Parenting in Digital Ages: Practical Ideas
- Cell phone contract
- Truth about screen time
- Screen time and child’s sleep
- Children’s lies about screen time
- The battle to stop fake news
- Internet child protection
- Tips to keep kids safe online
- Kids viewing Internet porn
- High quality children’s content
- What should I let my kids watch?
- Can technology make us better parents?
- Protecting kids vs allowing them to make mistakes
Making a parent/child cell phone contract
There are lots of reasons why people start using parental controls. Perhaps to stop late night phone checking. Perhaps to help stop arguments when it’s time put the iPad down and get on with homework. Maybe to reduce the total amount of time being spent on screens in general. There are many more cases. Ultimately though all of these reasons amount to a desire for one’s children to become more responsible and disciplined in their use of digital technology.
We hope and aim to encourage an attitude and approach in our kids that will render parental controls unnecessary. But how can we make sure that our use of parental controls doesn’t wind up as abstract punishment or authoritarian control but is a genuine tool for building responsibility and right priorities in our kids? One method that’s got quite a bit of attention on social media is the idea of a parent/child cell phone contract.
Parent/child cell phone contract
They get called a variety of different names, but the idea is the same. You sit down with your child or teen. Discuss what appropriate device use looks like. And then come up with some screen time rules together that they think are reasonable. These rules are written down, possibly decorated, signed to signal agreement and displayed somewhere public (like the fridge) for reference and reminder.
- Phone maintenance: This could include keeping devices clean, in good condition and well-charged. For older kids it might include being responsible for fixing or replacing in the case of breakage or loss. Essentially basic rules about respect for property.
- Phone etiquette: This might include rules like not using phones at the dinner table, not calling after a certain time, always answering parent calls and so on. Rules about respecting both the people you’re communicating with and the people around you physically.
- Screen time rules: These are rules that define things like the amount of time that can be spent on devices on schooldays and weekends, what sorts of apps can be used (e.g. no games until after homework is done) and what time the device needs to get turned off in readiness for bed. These are rules for ensuring that device use doesn’t start to get prioritised over other areas of life.
- Digital safety: This section might include instructions on what your child should do if someone tries to bully them online. What to do if they see something that upsets or shocks them. And rules about not accepting contact requests from strangers. These rules are for keeping your child safe online and teaching them how to respond to potentially dangerous situations.
- Parent rights: You may want to explicitly reserve certain rights over your child’s phone, so that they’re ready for it if necessary. This might include the right to check the phone and/or social media accounts “for any reason, at any time”, or to confiscate the phone if other rules are not adhered to. These might well be controversial rules, with many kids seeing account checking as an invasion of privacy. They can be controversial among parents too. So you’ll need to decide for yourself to what extent your child’s privacy is a right or a privilege.
One thing which isn’t on most of these templates is a section for commitments on the side of the parent. Obviously the contract is primarily for the benefit of your kids, but if you use it to address some of your own phone use habits too, this could:
a) show that the rules are important for everyone, not just randomly imposed on kids,
b) make a healthy approach to screen time something that you’re working towards together, and
c) help you to provide a good example of responsible technology use
Whatever you include in it, making a contract like this provides us with great opportunities to discuss issues connected with technology use with our children. You can use Kidslox to place boundaries that enforce many of the agreed upon rules.
Have you made a cell phone contract with your child? What does it include?
What the doctors really say
about screen time
Are you concerned about the amount of screen time your kids get? If so, it’s likely you’ve read articles quoting a recommended 2 hour daily limit on kids screen time from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). It’s not a bad place to start, but that recommendation was released in 2013. Since then the AAP has made a couple of significant revisions to those recommendations.
Today the AAP announced new screen time guidelines and they can only be described as their most nuanced yet. The new advice recognises both a difference between good and bad quality screen time and the individual nature of children’s requirements. To that end, along with their recommendations they’ve also released a tool for planning and visualising children’s screen usage.
Making space for everything
One of the most significant changes in the recommendations is a shift in emphasis. Instead of focussing on a specific amount of screen time that should not be exceeded, the guidelines (and the family media planning tool) emphasise the other activities healthy children ought to be engaged in. This is most visually represented in their media time calculator tool, where time not assigned to other activities is automatically labelled screen time. As you add time to other daily activities (like school, homework, meals, etc.) the available screen time is reduced.
