Can I tell you a story from my childhood that you might relate to? We moved a lot as younger children, so my sister was always my first and best friend and then there were the friendship gaps around that which were filled in by kids from the school we were currently attending. At one point in our middle childhood, when we settled somewhere for 18 months, we filled in our weekends and after-school hours by exploring our neighbourhood. On one of these outings, my sister and I happened upon someone around our age – her name was Jenny and we thought she was the bees’ knees. Actually, we didn’t like Jenny very much at all but we did LOVE her SodaStream. What!?!!? Bubbly drinks right there on her kitchen counter? The excitement was too much for us and we hung out with her solely on the basis that we might be offered a SodaStream and often we were left disappointed that we’d had to endure her company (sorry if you’re reading this Jenny) without the reward of a bubbly drink at the end.

Today’s playdate and sleepover digital draw cards

So, why am I telling you this? Well, in our home there simply wasn’t the money for fizzy drinks, and to go to someone’s house where they were on tap was quite magically wondrous. It was a great drawcard even though we weren’t really over-enthusiastic about the host. 

Move over yesterday’s SodaStream, swimming pool, and new box-set of DVD draw cards for today’s tech availability (Sally’s mum lets her have her device in her bedroom any time!”) and functionality (”Tom’s games are NEVER laggy!”).

The “I” + ‘curious’ formula for your child heading out

When our children were teeny and going on a playdate, I’m sure we all asked openly about the BIG safety issues for obvious danger points like access to pools. Yet, when it comes to asking about device rules and restrictions there seems to be this ‘uncool parent’ stigma. I want to reassure you though, that almost every parent of our upper primary school students is itching to ask without knowing how. That means if you take the lead and show other parents how it’s done, it will become common practice in your parenting community. Be the change!

So, the next question is how you go about that without making your child want the earth to open and swallow them whole for the sheer embarrassment of having such an ‘uncool’ parent when they know for a fact that no one else is as strict as you.

I like to apply the “I” + ‘Curious’ formula to these sorts of discussions because while it communicates your concern and boundaries it also opens the discussion which always comes across as less judgy. Here are some examples to get the ball rolling…

I know our kids love some time on their devices when they play together.How do you manage screen time when they play at your house?
I know the boys are all interested in [game] at the moment.What parent controls do you use to limit their access to other content?
I find that X behaves differently after she’s been on [app] so we’ve limited her time at home.Would you be open to limiting the girls’ access to this when X sleeps over?

It’s good to practise your approach first out aloud by yourself if you’re feeling a little nervous. Mostly you want to stick away from sounding apologetic like, “I know it’s a pain, but would you mind…” And you want to make sure that you don’t sound like you’re making a judgment on another family’s approach that might be different to your own. If you know a family allows their child to use their device in their room or well into the night without restriction just stick to the “I” + ‘curious’ formula and what you’ll mostly find is another parent who feels a little out-of-their-depth in dealing with setting and maintaining appropriate device use.

The “I” + ‘rule formula for your child staying in

If digital devices are a common inclusion on playdates or sleepovers at your place, being able to let the parent(s) of the incoming guest know what your home arrangements are heads off all sorts of problems at the pass.

I always find that being upfront stops the awkwardness of managing a situation mid-rule-breach when the incoming child was seemingly unaware. I’d suggest dropping a quick text to the parent beforehand and managing the tech expectation at the door when the little darling arrives all aquiver with excitement.

Again, if you apply a repeatable formula to managing this, you can say goodbye to awkwardness and apology, and help other parents to feel more confident doing the same. The “I” + ‘Rule’ approach is a simple one. Here’s some examples…

I know how much the kids love playing [game] when they’re together.[Your child] is only allowed as much screen time as outside time, so we’ll be getting them up and moving.
I know the girls are really into recording their dance moves right now.We don’t allow [your child] to post this content online.
I know [incoming child] likes to message you before bed.We have all devices on the kitchen bench by 8 pm, so if you message him later than that, just message me too and I’ll let him know so he can respond. 

Children relax when they know that they’re not going to be embarrassed mid-playdate or sleepover by some newly announced and apparently draconian device rule. Be bold and upfront about your rules and you’ll be surprised how other children in your home will happily accept those rules.

It is our responsibility

Whether our child is heading out or having friends over, device management and internet access is our responsibility. And it’s a BIG responsibility. Just like any other aspect of parenting when safety is a consideration, early planning is essential. Sometimes being the parent with ‘the rules’ can feel isolating to the point of giving up and giving into your child’s moaning about being the only child in the history of the world to have been so badly treated. I encourage you to take a deep breath, think through your planning, make a plan – and then stick to it.

DiGii Social helps children and their families to learn the skills of being safe, civil, and savvy online in their formative pre-teen years. It uses exceptional technology to provide children with a safe sandbox environment to do their messy learning in, gently guided by our virtual teacher. If you’d like to find out more about getting DiGii Social into your school, contact us HERE.