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Check your kids ProTECHt list

The new school year brings opportunities for our kids to make new friends and reconnect with besties after a long summer break.

With daughters in middle and high school, I get to watch them deftly navigate these relationships with the help of technology. They’re kind to their friends, and they communicate responsibly with their buddies on social media and in texts (even if they never return mine).

In some ways, I feel like I’ve taught them well. They’re a little awkward and shy, but they’re fiercely loyal to their friends. They’re also fairly responsible with tech.

Now is not the time to be complacent. Even if the house is empty for the first time in months, this is no time to sit back and relax.

It’s the best time to be on guard.

This is when I pull out the trusted “proTECHt” list. Yes, I butchered the word “protect” a long time ago when creating my clever tech check list. The first time I wrote about it, a reader commented, “That’s the silliest thing ever, but you got my attention.”

So, I’m sticking with it: proTECHt

How our kids build relationships is one of the trickiest obstacles most parents will face, especially as they enter the middle school years. They’re accessing tech for social purposes at younger ages.

I see 9-year-olds with smartphones bigger than the hands they use to hold them. Some parents allow their kids to defy age limit restrictions for some social media platforms to engage with their friends.

There’s no right or wrong answer here, and it’s certainly not my place to judge parents for the decisions they make about their kids’ tech uses. Parenting is tough work. Every kid is different.

The proTECHt list works because it has three easy steps. What parent doesn’t like “easy” parenting stuff?

Here’s how it works.

Schedule 30 minutes each month to talk with your kids about:

Phones.

If you’re kids are mature enough to manage their own smart phones, it doesn’t mean they’re free to roam the social media streets alone. They need a guide.

Because we can’t be there to walk them through every tech decision, we schedule once-a-month phone checks to talk about “talk,” as in “who” they talk to on their phones and online, “why” and “what” is the relationship.

We emphasize safety and protection.

These regular phone checks give us opportunities to do maintenance, such as downloading required security updates and deleting old files.

Apps.

Our kids never met an app they didn’t like — or at least try. Over the short time they’ve had their phones, they’ve downloaded some doozies.

Most of the apps are innocuous and do more to help them manage relationships and entertain than do harm. Monthly checks put them (and us) at ease.

Bullies.

We’re fortunate in that our kids are not bullies and that they’ve never been bullied. But they have been bystanders. They’ve seen bullying and reacted appropriately.

This is important because, although most of our kids will never be bullied or become bullies, they’ll almost certainly see or hear about these behaviors online and in their schools.

Giving them an outlet to talk about those experiences should be part of every parents proTECHt check list.

Dr. Adam Earnheardt is chair of the department of communication at Youngstown State University. Follow him on Twitter at @adamearn and on his blog at www.adamearn.com.