Technology and Autism: The New Way of Communicating

autism-5Autism is a complex group of disorders that effect brain development. Such disorders are characterized by difficulties in social interactions, verbal and non-verbal communication, as well as repetitive behaviours (Autism Speaks, 2016). It is estimated that 1 in every 68 children currently live with autism (Favaro, 2014). This number has risen from 1 in every 88 children diagnosed in earlier studies (Favaro, 2014). Although there is no concrete answer as to why the number of children diagnosed with autism continues to increase, as well as no known cure for this disorder; developers have increased the prevalence and creation of assistive technologies aimed to benefiting the development of children with autism.

When I think of the term “assistive technology” I immediately imagine high-tech devices that are expensive and not readily available for everyday use. However, did you know that assistive technology can be low tech? Thats right! Assistive technology is a wide range of low and high tech materials. Historically, many educators and therapists have used a plethora of non-technology materials in order to help children with autism. For example, many educators and therapists use choice boards. The purpose of this aid is for children who are non-verbal to select the activities that they want to complete. Or, children can use this board to point out needs; such as using the washroom. Although I believe that low-tech  assistive technology should not become extinct in educational settings, I do believe that new advances can also be beneficial for children.

Although there are a variety of apps and technology that assists the development of children with autism, I will be focusing on assistive technology that helps children communicate. 

In an article published by the Dailymail, researchers have found that carefully constructed apps are enabling children to feel safe and communicate more readily because the software is more predictable and ordered compared to human interaction (Woollaston, 2014). Children with autism tend to react negatively to unpredicted situations, however the real world is often unpredictable. Nonetheless, when using technology, when we press a button, we know the anticipated response. This is why children with autism gravitate to technology because they find comfort in the predictability! (Woollaston, 2014).

Researchers have also uncovered that technology can help children with autism develop new skills in order to promote further development (Woollaston, 2014). Many children with autism are non-verbal. They may feel isolated from their environment as they are not able to communicate their needs and ideas like their peers. From experience, while working in a special needs summer camp; one of our campers had autism and was non-verbal. Because he was not able to vocalize his needs he often began physically violent to himself or other staff as he often felt frustrated because it sometimes took the camp leaders time to uncover what was wrong. He was not provided with assistive technology at camp to help him communicate, so as staff, we would assess the environment to uncover the problem.

However, many developers have created apps that help non-verbal children verbalize their feelings. Check out this article which examines seven assistive communication apps designed for children who are non-verbal.  However, I wanted to highlight Proloquo2Go which is the most well known assistive communications app available for the iPad. This app is successful with professionals and parents as it is easy to set up, provides natural sounding text-to-speak voices, high resolution up-to-date symbols, powerful automatic conjugations, as well as a default vocabulary of over 7,000 items. This app is also easy to navigate as it has an exceptional graphic display. I have seen children use this app in educational settings, and I am amazed to see the profound impact it has on their social development. Children with autism as more open to approaching their peers as they are provided a medium to express their feelings. I would defiantly suggest this app to parents of non-verbal children!

A recent Ontario study also confirms the positive effect of communication apps with children who have autism and are non-verbal. This study followed  twelve children over a six month period. Each child was provided an iPad with communication apps. Researchers found that nine of the students showed an improvement ranging from mild to significant with regards to their communication skills (Woollaston, 2014). The study also found that 75% of the children studied experienced higher levels of motivation which increased their attention span as well as their ability to interact socially in the classroom (Woollaston, 2014).

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All in all, we all have the right to communicate. By providing assistive technology that helps children who are non-verbal communicate in the classroom other children will learn that we all can communicate … but some may just do it differently and thats okay! Although apps such as Proloquo2Go are used by many children, not ALL children are provided with such service. As professionals, we are working towards more inclusive practices. I believe that having these devices readily available for children in all educational settings we are one step closer to a fully inclusive community.

 

 

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Technology and Autism: The New Way of Communicating

Online Safety

 

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Many people have viewed this shocking viral video that shows the shocking truth about how easy online predators can meet young girls. The creator of this social experiment then shortly released a second video focusing on how prone boys can be to online influence as well.  Although I am not quite sure if I agree with parents scaring their children to this extreme to “teach them a lesson,” however, parents can use this video to become more aware of the dangerous side of the internet in order to teach their children online safety. Although both videos captured young teenagers, it’s important to remember that children of all ages can easily preyed to meet strangers they have “met” online.

