by: Kim DeMarchi
Screens are everywhere! Today’s children grow up immersed in digital media. There isn’t a day that goes by in which you avoid contact with an electronic screen of some kind. Children are now faced with increasingly more options for screened entertainment, leaving families disconnected and disengaged.
Over the past decade, the use of digital media, including interactive and social media, has grown, and research evidence suggests that these newer media offer both benefits and risks to the health of children and teenagers. The AAP – The American Academy of Pediatrics (largest group of pediatricians) put out the latest guidelines in October 2016 to help families balance digital and real life from birth to adulthood.
Evidence based Benefits:
- Early learning
- Exposure to new ideas and knowledge
- Increased opportunities for social contact and support
- New opportunities to access health promotion messages and information
- Problems begin when media use displaces physical activity, hands-on exploration and face-to-face social interaction in the real world, which is critical to learning
- Negative health effects on sleep, attention, and learning
- A higher incidence of obesity and depression
- Cyber bullying (can occur with 100 percent anonymity: yik yak)
- Exposure to inaccurate, inappropriate, or unsafe content and contacts
- Compromised privacy and confidentiality
- For children younger than 18 months, avoid use of screen media other than video-chatting.
- The AAP recommends parents prioritize creative, unplugged playtime for infants and toddlers. Some media can have educational value for children starting at around 18 months of age, but it’s critically important that this be high-quality programming, such as the content offered by Sesame Workshop and PBS. Parents of young children should watch media with their child, to help children understand what they are seeing.
- For children ages 2 to 5 years, limit screen use to 1 hour per day of high-quality programs. Parents should co-view media with children to help them understand what they are seeing and apply it to the world around them.
- For children ages 6 and older, place consistent limits on the time spent using media, and the types of media, and make sure media does not take the place of adequate sleep, physical activity and other behaviors essential to health. For school-aged children and adolescents, the idea is to balance media use with other healthy behaviors.
- Designate media-free times together, such as dinner or driving, as well as media-free locations at home, such as bedrooms.
- Have ongoing communication about online citizenship and safety, including treating others with respect online and offline.
Parents have so many questions surrounding technology. First, let me say digital devices (including smart phones) can be amazing and convenient tools, but for parents they often raise more questions than they answer, such as:
- “What kind of computer/phone/gaming system?”
- “What rules or guidelines should we have?”
- “Who’s going to pay for it/bills/apps/games?”
- “How do we set appropriate limits for our children?”
No single answer will be right for everyone. What is most important is to discover what works best for your family, and to find the balance of embracing technology with some boundaries that align with your family values.
Probably the most frequently asked question around technology and digital devices is “At what age should our child get their own phone?” It’s the most frequently asked question, but NOT necessarily the most important question.
The most important questions centered around getting your child a mobile phone are:
- What is the purpose of getting a phone?
- Are there circumstances such as having two households or both parents working and trying to figure out carpool?
- Is my child responsible with things? (Not going to lose it or leave it or drop it into the toilet)
- What are our family values and how does giving our child a phone impact them?
- Is this a NEED or a WANT? (There is a big difference!)
- What kind of phone will we get? Emergency with only 3 numbers, calling and texting only, or a smart phone?
- What kind of guidelines will we have around the device?
I was a contributing author for an eBook: Help! My Child is Addicted to Screens (Yikes! SO AM I.): Managing Family Screen Time by Jane Nelsen and Kelly Bartlett. You can find it on Amazon for $5.99. In it, I wrote a contract for a cell phone that can be used or modified. I used one for each of my kids and there are actually a lot of points to our agreement, and it has evolved and will continue to do so over time. It’s incredibly valuable to create the agreement together so you get more buy in from your kids. Some include:
- We will pay for the phone and monthly charges. You will pay for any apps and music that you buy, and repairs if needed. And chargers that are lost!
- When we call you, please answer the phone. We aren’t calling to chit chat and we don’t want to be screened.
- Use the same respectful manners on your phone that you use in person: say hello, please, thank you.
- Be kind and understanding. If you wouldn’t say it to someone in person, refrain from saying it via text.
- Be aware of the photos you post of yourself and others on social media. Digital is forever. And can go viral. And, please limit the number of “selfies” posted.
- We will know your location at all times. Safety always first.
- There will be times that we insist you put your phone away. Family time is important.
When a child turns 16, we don’t just buy them a car, hand over the keys, and say, “Good luck, I hope you don’t have any big accidents or injure yourself or anyone else. I hope you can figure it out.” NO! We get them driver’s lessons, they take driver’s education in school, we take them out and teach them, we give them practice, they study the rules of the road, and ultimately, they take two tests. And if they pass both the written and driving test, then they are given access to being a driver, and even still there are restrictions on who they can drive, where they can drive and what hours they can drive. NEVER should we give our child a smart phone and say, “Good luck, you’ve never had one, you don’t really know how to navigate it, you haven’t been taught social media etiquette, but hey, go for it! Hope too many people don’t get hurt along the way.” You are the most influential person in your child’s life. Take the time for this training too.