I found that once I’d filled it in with the activities of a typical school day routine, I was left with 2 and a half hours of potential screen time. It’s not far off the original, 2013 recommendation, but arrived at via the much more positive angle of what kids are or ought to be doing and accepting time left over as being potentially for use with screens.
Throughout the recommendations, balance is seen as key. Screen time can be ok and even healthy, so long as it doesn’t replace other healthy habits including face to face communication, physical exercise and regular sleeping patterns.
Quality over quantity
Following on from their 2015 symposium take aways, the AAP continued to affirm the importance of high quality programming and media content. They recommend “Organizations like Common Sense Media” as helpful tools for assessing the quality of content and highlighted PBS and Sesame Workshop as examples of high quality content producers.
For under 2’s the AAP maintains their position that screens aren’t a good idea at all (with the exception of video calling eg. to maintain family ties). For 2 to 5 year old’s 1 hour of high quality, co-viewing a day is suggested as a limit.
So what is it that we need to actually do, as parents, to take advantage of this latest advice and foster healthy attitudes to screen time in our kids?
First of all, use the tools the AAP have created for assessing and thinking about how screen time is used in your house. You could even go through the family media plan together with your kids and use it as a way of talking very specifically about acceptable screen time practices.
Second, look at the sorts of content your kids are viewing now. If you think it needs to change, check out Common Sense Media’s extensive film, TV, app and site reviews so that you can come in suggesting positive alternatives rather than simply issuing bans.
Thirdly, once you’ve decided when it’s ok for your kids to use their devices and what you’re happy for them to be watching and using, you’ll need to find a way to make those decisions stick! Different strategies will be appropriate for different families and ages of children. You know your kids best. If a serious discussion will do the trick, have it. If you need to install Kidslox on mobile devices to make sure that some things stay off limits, do that. Next month we’ll be releasing a daily limits feature which lets you set a maximum device use time for the day; the perfect tool for turning doctors recommendations into healthy, media aware kids.
However you choose to deal with this issue, make sure that you’ve considered it carefully and seriously. As the report says, “The key is mindful use of media within a family”. As long as you’re engaging with and not simply disregarding the question of screen time, you’re on the right track.
Screen time and sleep disorder in children
Electronic devices cause sleep disorder in children
Many of us used to read books before turning out the light and falling asleep. But today smartphones, tablets, and other electronic devices like e-readers are deeply integrated into our lives. The growing popularity of social media, news apps, and online services makes us not just to take our electronic devices everywhere during the day but even to the bed. And this is quite a big problem because blue spectrum light of smartphones’ and tablets’ screens causes excitability in adults and sleep disorder in children. Exposure to a smartphone screen is very often associated with lower quality of sleep, nightmares, and morning depression.
Multiple studies show that electronic devices affect negatively children’s sleep. Adults are in the risk group as well. The general rule in this case is “the more screen time – the less sleep time or less productive screen time”.
How it works: screen light and melatonin
According to experts, our hormone called melatonin is very sensitive to screen light. The light produced by phones and tablets suppresses it. As a result, using gadgets before sleep can cause insomnia and other sleep disorders. Extensive use of gadgets before going to bed can also negatively affect the sleep preparation.
Scientists say that good performance during the day is directly linked to the quality of our sleep. If a person sleeps not enough or the sleep is not deep enough, the immune system is being gradually destroyed. This can result in frequent headaches, lack of appetite or even mental disorders. Children and young people may experience some problems with concentration the next day which is not good for their ability to study.
The temptation to take gadget to bed
Since long screen time is directly linked to counter-productive sleep, researchers strongly recommend putting gadgets as far from the bed as possible, especially when it’s about children. But many applications are so involving and are designed to fully absorb our attention. As a result, we often do not notice how much time we spend at the screen.
Furthermore, some companies are using the idea of children staying at the screen all the night as the advertisement of their products which have no direct connection to electronic devices (like nighttime underwear).
How to avoid sleep disorder in children and adults – 9 useful tips
If you really have to answer an important mail better use the device with the small screen. It is the amount of light (especially from the blue part of the spectrum) that reaches your retina really matters. It means that iPad or Android tablet will affect you more and cause sleep disorder more likely than iPhone or another smartphone.
Also, the closer gadget is to your eyes the more light comes into your brain, technically speaking. So it is better to check new messages and notifications while holding your gadget at arm’s length.
