Tablet Parenting Fail

Lynn JataniaWell, it happened: we had a parenting fail when it comes to technology.

The youngest always gets the most lax rules, right? In almost all things, from food to bedtimes to which TV shows they are allowed to watch, the youngest always gets to do things and try things that we would never have allowed for our oldest. It’s a sliding scale, as we want to do things together that are appropriate for the oldest, and we figure the youngest will just “be okay” with it.

This rules relaxation happened recently with the kids’ tablets. Our youngest, at age ten, has only had hers for a few months, and we did a little too much assuming when it came to the rules. We figured that she’d seen her older siblings using theirs for years – she must know what we expect.

For the older two, we have a few rules that still exist today. These include not using their tablets in their bedrooms, ever – both so we can keep an eye on what they’re viewing and playing, and also to preserve a quiet, screen-free place for sleeping. We’ve held firm on this, but as the children get older – our older two are 14 and 13 now – we’ve relaxed a bit when it comes to what they actually have installed on their devices.

Although we still hold the passwords required to install things that cost money, when it comes to installing free apps, we trust the older two to make good decisions. We check in occasionally to see what they’re playing – and to get ideas for ourselves! – but we don’t make them ask first.

That’s a change from the days when they weren’t allowed to install anything at all without our approval, and we had kind of forgotten that it was a gradual process of learning and trust that got our older two to this point. Our youngest, handed a tablet with no restrictions on free apps, went a little wild. She installed lots of little caring-for-your-pet games, and a few little word games and running games. We knew she was installing free apps without asking, but they all seemed age appropriate, so we didn’t make a big deal out of it.

But, of course, we should have.

You can probably guess that she eventually installed something she shouldn’t have. Something with a Mature rating in the app store. Something we wouldn’t have wanted her to install, if she had asked first. We found out when her brother mentioned he’d seen her playing it.

I was angry, scared and upset – but I also had to admit, a little guilty. We uninstalled the app and showed her how to look for the age ratings in the app store. We talked about this app in particular, and why we felt it was inappropriate. And we put her back on the “ask first” rule, until we both work towards safer independence for her and her new tablet.

And I learned something, too – it’s easy to slip into a place where you assume your youngest is as knowledgeable as your oldest. Each kid needs to follow the same path, and work their way through the rules that are appropriate to their age level. And I need to make sure I’m treating her as her age deserves – and helping her grow into the responsible kids that my older two are today (so far!).

Have you had a media parenting fail? How did you handle it?