Now imagine if the scenarios in the videos were not scripted, and these children approached actual kidnappers. Well, unfortunately there have been cases recently about children being abducted by individuals they have met on the internet. For example, in 2014 a 12 year old Baltimore girl was abducted on her way to school by a man she had been communicating with on Xbox live as well as Kik Messenger. It took the FBI four days to find the kidnapped girl as she was being held captive in North Carolina. During this time, she was raped two times from her 32 year old kidnapper. Although she is back with her family safely now, they will have to live with this traumatic event for the rest of their lives. A traumatic event that could of been avoided if internet safety was employed in the house.

Like many of the parents in the viral video, many may think “my child would never do that” or “my child knows better” but parents, reflect on this question for a bit … do you really know what your children are doing on the internet? Sure, they can tell you they are doing their homework or playing a game online, but if they are secluded in their room they are exposed to endless possibilities on the internet that may lead them into unsafe situations.

First, its imperative that parents are aware of the social media apps their children are using. 

1) Kik Messenger was one of the apps the Baltimore girl used in order to communicate with her future kidnapper. Although this app is intended for users 17 and over, the majority of the users are 11-15 years old. Many parents are simply not aware that this app exists, which draws children in creating an account. Children are moving away from Facebook simply because of the increased chance their parent or caregiver will see what they are doing. This app also allows users to create usernames, rather then using their real names – this makes it harder for parents to monitor their child if they are not aware of their username. In my opinion, I would not allow this application with children under 17 years of age because of the faulty security settings. But, sometimes if parents keep denying access children are known to rebel. An alternative to forbidding this application is continuing to educate children on the dangers of communicating with strangers as well as setting boundaries – such as no explicit messages.

2) Snapchat is a popular app amongst children and even adults. Personally, I am an avid user of this app as it allows me to send silly “snaps” to my friends. However, snapchat like any of other social media platform can pose danger. Fortunately, the users of Snapchat have recognized this risk and have created options parents can use in order to avoid unsafe situations. For example, parents can configure their child’s snapchat account to only allow messages from their friends to come through; this avoids random predators messaging your children. However, one aspect of snapchat, parents can not change is the ability for the receiver of the screenshot the snap. With that being said, educate your child that the picture they send may not always disappear after five seconds; the receiver holds the true power.

3) Although I do not totally disagree with the two applications I mentioned above, two websites that must be blocked from the child’s computer/tablet is Chatroulette and Omegle. These websites allow individuals to have conversations with complete strangers over text as well as through webcam. There is no need for children to access these sites as the individual they chat with is selected at random, which means there is no way of communicating with friends. Children are put at risk of viewing inappropriate material as well as talking to predators online. These websites make it too easy for grown adults to attract children as there is no parental controls. Also, if they do not talk over webcam it makes it easy to lie about any aspect of them including, their name, gender, and age.

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Although there are dangers while being online, and many parents are starting to grow worrisome about their children being on their internet. In my opinion, danger can be anywhere from walking outside or being behind the computer screen. We can not isolate children, but just like we teach children to talk talk to children on their way to school, we can teach them how to be safe on the internet.

Here are my suggestions… 

  • Open communication is key, because many children may not feel comfortable discussing any unsafe situations they have encountered online because of the fear of their devices being taken away indefinitely. Frank Gallagher, the executive director of Cable in the Classroom believes that there should always be an ongoing conversation about technology in the household (Raub, 2016). It is important for parents to show children that they understand the important role technology has on their lives, rather then portraying a negative view about technology. Having an open line of communication about technology will ease children’s anxiety about coming for help if they do make a mistake online (Raub, 2016). If you do find out that your child has communicated with a stranger online, remember not to “freak out” on your child. Although it is important that you find out the extremity of the conversation, in order to protect your child’s safety; use this as a learning opportunity because there will be less chances of it occurring in the future.
  • Have a family computer in an open space, this ensures that parents can monitor which sites their child is visiting. Now, in an open space I do not mean, watching over your child’s shoulder, but if they are solely able to use the computer in an open space they are less likely to engage in dangerous situations. Also, use the computer as a family device – a fun activity to do as a family is watch funny Youtube videos together! To tie into this limit, it is also important to set limits of computer time, such as what times your child can access the internet. If you refer back to my first blog post discussing a family tech agreement I offer many tips that families can use in order to create a positive technology experience.
  • Use Parental Blockers. Although I mentioned above that children should be on the internet in an open family space, it is also important to have a balance of privacy. As children grow older, and show responsibility on the internet, many parents allow internet use in private settings such as their bedrooms. However, it is important to not become oblivious at this point. Using blockers is an effective measure that ensures children are not accessing inappropriate sites. K9 Web Protection is just one service parents can use to block unwanted sites. But in order to block inappropriate sites, parents must educate themselves on the dangerous sites that exist.

