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Summer Means Sun, Fun, and … The Smart Talk?

Sep 27, 2017, 10:51 AM

[Sponsored Post] As kids eagerly anticipate the start of summer break with relaxed schedules and no homework, parents face the decision whether or not to relax rules around screen time and digital devices. To deal with this transition from school to summer, one PTA dad has decided it’s time for his family to have ‘The Smart Talk’ … again.

When Alvin Gainey’s oldest daughter—who is now 16—started first grade, she got a cell phone.

“She was in aftercare and this was a way to communicate in the event of an emergency or if we were running late,” recalls Gainey. “Of course, back then people weren’t using their phones for everything like we do now. We basically just handed her the phone; we didn’t talk with her about digital safety or our family ground rules or screen time. I wasn’t worried one bit about her ‘digital life’ back then.”

Gainey admits he worries now. “Times have changed. Kids put everything online. And I mean, everything.”

As the Miami-Dade PTA Council President and highly involved dad of three school-age kids (his younger children are 9 and 11), Gainey jumped at the chance earlier this year to receive one of 20 grants awarded from National PTA and LifeLock to host a community event on digital parenting as an extension of Safer Internet Day.

The Miami event featured a digital safety expert who helped families better understand the many upsides of modern technology as well as the potential risks. A major focus of the event was on ‘The Smart Talk’ which is a free online tool created by National PTA and LifeLock that guides parents and kids together in an exercise that allows them to set customized technology ground rules for their household.

When Gainey completed The Smart Talk with his kids, he came to the startling realization that a lot of what he was doing in his own digital life maybe wasn’t so smart. “I am a big believer in practicing what I preach,” said Gainey. “All of a sudden we’re going through the prompts online in The Smart Talk, and I’m thinking, ‘Oh no, I have to change some of this for myself if I expect my daughter to change what she’s doing too.’ It was very, very eye-opening.”

He also acknowledged that The Smart Talk helped him and his wife tackle an “awkward” conversation with one of their children about some recent questionable online behavior. Gainey noted, “Even though The Smart Talk was primarily intended for parents giving younger kids a device for the first time, I definitely found it helpful with my kids who have had devices for a while. Like a reset button.”

With summer approaching, Gainey admits his household will relax some of the rules they previously established using The Smart Talk. “We have to do the whole exercise over again because some of our technology rules for the summer break are going to be different than what we have now for the school year. I guess we’ll have a summer Smart Talk!” he noted with a laugh.

In summer, Gainey’s kids “self-manage” their own time a lot more especially during the day and that often equates to more screen time with less oversight. Gainey plans to praise his kids for making good decisions like turning off their phone at the dinner table and encouraging a balance between device time and having fun in other ways. Since the kids will have more digital access during the day, he said they are likely to institute device-free hours in the evening which will be a major change from their original Smart Talk contract which allowed for devices in the evening.

When asked what advice Gainey has for other parents grappling with the transition from school to summer, he replied enthusiastically, “Honestly, have The Smart Talk as a family. Seriously. If you’ve had it before, have it again. The rules you set in September probably don’t make sense in June, and everything changes so rapidly with your kids and technology anyway that you can’t ever just set it and forget it.”

To have The Smart Talk with your household, visit TheSmartTalk.org.

Pro Tip: Before gathering your kids to complete this exercise with you, consider reviewing the website and talking privately with your co-parent to make sure you are on the same page. This “pre-talk” helps ensure a smoother Smart Talk experience with your kids. 

LifeLock, a modern identity theft protection company, is a longstanding Proud National PTA Sponsor and co-creator with National PTA of The Smart Talk.

National PTA does not endorse any commercial entity, product, or service. No endorsement of LifeLock is implied.