1. LIMITS: Should parents place limits on media use for their children?
Absolutely! Smart phones and iPads aren’t just another toy; they are a computer! Some limits should be negotiable such as what games the kids are allowed to download and if they are allowed to take them on long car rides. Some are non-negotiable such as not paying for any downloads and not allowing phones at the dinner table and docking them downstairs before bedtime.
2. PARENTAL CONTROLS: Should parents utilize parental controls on cell phones and various types of technology?
The simple answer is yes! But, I will also say that the best parental control is to be an active, engaged parent! As a parent, my best line of defense is myself. Talking with my kids and communicating about everything related to cell phones is most important. But because this is uncharted territory for both parents and children, in most cases, there are Parental Controls on phones that can be set up on the phones. Then, you can enable the restrictions you want, such as: restricting the use of Safari, or iTunes, or installing apps. You can also prevent access to specific content areas, such as: R rated movies, music with foul language, etc. You can also buy apps for child safety, apps that email parents if child visited any questionable sights. There are apps to help with these things such as: Bark, Net Nanny, Limitly, Our Pact, Qustodio, Screentime Labs, Teen Safe, Life 360, Phone Sheriff, My Mobile Watchdog, Screen Retriever, Mobile Spy, and so many others. Some of this depends on the age of your child, your comfort level as the parent, and your child’s responsibility level.
3. PASSWORDS: Should parents know their child’s password for cell phones and technology and isn’t that an invasion of privacy?
I realize this is a slippery slope, but assuming you have a solid, trusting relationship with your child, yes. My children got their cell phones when they started middle school and they needed to give me their passwords on their phones every time they changed them.
Morals are developing and it’s okay if a child knows their parents know their passwords.
A child thinking, “I wonder what my parents will think of this post?” isn’t such a bad thing. Knowing the passwords let the child know that you will be checking periodically.
This isn’t at all about invading your child’s privacy; it’s about teaching them how to navigate this new tool they’ve been given. I’ve heard it been called, The Trust But Verify System — meaning, “I trust you at the age you are, and will make sure you are using the technology in an appropriate way for your age.” It’s not spying; it’s participating and dialoging. Make sure, though, that your intention is to only teach respectfully, not snoop.
4. EXAMPLE: Be a model digital citizen and teach your children how to be media literate. Should parents monitor and control their own use?
Of course! We are our child’s best teacher. It’s not what we say, it’s what we do. If I don’t want my child to text while driving, then I must not text while driving. If I don’t want my child to answer their phone or text during dinner, then I better not bring my phone to the dinner table. If I don’t want them to have their ringer on in the movie theater, then I better have mine on silent. Kids emulate everything we do! If you are struggling with your own adult screen time management, check out Self Control app.
5. SET YOURSELF UP FOR SUCCESS: Ideas to help with usage and over usage?
- Avoid “Technoference”! Don’t let media use interfere with family relationships, particularly at mealtimes, playtime and bedtime.
- Create “No Phone Zones.” For example, our No Phone Zone is any dining table during any meals anywhere.
- Utilize “Tech Time Outs,” which could mean “No tech Tuesdays” OR “Tech-free Fridays”.
- Establish “Unplugged Times” for whole family. Examples may include family vacations, Sunday night family movie night, family game nights, and certain family excursions.
- Responsibilities such as homework and chores always first, then screen time privileges.
- Dock devices at the docking station at a certain time each evening, for example downstairs in the kitchen by 9 p.m.
- Be “friends” with your children on social media sites (ie: Instagram, Sinsta, Trinsta, Snap Chat, Twitter, etc. so you can see what gets posted and use them as learning opportunities.
Media should work for you and work within your family values and parenting style.
When media is used thoughtfully & appropriately, media can enhance daily life.
But when used inappropriately or without thought, media can displace many important activities such as face-to-face interaction, family-time, outdoor-play, exercise, unplugged downtime and sleep. By creating a Personalized Family Media Use Plan, you can be aware of when you are using media to achieve your purpose. This requires parents and users to think about what they want those purposes to be. The tool below will help you to think about media and create goals and rules that are in line with your family’s values.
The AAP – The American Academy of Pediatrics (largest group of pediatricians) –
published an interactive, online tool so families can create a personalized Family Media Use Plan: www.healthychildren.org/mediauseplan
What’s most important is that parents be their child’s “media mentor.” That means teaching them how to use it as a tool to create, connect and learn. The key is mindful use of media within a family. These tech talks might be some of the toughest and most important talks you’ll ever have with your kids, and certainly ones that are on-going.
On a side note, the best tool to review everything digital: Common Sense Media (website or phone app).