However, the most important tip I can give is to EDUCATE your children on online safety! Sure it helps to take preventative measures, such as blocking websites, but lets face it if kids are determined they will find a way. However, this is less likely to occur if children are well aware of the dangers they can potentially be putting themselves in.

The Guardian provides parents with many tips on what to say to children in order to educate them on online safety, such as…

  • “If you won’t do it face to face, don’t do it online” – Ask your children if they would go talk to a stranger they see on the street. Without a doubt, all children would say no because they have been taught ever since they could talk not to interact with strangers. Now, have your children reflect on this: if they won’t talk to a stranger on the street, what is the difference online? Sure, they are not physically with the person at the moment, and it may seem harmless, but remember online is still the real world and dangerous events can still happen.
  • “Once you’ve sent it, it’s online forever” – Although you can delete text messages or posts, it remains on the internet forever. With that being said, do not share information online you would not share with your close friends and family. If you say or do anything inappropriate on the internet, it can come back to haunt you even in many years to follow.
  • Don’t let your children be naive to the dangers online. Children are innocent, they are not aware of the predators online unless they are educated. Now, we do not want to scare our children, but we want to provide them with enough information that allows them to make the right choice. There are many kid friendly resources available in order to teach children the importance of online safety. For example, this video is directed to children and teaches them the basics of online safety with regards to predators.

Lets face it, the internet is forever. Therefore, it is imperative that each generation is continuously informed about online safety!

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Online Safety

Technology and Exercise

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As the prevalence of technology increases, unfortunately, so does the rate of childhood obesity in Canada.  A recent survey conducted by the YMCA claims that alongside time, and money, technology is a key barrier parents experience in attempt to prioritizing a healthy lifestyle for their family (Tahnk, n.d). In addition, 42% of parents of children ages five to ten can agree that various technological devices such as television, video games, and cell phones are inhibiting children’s healthy lifestyles (Tahnk, n.d). However, although parents are somewhat blaming technology as a reason for a lack of exercise, a shocking 74% would rather spend quality family time watching a television show rather get active with the family (Tahnk, n.d). With that being said, it is no surprise that as of 2013 42 million infants and young children around the world were overweight or obese (Childhood Obesity Foundation, 2015). If this  continues by 2025 an estimated 70 million children will be overweight and obese worldwide (Childhood Obesity Foundation, 2015)!

If parents continue to promote unhealthy eating and lack of exercise their children will ultimately face the long-term consequences. Experts predict these unhealthy habits will follow these children into their adulthood. Obesity is proven to have multiple health implications, including an early death.

In my opinion, parents should not fully blame the rise of technology for the increased rate of overweight and obese children. Alongside a balanced diet, families should learn how to balance technology and exercise into their daily routine. However, unlike the past, children now a days are spending less time outdoors and more time indoors due to various reasons. For example, nowadays it is common for both parents to work full-time jobs. With that being said, parents may feel drained from their day at work to take their children to the park in the evening. In their eyes, it is easier to spend the evening in front of the television screen rather then taking a bike ride. In addition, while parents are at work, many children are left in the care of older siblings. However, with the rise of crime rates, parents may not feel safe allowing their children to go outside without their supervision. Times have sure changed since the common rule of be home when the street lights come on, but parents can still encourage exercise in this day age age!

Now parents, I understand that your lives are on the go. From waking the kids up, preparing them for school, going to work, coming home preparing dinner … the list goes on and on. And if that isn’t enough you may have to prey your children away from the television. But what I told you there is a way to encourage family exercise by using technology? Perhaps, that would be the first step to encouraging your family to participate in a healthy lifestyle!

