How much time do you think your kids spend using media every day—Three hours? Five hours?
According to some recent research, no joke, kids ages 8-18 spend about nine hours using media on any given day (more than they might sleep!). That includes watching TV, videos, movies, playing video games, listening to music and checking social media.
What’s even more of a “wow” to this parent? This research was just done in February and March of last year—so these numbers are for during the school year! (Seriously, I’d rather not think about what the summer totals would be.)
Here’s what you can do
With kids spending so much time with their screens, we’ve pulled together some ideas for keeping your kids safe when they’re online—a few even have the added bonus of helping you peel them away from their tech. Note: many of these are parent tested and mother approved :-).
1. Hold the binge-watching reigns. Your kids love to binge watch as much as you do, but you might not be comfortable knowing your 8-year-old is catching up on “The Walking Dead” or “True Blood.” If you’d like to narrow the range of show/movie choices your kids are presented with on their screens, you do have options. Netflix lets you manage settings for each profile, Hulu offers Hulu Kids for subscribers (but no other real parental control options, unfortunately), Amazon Video offers parental controls, and don’t forget about your gaming consoles like Xbox One and PS4. Note: TDS TV subscribers can also lock content based on the program rating (go to page 15).
2. Teach them digital social skills. Kids have their own digital lives these days, and 57% of them report meeting new friends online. Just because this happens behind screens doesn’t mean it’ll stay that way—20% of teens take digital friendships into the real world. You tell your kids about talking to strangers on the street, so don’t forget to have a discussion about strangers on the Internet (i.e. “Just because they say they’re a 15-year-old girl, doesn’t mean they really are.”)
3. Keep your tech transparent. Know what apps your kids are downloading and using before they’re installed. This is easy to do if you turn on “gatekeeper”-type options in your Google Play or Apple accounts. On Apple you can set up “Ask to Buy” (which also works on free apps, by the way), and on Android this feature is called Authentication. You’ll get notifications when your kids want to download something and can approve their selections…or not. The added bonus? You’ll probably be more “in the know” about trending apps (both good and bad) and will have a chance to talk through any concerns you might have.
4. Stalk your kids when they’re online. Monitoring your kids’ usage really is possible—and without setting up a live-feed camera by your kids’ screens. All it takes is a little box called Circle. Circle started as a failed crowd-funded project, but came back new and improved with the help of Disney’s backing. It connects to your Wi-Fi router and monitors all of the traffic on your wireless network. You can set filter levels for each person, time limits, see how much time they’re spending on different sites, block sites, and my personal favorite—pause the Internet for any user simply by touching a button on your cellphone. Full disclosure: my husband and I bought one about five months ago and give it a thumbs up. As you might imagine, our kids aren’t always fans 🙂, but in our opinion it has been well worth the $100.
5. Don’t forget that the struggle IS real. Unfortunately, thanks to the Internet, bullying happens all hours of the day and all year long. The tricky part is, kids bully and get bullied all the time but might not tell you about it out of shame and fear. To know what’s happening, you’ll need to stay on your toes. Stompoutbullying.org has a variety of great resources including tips for understanding and handling cyberbullying, signs your child is a cyberbully victim, and signs your child may be a cyberbully.
6. Tell your kids not to play tag. Geotagging, that is. If your kids are “checking in” at a certain location or sharing photos on social media when their geotagging is enabled on their phones, they’re telling the world where to find them. Conversely, they’re also telling the universe where they’re not—possibly advertising a home is sitting empty and unwatched (come rob me!). This poses both a security and privacy risk, so tell them to take a photo and share it later. For good measure, turning off any geo-tracking tools in apps isn’t a bad idea either.
7. Tell them all that glitters isn’t gold. Kids are easily convinced that those too-good-to-be-true offers and prizes on the Internet could be real. Teach your kids about online phishing scams (email, scareware and prize scams are all common). Encourage your kids to treat their personal information with care and not enter it whenever a website asks for it—scammers are always looking for easy pickings (and identity thieves love a fresh credit score to sully!) and have some pretty sophisticated methods to trick people.
8. Handle YouTube with care. For kids, YouTube is what TV used to be for us Gen Xers—the go-to media when they’re bored…only YouTube doesn’t have any kind of real content oversight. As such, a little caution with YouTube is appropriate, and fortunately you have some options to make it easier:
- YouTube Kids. The just-for-kids app uses filters to “provide a safer version of YouTube.” Now, because it uses algorithms to do it, it’s not perfect, but it’s certainly a big improvement. The added bonus is that you get parental controls. You can set a timer on the app, turn off search, and clear the search and watch history.
- Turn on regular YouTube’s “Restricted Mode.” It’s not 100%, but it does do a decent job at limiting the amount of inappropriate content they may stumble upon. There are good directions here for turning on this setting.
9. If you can’t beat them, join them. Combine your kids’ love of technology with an activity that gets them out of the house by going geocaching. It’s like going treasure hunting using GPS-enabled devices. You have to navigate to particular coordinates and find a container hidden there. If geocaching doesn’t appeal, check out this this blog with other outdoor games that use GPS.
One final, parting thought: When all else fails, go to DEFCON 1—take their chargers. Sure, it’s low-tech, but it’s certainly an effective and cheap way to set time limits on hand-held devices and get your kids moving. Unpopular, yes, but it works :-).
Image courtesy of Kanate at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.