their parents credit card numbers or engaging in a range of different kinds of misdeeds online."

Discussions around screen time, pornography

Samuel recommends modeling safe and effective technology use.

Her family has a "screen-time policy" that limits the number of hours devices can be used each day, but she also teaches her children programming and how to use Google Docs.

Samuel said these discussions around technology use should be done from a young age, before children are teenagers and are less willing to listen.

"I think a lot of parents don't talk about porn until they think their kids are potentially interested in it," she said.

"We've been talking about it with our kids for several years and have just conveyed to them [that] there is a lot of imagery on the internet that you could find really disturbing and really traumatic."

She said taking an abstinence approach to technology doesn't work either.

"If the only tool we give our kids for managing technology is the off switch, then we're not really preparing them for the challenges of daily distraction and reality of working in a world where they do need technology access."


To hear the full story listen to the audio labelled: Technology writer says parents should mentor their kids on how to use the internet

With files from B.C. Almanac