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Here are some examples…

  • Play Just Dance – from personal experience, the kindergarten class I work in loves this game! Its a perfect alternative for inclement weather and it sure gets our heart rates going!
  • Make a free GoNoodle account – GoNoodle gets over 10 million children moving to be their strongest, bravest, silliest selves (GoNoodle, n.d). This awesome resource provides a variety of family friendly exercise videos in many styles including zumba, yoga, and dance!
  • Download Zombie Run – This largest fitness app, provides a fun running game! Take the family to a track and each member runs away from zombies and are given obstacles to accomplish. This app is so fun you may even forget your exercising

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Those are just some ways you can use technology to promote exercise in your house. But what about the “old school” way of exercising? Children’s sports leagues can be expensive for some families so here are some ways to promote outdoor exercise for a low cost or even for free!

  • Go on a thirty minute bike ride around the neighbourhood
  • Spend the evening at the neighbourhood park
  • Go swimming at the local recreation centre (many city operated centres have low fees)
  • Plant a family garden
  • Play games children of any generation love – such as Duck-Duck Goose, Simon Says, and Red Light Green Light)
  • Play Mini Golf
  • Set up an amateur sports league with the neighbours

Furthermore, like I have mentioned previously, many parents feel uncomfortable allowing their children to play outside when they are not home. Many parents fear that their children are at risk of abduction. However, to prevent this trauma it is essential that we teach children about outdoor safety – most importantly not to talk or approach strangers! Other common rules include creating an area they must stay in or never venturing off alone. Or, show your children this video that highlights five important outdoor play rules!

All in all, it is imperative that parents find a fine balance between technology use and exercise in the household. Lets end the obesity trend today and start striving for a healthier future!

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Technology and Exercise

Technology in the Classroom: Does it hinder hands-on experiences?

riaaaqqxtWith the rise of technology, it is no surprise that the education system has incorporated and invested in many devices for their classrooms. Perhaps the most popular technological device used in classroom environments is the iPad. This device is able to provide thousands of applications to children as they learn through an interactive experience. Early learning environments are effective when children are provided opportunities to learn through hands-on experiences. It is no surprise that children learn best through play, rather then continuous table work. However, the question that many educators are wondering is if the rise of iPads in the classroom decreases children’s motivation to participate in hands-on experiences.

In an article entitled Touch Tablet Surprises: A Preschool Teacher’s Story Cassandra Mattoon explores the idea of balancing iPads and hands-on experiences in the classroom. Overall, she noticed that when iPads were an ordinary material in the classroom the fascination of them declined which resulted in children’s equal attention to both technology and hands-on experiences. Just like toys, when the initial “newness” of a material is over children are less likely to find the desire to spend the majority of their day with that material as they find new activities to participate in.

From placement experience, iPads are not an everyday material in the classroom because the devices are shared among the school. Because of this, whenever the teacher is able to bring the devices to class the children devote all of their attention to the iPads forgetting about the other activities in the classroom. The children also become less social as they are focused on their individual device rather then sharing their experience with their peers. Furthermore, I noticed when my supervising teacher attempts to conclude the children’s time with the iPads to transition to a new activity many of the children experience difficulty giving up the iPad. After, the children appear to be less interested in participating in hands-on experiences.

However, what I would suggest to alleviate this struggle is keeping one or two iPads available in the classroom on an everyday basis. By doing this, the initial newness will begin to fade as the children realize this device  is an everyday material. Not only will the children be more apt to explore their environment by finding new activities to participate in, but by only providing a few devices they are more likely to collaborate on the iPads with their peers, thus facilitating social development.

Now, many educators may continue to believe that iPads in the classroom hinder hands-on experiences. However, if these devices are used appropriately iPads can be used to supplement hands-on learning. Take this video as an example. This kindergarten class was able to learn a an abundance of information about butterflies in an outdoor environment, as well as inside the classroom with their iPads. The children were able to take the information they collected outside and collect it onto their iPads, such as pictures and videos. They were able to share the information with their class in a large group setting. I also enjoyed watching how the educator provided social opportunities as the children worked together on one device. The iPad was a supplement in this learning experience as the children were simply not instructed to search facts on the internet, but rather take the device into the environment.