Reduce the brightness of your screen. The intensity, the color, the duration, and the nature of the light are important parameters. And the brighter light is the stronger is its impact on your eyes and brain, and the bigger is the chance of your or your child’s sleep disorder.
Some devices have the so-called ‘night mode’ when the brightness is less, and the light consists of longer waves which affect our physical reactions less.
Use devices without backlight like Kindle while reading books or some documents. Then you might probably need a lamp, and therefore the next advice is to use a good lamp with the ’warm light’.
Do not use gadgets at least two hours before the bedtime. Our bodies start to produce melatonin approximately two hours prior the sleep time and it will be a wise decision to stay away from screen time during this period.
Limit your screen time. This is just common sense. Reducing screen time will cause you to be less addicted to your gadget, and the temptation to spend the whole night at the screen will be not that strong.
Install parental control application on your device and your children’s devices to limit screen time and schedule phone shut down couple hours before your typical bedtime.
Spend more time outside. There are a lot of things you can do in the open air with your kids. The paradoxical thing is that our bodies do need so-called ‘blue light’ to function properly. And if you receive it during the daytime, our bodies will be less sensitive to it when it’s time to go to bed.
If you follow these simple rules you will relieve your bodies from extra stress and excitation will fall asleep much easier and will wake up more refreshed and renewed. These rules if applied to your kids will help them to have a better sleep and be more active during daytime; will make positive effect on their learning ability, physical and mental health.
Children’s lies about screen time
and our response
I don’t suppose I’m revealing anything new to you when I tell you that your kids probably aren’t telling you the absolute truth, 100% of the time. If you’re a parent and your kid’s talking, I’m guessing you’re well aware of that fact. Sociologists and psychologists can tell you a number of reasons why they do it and suggest good ways to respond to different types of lies. Whether it’s lies about screen time or anything else, the reasons for it are well documented.
What do kids lie about?
It’s likely you’re very familiar with certain common lies that children tell:
“Yes, I’ve eaten the lunch you gave me for school” – There’s a good chance it went straight to the garbage can.
“Yes, I’ve done my homework/ I am doing my homework now” – translation: “Don’t disturb me, I’m playing my game/ calling my friend/ watching TV”
“Can I go to this movie/party? There’ll be trustworthy adults there – my friend’s parents will be with us” – (and my friend told his parents that you’d be going along too… )
And of course the classics “I’ll be on my best behaviour” and “it wasn’t me”
Creating a family culture of honesty is something we’re all keen to do. There are certain hurdles along the way that almost every parent faces though.
Lies about screen time
Some lies though are specifically screen time and computer related. They might touch on a number of different areas:
- Age – Many kids intentionally give false information about their age when trying to register accounts for social networks and other internet resources. Interestingly, many parents don’t have any problem with this behaviour.
- Quantity of screen time – especially with young children who have a poor sense of time or kids who often lie to try and get their way, it would be a bad move to rely on an honour system to track screen time. That said, even if we track the time spent on their personal device, it’s hard to know where else they have screen access (school computers, friends’ devices) if they’re not willing to be open about it.
- Types and times of online activity – from checking their phones late at night through to going on sites you’ve explicitly told them not to, there are all sorts of things your child might feel incentivised to lie about. In most cases these things can be easily verified and if necessary monitored and controlled.
Actually the most common type of lie when it comes to screen time is one of omission. That is, our children don’t actually tell us lies, they just don’t talk with us about what they’ve been up to. In this case, we’re as culpable as they are. We need to make sure that we’re regularly initiating conversations with them about the way they use technology.
What else can we do?
Show you care – Kids are still learning to find the balance between the world around them (which changes so quickly) and their own inner world (which might well be even less stable). Sometimes they lie to avoid a conflict between these two realities. They need someone they can trust and share their insecurities with. Parents are still the best option they have.
Consequences vs punishment – Sometimes kids lie because they’re afraid of punishment if the truth is found out. It would be helpful to talk to them about the difference between punishment and the natural consequences of bad decisions – like the potential effects of screen time on their health or mental health. They need to learn to recognise consequences in advance and avoid bad decisions as a result.
Healthy and reasonable rules – These will help them to be more confident and self-disciplined. Both parts are important. You’re placing boundaries to keep your child safe. At the same time, if the rules seem too strict or unreasonable, they can actually end up encouraging lies and other bad behaviour that they’re originally designed to counter. A parental control app like Kidslox is a great instrument for setting and adjusting these rules to find what works for your family.
