Depending on your child’s school district, your little ones are likely back to school or gearing up to go back, and that means cracking down on screen time now that your family is getting back into its routine.
It also means that there’s no better time to examine your family’s media guidelines and see where you need to tighten – or lighten – up. There are no hard and fast rules and no one-size-fits-all guidelines for media use. Every family is unique and based on lifestyle and personality, what works for you may not work for your neighbor. But, having a few ground rules in place gives you a starting point, and by including your kids in the conversation, you can ensure you’re raising responsible digital citizens who understand the importance of a healthy balance of online and real-world experiences.
Start by being interested in what they’re interested in. Are they as obsessed with Minecraft as my nephew Tristan? Instead of allowing your eyes to glaze over and planning out your next vacation when they start to regale you with their latest achievement, be intentional in listening to what they have to say – they’re telling you because your opinion matters to them. Shared interests spark bigger conversations. By sharing their online activity with you, they’re inviting you to be part of their world, an opportunity you’d be wise to take advantage of while they’re young. Besides, if they’re venturing on to sites or exploring YouTube territory you’re not happy with, your opinion and reasons for limiting or banning such content will carry weight if you can speak knowledgeably about the topic.
One of the most critical skills we can teach our children as they mature is self-control. Nowhere is this more tested than when it comes to screen time. Every online activity from social media games, apps, and streaming services like Netflix and Hulu are specifically designed to keep you engaged. Why do you think they all have an “Up next” pop up as your current video is ending? It’s an endless loop of entertainment, and children simply don’t have the maturity level to be able to say no. Frankly, most adults don’t either, but that’s a story for another day.
To help them get there, use apps like iOS12’s Screen Time or Android Pie’s (available on Pixel devices; rolling out to other users in the coming weeks) Digital Wellbeing to monitor online activity. There are several great apps available for both iOS and Android devices. It’s also a good idea to make sure parental controls are in place, and again, there are several user-friendly options available.
This is also the perfect time to talk about online privacy and safety. If we learned anything from 2018, it’s that our data is at risk. Talk to your kids about being careful what they share online, then go one step further by cleaning up your digital footprint. Not only is your information at risk, many companies skirt the Children’s Privacy and Protection Act (COPPA) and actively monitor and collect information on your child’s online activity in order to target them with ads.
Most importantly, lead by example. If you’re already doing a “device-free dinner,” go a step further. We used to play “Best Thing/Worst Thing” with our kids at dinner. It’s as simple as sharing the best part and the worst part of your day. Or, play another simple game like “Two Truths and a Lie” or “Never Have I Ever.” Conversation sans emojis is becoming a lost art. Help your kids stay in the game.
Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.