Blue light exposure. Screen time. Cyber-bullies. Parenting today means staying in the know and up to date on technology with all of its gadgets and apps – and being able to guide its use in your home. Here are some ideas and resources for implementing a technology policy that will work with your family, allowing everyone to benefit from all it offers while guarding your safety and making the most of time spent together.
Know how much time your child spends with technology
Do you know how much time your child spends in front of the TV, mobile phone, computer and iPad? According to Zero to Three, children 6 months to 6 years of age spend about an hour a day watching television or videos. Children younger than 2 have about 30 to 35 minutes of screen time each day. Experts indicate that screen media impacts even infants.
Time with technology increases with age. Children ages 8 to 10 spend about six hours a day in front of a screen using entertainment media. Nearly four of those hours are spent in front of the TV. Excess screen time compromises children’s emotional and physical health, so it is important for parents to limit exposure. Consider ways to reduce screen time:
- Set a technology curfew. Consider shutting off all devices at 7 or 9 p.m., depending on your child’s age.
- Set a good example as a parent. By limiting your screen time, you model healthy boundaries with technology for your children, and prevent your electronic devices from taking up time you could be spending with your family.
- Consult the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations for media use among children 18 months to 6 years of age and for school-age children and adolescents.
Prevent cyberbullying by getting involved
Staying aware of your kid’s social media posts and interactions may seem like hovering, but it’s also important for helping your child manage cyberbullying, which is common. According to Common Sense Media, about 35% of kids say they have been cyberbullied. Since more than 80% of teens use a cell phone regularly, bullying happens most often – and often more easily – with that device.
How to manage cyberbullying if it happens to your child:
- Talk openly to your child about cyberbullying. Tell your child how to recognize it, how to stand up to it safely and to always tell an adult if they encounter it. Let your child know that he or she can tell you if they have concerns – and be sure you’re available to listen.
- Consider requiring your children to include you in their social networks so that you can see who is interacting with your son or daughter’s online community and read comments, posts and interactions.
- Make sure your child knows that any text or social media post can easily become public if shared by someone else. Help them understand that personal information, including photos, thoughts or feelings, should be protected to ensure their safety.
- Know the warning signs of cyberbullying, like your child hiding their screen or device, shutting down certain social media accounts, or withdrawing from people and activities. Be prepared to help them block any user who is bullying, and to document any inappropriate posts and alert their teachers or school administrators if necessary.
- If your adolescent or teen is dating, or hanging out with someone they have feelings for, remind them that it’s never okay for another person ‒ even a boyfriend or girlfriend ‒ to pressure them into sharing private or intimate pictures of themselves. For more help on this topic, visit Love Is Respect, a project for youth to support healthy relationships.
Replace screen time with healthy habits
Exercise and movement of any kind leads to good physical and emotional health. Screen time is associated with less physical activity and more calorie intake. On average, children eat about 170 more calories per day for each hour of television they watch – much of it junk food – according to research. Finally, too much technology can interfere with sleep and healthy social and emotional development, says the American Academy of Pediatrics.
How to keep technology in check:
- Plan fun family activities that don’t involve technology.
- Promote healthy technology habits to your kids in the context of other health habits, like eating right, exercising and getting sleep. Check out this easy tool for creating a family media plan.
Use an Internet filter to set a baseline of protection
While parental supervision and trusting parent-child relationships is the best method of protection, internet filters help to minimize your child’s exposure to violent and sexual content online. Good filters prevent access to certain sites, with the capability to block by website name, domain and Internet Protocol address. Filters also allow you to schedule internet access at certain times and days, which can help limit screen time, encourage moderation and prevent your child from logging on late at night.
How to monitor internet activity:
- Check to see what files have been created on your child’s device.
- Create an Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook or other social media account and become a follower of your child’s profile.
- Choose an internet filter with features allowing you to block access in different ways and schedule internet access at certain times.
- Explain to your children that you trust them online but are using a filter as a protective measure against unsafe sites or unsafe people, or to help reduce the temptation of logging on late at night and missing their sleep.
If you do have concerns your child is being exploited online, call the Cyber Tip Line, operated by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, at 800-843-5678.
Modeling responsible technology use for your kids is the best thing you can do for your family.
Technology offers tremendous benefits. It connects MilParents to a wider community of support and serves as a gateway to resources and services that help you master your MilLife. The best lesson you can pass on to your child, then, is how to use technology responsibly – what to watch out for online and how to navigate safely through cyberspace – as well as how to use it in moderation.
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Here are some tips for teaching responsible technology use:
- When your kids watch TV, make sure it’s appropriate for their age. Tune in together so you can see your child’s reaction to violent or explicit content and talk to them about it.
- Share some safety tips with your kids, like never sharing personal information or clicking on links in messages or emails from people they don’t know.
- Put your device away and out of reach when you drive, and anytime you are engaged in activities that require your full attention.
Technology is part of our world. It’s up to parents to do their best to be informed, attentive and supportive of their children to keep them safe and healthy online. With the right resources, parents can help their children use technology responsibly and safely.