Their kid is allowed to have Snapchat, binge on Netflix and play unlimited Fortnite. Yours, um ... isn’t. How do you handle a playdate - or heaven forbid a sleepover - when friends are used to different rules?
Playing referee to endless requests for screen-time can is nobody’s idea of a good time. But it’s even stickier when friends are over, and they’re used to different rules around device use (or say they are!).
You’re keen to help your kids make friends and keep them, and - like it or not - “fitting in” is an important part of that. Making your child the odd man out can place a heavy burden on them.
And just as you might allow special after-school treats when friends are over, you might want to consider a more relaxed approach to screen-time. Or … you might not. That’s absolutely your call.
One thing is clear: throwing away your own carefully thought out and maintained boundaries whenever another child enters your home sends all the wrong messages - and may even put your child at risk.
So you want your child to have fun and feel confident when hosting friends. At the same time, you want to maintain your family’s values, and hold the line on what you believe to be right for your child - without being cast in the unenviable role of fun-sucker.
But how? For expert advice, we asked Family Zone cyber expert, mum of three and child development specialist Dr. Kristy Goodwin for tips.
Tip #1: Ask upfront
It’s probably not the best idea to rely on your child’s friend for intell on screen-use. Head straight to the source - the friend’s parents - and find out from them exactly what they allow. Says Dr. Kristy, “I’ve found that many parents feel relieved that you’ve given the opportunity to openly discuss this issue, rather than putting the onus on them to bring it up.”
It doesn’t need to be a formal interview. “Something along the lines of, ‘Kelly, just wondering if you have any specific tech rules that I should know about’” is pretty much all that’s required, she says.
Tip #2: Ask open-ended, specific questions
“How would you feel about [game, app or movie]” is probably a better way to open up a conversation than posing a bald yes/no question (“Do you allow [game, app or movie]?”). Open-ended questions, that can’t be answered with a single word, will give the other parent an opportunity to share more general thoughts - for instance that G-rated Netflix movies are fine, but MA aren’t, or that Fortnite is okay but Call of Duty is off-limits.
Where your own rules differ, this is an opportunity to explain what they are - and to avoid unnecessary wrangling later. (“Zoe’s mum and I agreed that your phones need to be turned off at 10 pm, and handed to me and Dad until the morning.”)
Tip #3 Don’t be afraid to set firm tech boundaries
As a leading digital parenting consultant, Dr. Kristy has heard countless stories of playdates and sleepovers going off the rails because of unsupervised tech use.
“I’ve had parents share that their Year 6 daughters saw a live-streaming video of a suicide attempt on a social media feed when a smartphone was pulled out at midnight on a sleepover. I’ve had children who’ve had nightmares for months on end because they played violent video games at playdates.”
She acknowledges that parents with stricter rules may find their house “isn’t always the first choice for playdates” - but so be it. Your first responsibility is to your child’s safety and wellbeing.
Tip #4 Build in tech-free time … and they will come
Screens have become the default activity when kids get together. But when tech-free time is the order of the day, you are giving them the space to discover other ways to have fun - often more exhilarating and engaging than yet another round of YouTube videos.
One mum who insisted on unplugged sleepovers, found kids were practically standing in line for an invitation once word got out that they could play “Spotlight” in the dark, bake cookies and stay up late playing Monopoly marathons.
That’s not to say you need to ban devices. But do “set up activities and make playdates and sleepovers so much fun that kids aren’t asking for devices,” Dr. Kristy advises.
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