It could be a cell phone, a Facebook account or access to YouTube. How do we know when to give permission for young people to use the technology they desperately want? I was reminded of this dilemma a few weeks ago when I received a Facebook friend request from my eleven year old nephew and again yesterday when I read an article in the New York Times discussing the fascination toddlers have with iPhones. Just like our parents decided when we would get a second phone line, that cool new Atari game station or even a driver's license, we have to make decisions that match the values and guidelines we've established as a family or even as a school.
So, how do we decide? What can we do to make sure the decision is right for us? Here are a few suggestions:
1. Talk to the young person in question. Find out why he or she wants what is being asked for. Discuss concerns and don't feel like you need to make an immediate decision.
2. Talk to other adults. What are other parents or teachers doing? Is there a consensus among the friends of your children or your colleagues? Although a kid may feel that he or she is the only one without a Facebook page, the reality is probably different.
3. Try the technology yourself. If you've never used Facebook, sign up for an account. You don't text? Give it a try. If you've never understood what the big deal is with YouTube, have your child show you their favorite video.
4. Participate together with your children or students. Perhaps starting with a family web site or weekly game night that includes the Xbox will help you better understand why technology is important to the young people you care about.
5. Don't be afraid to say no. You can always revisit the decision in the future.
There is no magic rule or easy answer, but reflecting on family values, school goals or weighing pros and cons may make the decision clearer. It is also likely that your decisions may change or evolve as young people grow older, technology changes or your understanding of its impact is deepened.
We'd love to hear your feedback. Have you discovered a method that works for you? Did you stumble into a decision that backfired? Share your successes, do-overs and other experiences with the rest of us by commenting to this post.