 

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There are also other activities that educators can facilitate in the classroom that uses iPads as a supplementary tool for hands on experiences. For instance…

  • How to Make Origami is an interactive app that provides children step by step instructions on how to make origami. Children are exposed to technology but also participate in the hands-on fine motor experience of creating their own origami pieces!
  • Have the class read a story, and then test their knowledge using an online quiz you created! Socrative  allows educators to to provide real-time questioning which provides insight on the level of understanding for each child. This experience provides an alternative for traditional paper and pencil quizzes as children are provided with a new medium to show their knowledge
  • Compose Yourself provides children with a hands-on experience of creating melodies as they are able to take music notes that are physically available, and hear the melody online. By doing this, they are able to rearrange their notes to create a song. This teaches children how to arrange musical notes to create a desirable sound

Those were just a short list of the endless options that you can facilitate in your classroom to use iPads as a supplement to hands-on learning. Have fun learning 🙂

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Technology in the Classroom: Does it hinder hands-on experiences?

Cyber Bullying

 

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Throughout history, bullying has been a prevalent issue within the lives of millions of children. Unfortunately, many children have been physically, socially, and/or emotionally bullied primarily during school hours. However, with the current rise of technology the evolution of a new form of bullying has rapidly gained public attention. Like the name suggests, cyber bullying is a form of bullying that takes place using electronic technology. Some scenarios many children experience are receiving disrespectful text messages, rumours posted on social media sites, as well as “embarrassing” pictures being sent via web (Stop bullying, n.d).  Check out this video that provides an in-depth look on cyber-bullying.

Cyber bullying is different from any other form of bullying as it can take place 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Unlike physical and social bullying that typically occur during school hours, many children can not escape this nightmare as it often follows them when they log onto the internet. Bullies may also find it easier to tease and harass others online as they are able to hide behind a computer screen. Hiding behind a screen allows the bully to not see the negative emotionally response their actions are imposing, thus making it easier to say or post hurtful comments. Individuals are also able to remain anonymous on many platforms, such as ask.fm. Remaining anonymous gives children the sense that they can say whatever they like because of the untraceable nature of these sites.  According to nobullying.com 52% of youth have experienced cyber bullying. Although this percentage is high, think about all the unreported cases!

Cyberbullying poses many negative effects on victims. According to nobullying.org many children who are cyberbullying skip school, experience a decrease in school performance, as well as a decrease in self-confidence. Cyberbullying has also led to self harm and even suicide in many adolescents. For example, Amanda Todd took her own life after being severely bullied online as well as in person. Her cry for help was not noticed until after her help as her video became viral. Overall, since 2003 there have been 41 suicides in Canada, United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom which have been triggered by cyberbullying. To learn more about the rising suicide rates related to cyberbullying click this link.

These harmful effects leave families devastated as many are unaware of what is happening when their children log onto their technological devices. It is important that families are aware of the signs of cyberbullying as mentioned about before it is too late.

With that being said, what can we do to stop the rising rates of cyberbullying?  Many strategies and organizations are devoted to putting a stop as well as creating more awareness of cyberbullying!

If you reading my blog and are currently experiencing cyberbullying or any form of bullying, the first step is to tell someone! This can be a parent/caregiver, a trusted teacher, or even your best friend. Tell someone who you are confident that can help put a stop to your negative experience. However, if you feel that you are not ready to talk to someone Kids Help Phone is an excellent resource. By calling 1 800 668 6868 you will speak to a trained individual who maintains confidentiality, you do not even have to tell them your name! Perhaps, by calling Kids Help Phone you can seek advice on what to do in your particular bullying situation.

If you are a parent/caregiver it is important to maintain an open communication with your children as you educate them about the harmful effects of bullying. Many children who are new to social media may not understand the effects of writing a hurtful comment that they may deem “funny.” However, informing them on what the other person feels behind their computer screen may create a more empathetic understanding. It is also important for children to understand not to be a bystander! Even in online environments, its easy to be a bystander as many children witness hurtful comments being said on a Facebook page. Rather then clicking to view something else, teach children that it is imperative that they say something because perhaps the child being bullied is too nervous to speak up. A great film to show your children to further educate about this topic is entitled Cyberbully as it follows an adolescent girls journey as she finds her voice to face her cyberbullying experience.