You might also want to become a more technically advanced parent. Most kids today are technologically smarter than their parents. Maybe you feel that that’s a big ask though. It doesn’t have to be the only way though. As you’ll have noticed, most of the solutions above are grounded first and foremost in effective and frequent communication with your child. Technical wizardry not required.
Let us know down below about a lie your child told you and how you responded.
THE BATTLE TO STOP FAKE NEWS
Mass media increasingly plays a bigger and bigger role in our everyday life. We consume news more than ever before and our mood, thoughts, and quite often our decisions can be affected by that news. There are a lot of different channels we can get news from, but the internet and especially social media has risen fast to become among the most used. In some demographics the last couple of years have seen social media overtake tv as the primary news source. The availability of news on sites like Facebook is seen as one of the benefits of social media. But what if we are misled by fake news? Can we distinguish it from the real?
The fake news phenomena has been dominating the headlines for a while now. The influence of parody sites, scammers peddling shock headline clickbait and outright propaganda and deliberate misinformation has grown massively (though wikipedia claims fake news has been with us since at least Roman times). Many governments and other organisations are so concerned that they’ve started looking for solutions to reduce the amount of fake news we’re subjected to. Their first port of call? The social networks and media distributors whose systems propagate the problem. Let’s take a look at the solution some of the big players have developed:
Google introduced its new check feature about a month ago to detect “fake news” in search results and to prevent their uncontrolled spread. The feature marks “authoritative sources” in search results, although it doesn’t label sites known to spread false information as untrustworthy. This “authoritative” label is determined by an algorithm. The feature is to help people “understand the degree of consensus” on a topic.
Facebook has also recently announced some new features intended to prevent the spread of fabricated news stories on their social network. They’ve launched an educational tool to counter fake news too. Facebook in particular has been under a lot of pressure on the fake news front since it’s system has been accused of influencing the US presidential election.
Their educational campaign will appear in more than a dozen countries including the USA, the United Kingdom, Canada and Germany. As a part of this campaign users are called on to check an article’s URL, the source of a story and the fact that the news may be a joke. It also recommends to be more sceptical about news headlines.
In some countries, the question of fake news is taken even more seriously, with governments taking matters into their own hands. Not long ago the German government officially unveiled a social-media bill to combat the spread of fake news by compelling companies like Facebook and Twitter to remove fake news, as well as hate-provoking and criminal content. In the Czech republic on the other hand, the government has set up a special team to directly combat misinformation by fact checking and flagging false news.
Will it help?
A lot of us doubt the effectiveness of these measures. The algorithms that run social media sites and search engines can usually be gamed by black hat companies. And even if they can’t, the effectiveness of fake news for both making money and influencing public opinion has now been proven. This means that those who benefit from it are actively seeking new ways to ensure their influence continues. Educational campaigns are all well and good, but a solid understanding of credible sources doesn’t get the fake headline out of your head and doesn’t necessarily stop you from making emotion driven clicking decisions.
Can we do anything?
One of the problems here for me is the fact that there are so many news sources around us and our ability to discern the truth gets “paralysed” or at least weakened by the immense flow of information. That’s why I think that one of the best ways to limit the influence of fake news is to find several sources of news whose output you largely trust, and check those regularly while deciding not to click through on shared stories in social media.
What else can we do?
- Let’s talk. An actual conversation with reasonable people, asking questions and sharing opinions helps us to minimise the effect of fake and provoking news.
- Let’s monitor and limit our screen time (especially how much we read the news) and use a parental control solution for our kids.
- By all means let’s go through Facebook’s fake news educational tool with our kids and make sure they understand the need to question the authority and reliability of any news they interact with. Then, follow through by reading or watching the news together with them and putting the things you’ve learned to the test.
- How do you minimise the impact of fake news in your family? Tell is in the comments below.
Online Risks and Internet Child Protection
The 4-year-old boy sits on the bench and plays online games every day, while my daughter (the same age) plays active games with other children. This playground’s picture shows the huge difference in priorities, which parents puts in their minors. I don’t believe there is a magical age when every child should get their first gadget. The level of maturity and responsibility varies for every child. I don’t think my daughter should have a phone when she is 9. She should understand how tricky the device can be while using it, as even the youngsters can get into online trap.
