In the months since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, we’ve relied on our devices to stay connected to work, school, and friends – and it may seem impossible to regulate your children’s device use, especially when these devices have become even more necessary to function in our daily lives. Whether you’re concerned about the impact of technology on young minds, or simply trying to keep up with what your children are doing, there are a few ways to keep an eye on the time your kids spend on using electronic devices.
Keep growth and development in mind
- In a constantly changing world, it’s important for kids to use technology at least in a basic way to be ready for an increasingly wired school experience—but some research says too much of it can actually interfere with their development. Stick to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) guidelines for screen use for kids, which recommends developing a media use plan for each member of the family. Very young children do not learn the same way from screens as they do from in-person, physical interaction.
AAP’s journal, Pediatrics, says that children younger than two years old require hands-on learning and physical interaction with adults to develop properly in all areas, including motor skills, cognition, and language. The Montessori approach focuses on teaching your kids through natural learning methods, such as imaginative play, exploring simple toys, and offering lots of appropriate sensory experiences that can help them learn more about the world they live in. It helps them to become interested in their surroundings, assisting their rapidly developing minds in making important connections. Limit screen time for these very young kids.
Carefully choose age-appropriate, educational uses of devices
- Pediatrics says that programming and apps designed to educate young children, like “Sesame Street” or others created by the Public Broadcasting System, can benefit the social and literacy development of kids – but that most apps or programs claiming to be educational are ineffective. Pediatricians recommend no more than an hour per day of high-quality screen time at the preschool age, preferably with parental interaction. Preschool-age kids still benefit most through unstructured play and direct time with caregivers.
While it’s difficult to carve out extra time when we’re being pulled in too many directions, keeping screen time to a minimum at this young age is crucial – and that means for yourself, too. Background television noise and increased device use by parents also have been shown to have a distracting and detrimental impact on child development. When you develop your family media plan, include yourself, outlining when you’ll work, when you’ll visit social media, and when you’ll turn off the devices for the day.
Develop Internet literacy
- Keeping a close eye on content is key for every parent whose children are beginning to navigate the murky waters of the Internet. Ensure your school-age kids are using their screens in your presence only, and use parental filters to block as much offensive or violent content as you can. But you know what? Inevitably, your kids are going to trip past the fail-safe. As with anything, look at it as a learning opportunity. Be proactive and explain to kids that not everything on the Internet is good, and engage them in conversation about it. Offer examples of what they might encounter in simple terms, such as nudity, bad language, or violent scenes, and encourage them to show you the device if it happens, or if they’re uncertain.
School-age children can begin to think critically about what they see. Teach them to recognize the difference between websites that are designed for their benefit, and those that are designed to benefit someone else, i.e., to make money. Teach them not to click on pop-up ads because of the potential for viruses – explaining that their device might not work if they click on suspect things. And, as always, prioritize non-screen playtime and learning time (as much as possible during the pandemic).
Teach kids about cyberbullying early
- It’s never been easier to connect with friends, and it’s never been easier for kids to be bullied or to succumb to the temptation of bullying. As your kids get older and begin expressing interest in social media, it’s vital to help them understand appropriate and expected behavior.
The organization Cyberbullying Research Center offers a library of resources for both parents and teens to learn how to navigate online safety, including Internet and cell phone use contracts that promote responsible use. Teach your pre-teens and teens to identify abuse and harassment and educate yourself on what to do if your child becomes a victim, or yes, even a perpetrator of cyberbullying.
Get some help
- Parents already know they can’t be everywhere at once and monitor everything at once. Some helpful apps can automatically limit screen time and allow you to remotely monitor your child’s activity online. While we may want to trust our kids and offer them the autonomy we believe they deserve, keeping an eye on activity – especially for new independent users of the Internet – can help provide talking points or flag areas of concern.
Treat Internet use like any other semi-independent activity your pre-teens and teens engage in – let them know that you’ll be looking in to help guide them when needed. Some parents choose to allow social media and technology use if they have full access to devices and their kids’ social media sites. Apps like Zift allows you to get reports on Internet searches. Others like Screen Time allow you to reward kids with more online time and automatically turn off devices at homework time or bedtime. Apps such as unGlue allow kids to learn to track their own time and accumulate “rollover minutes” for responsible use. As children get older, more independent, and responsible, you can ease restrictions and monitoring as you believe appropriate for your own child.
Regulating your children’s device use can feel like a job all its own, and it is. Technology has its pitfalls, but responsible, age-appropriate use is necessary to function in today’s school and work environments and can be a great educational tool for your children. It also can help them to build their own critical thinking skills, develop ethical social skills, and responsible behavior that will help carry them into adulthood.