As a future educator, I find it imperative to teach my students about cyberbullying as well. There are many experiences that are easy to provide in the classroom. By using this Toolkit, it provides various lessons and strategies that educators can implement from elementary, middle, and high school. Just like parents, it is equally as important to understand the signs of cyberbullying as well as educate students on the safe use of the internet.

Here are some methods that you can educate children about cyberbullying

  • Read the story entitled “Bully”  – this story is intended for children in grades 3-5 and examines the issue of cyberbullying in a fictional story. Read this to your child or classroom and have a discussion about how they would feel if they were being bullied online. This is a great way to develop empathy as children are less likely to bully others if they are able to place themselves into others shoes
  • Play cyberbullying bingo that reinforces concepts and strategies in order to not give into cyberbullying
  • Post the 10 Golden Rules in the classroom or at home!10 golden rules

Let’s work to create a harmonious online. With effort and education I believe we can put a stop to cyberbullying!

 

Cyber Bullying

Family Tech Agreement

Many parents can agree that the increased prevalence of technology has negatively impacted their family functioning and communication. Rather then spending their evenings around the dinner table sharing stories about one anthers day, many families are consumed with social media or addictive iPhone games.

Alongside the addictive behaviours many children exhibit with regards to their technology use, it is imperative that families are aware of the potential downfalls of technology use. When many parents were in school, bullying on the playground was unfortunately a common occurrence. Although physical and emotional bullying continues to be a prevalent issue in the education system, the rate of cyber bullying continues to drastically rise. Furthermore, without appropriate parental controls, children are exposed to a plethora of information on the web. However, with the help of softwares such as K9 Web Protection will ensure that children are searching safe and appropriate content on the web.

Furthermore, take this viral video as an example as it reinforces the idea that family dinner has been “ruined” by children’s addictive behaviour to their devices. Although I am not quite sure if the magical pepper shaker that claims to turn off wifi, television, and mobile devices is a legitimate product, families can implement measures to reclaim their quality time together.

Although this video focuses on the children’s addictive behaviour, I would like to play devil’s advocate for this issue. With no surprise, it’s evident that parents and caregivers are a primary role model for their children’s behaviours and actions. With that being said,in a recent article  entitled How we’re adjusting to parenting in the digital age Hayley Tsukayama explains that it is imperative that caregivers model positive behaviour with regards to their personal technology use. However, “Parent’s themselves are still struggling with how they manage their technology use, let alone their children’s behaviour.When it came to how well they modelled good technology behavior, parents gave themselves an average grade of B – as in, there’s room for improvement.” (Tsukayama, 2015). Perhaps your children find it appropriate to use their mobile devices at the dinner table because they have observed you unconsciously check your text messages at the table as well.

So the question is… if  children and parents both exhibit addictive behaviours to their technological devices, how do families reclaim their quality family time? One strategy I would strongly recommend is creating a family tech agreement! Now you may be asking what this agreement entails, well lucky for you I have the answer!

Gather the family around for a meeting, and brainstorm different limitations all members of the family must follow (this includes you too mom). For example, commit to all devices must be put away for dinner, or what about planning a games night one night per week. Or, how many hours a day are we allowed to use the internet for? Or what websites can and cannot access? The ideas are endless and each family will have their unique limitations based on their needs.

Like I mentioned before, children are keen observers of their parents actions, so consider writing down rules that solely relate to the caregivers, such as no texting and driving. This rule not only improves family safety but your children are less likely to follow this action when they are all grown up. Document these rules in a fun and creative way and have all members of the family sign it.

Now what if a member of the family breaks a rule? We all make mistakes, and no family is perfect but why not create a fun “punishment.” For example, create a family tech jar! This jar is the same concept as a swear jar, but members of the family drop money every time they break a tech rule. The family can accumulate the change for a group activity, why not a family movie and pizza night!

Need some inspiration? Feel free to use my family’s tech agreement as an example.  Also, if you click here, Internet Safety 101 describes in detail age-appropriate guidelines for online use. It also explains the parents role as your children learn about technology use.
Tech Agreement

 

 

 

Family Tech Agreement