Only 39% of teens concern about their personal information being exposed online
– the latest survey by the National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA) shows.
Our children often don’t care about the possibility of facing the number of risks on the Internet. In fact, we should take into account that during the past 25 years the ways we interact have profoundly changed. Parents are those, who are responsible for teaching kids about the problems of sharing and online privacy. Definitely there are more online harms we should know, not only privacy issue. Non-acquaintance about negative sides of the Internet puts you up with a threat, so you would better be prepared and protected in advance.
Since I’ve become a parent, I started to think twice before I post the photo with my kid online. But I worry even more, when my child takes the device and starts living online. Let’s look through these Internet dangers classified by OECD’s “The protection children online” report.
While reading the OECD’s Internet risks review, I’ve discovered a lot of youngsters’ online trends. Some of them must be known by every parent:
- “Dedipix.” It’s a French phenomenon among teenagers, whereby children post a picture of one of their body parts (nude or semi-nude) with a message written on it. Parents should point the privacy risks and the fact that these teens, looking for popularity and good social media ratings, aren’t really conscious about the consequences of their actions because most of them don’t mask their faces.
- “Happy slapping” refers to an assault by teenagers either “just for fun” or as a part of a deliberate assault or robbery while someone films the action with a cell phone camera. The videos are then posted on video-sharing platforms or exchanged via mobile phones.
- “Flaming” is a form of cyberbullying (primarily mobile phone type of harassment) in which kids have very intense and aggressive argument via e-mail or instant messaging. It is also can be called as “cyberstalking”, and ranges from intimidation, embarrassment and humiliation. Offenders may also compromise the victim’s personal details in order to cause psychological and physical distress. Such online harassment seems to be a growing area of concern, especially via older children.
- “Stranger danger” is a term coined to highlight the possibility of threatening contact from unknown adults, particularly sexual predators, not only on the Internet. Especially risky contacts with strangers occur on chatrooms.
- “Cybergrooming” is the widest term for contact risks with adult person, who uses the Internet to form a trusting relationship with a child with the intent of having sexual contact. It is a criminal offence in several countries. The concept of “sexual solicitation” was researched widely by Wolak’s studies. According to Wolak 25% of young people interact and share information with strangers online. It appears that children are only exceptionally abused by adult predators who contacted the victim online and lied about their age, identity or intention to have sexual contact offline. It does indicate the need for understanding how to tackle or prevent such situations from occuring.
- “Online gambling” is a financial threat to parents if minors have access to a credit card or other means of payment such as mobile phone. It is illegal in most countries.
Parents should understand that online life remains to be the part of real life. And whether you like it or not, here and there you can see tons of black screens, unceparatable from children. And this is our responsibility to protect our kids from negative impacts and stay informed about risks as much as possible. Follow some instructions to prevent these threats:
1.Priorities rule. I have a rule in my family that taking a device is the last thing I can do during the day. And it really works, because I always have something interesting to do in “real life” instead of staring at screen. The first very important thing in teaching your kid is giving them the opportunities of games and activities outside the Internet. It’s some kind of setting up healthy screen traditions. It’s better to look for an amazing book in the bookstore together than choose the appropriate online game in the app store. It’s better to open and read the children’s book before bedtime, than pull back your kid from the tablet screen. Nevertheless, sooner or later the minors will be experiencing online with their own smartphones.
2. Get involved. Educate early and often. Be an impressive guide for your kids. Be the most reliable tightrope for your tech-child, who walks between the profound benefits (opportunities to learn, share and communicate online) versus the entertainment and the number of Internet risks. The secret of their balance is their good education about all positive and negative sides of online life.
You should know which sites the child is using, vet all app downloads, keep an eye on security settings and make decision whether it’s safe and appropriate for them to use. Remind them about Internet dangers and safe online behavior regularly: don’t accept friendship request from person you don’t know, verify requests from someone you do know, never agree to a private chat with a stranger, never post your personal information (phone number, home address, relatives’ contacts).
Talk to your kids about how they use their computers, tablets, or smartphones and ask about any concerns they might have online. Conversations about Internet protection is the starting point for the best online safety.
3. Teach kids to keep data secure. Always pick a file sharing service that allows to create “private” folders, so that only people with access credentials could see files. Get into the habit of deleting files once they have been shared. Delete all sensitive files that have been already shared. If friends share uncomfortable files, child also should delete them and don’t forward them to others.
Be careful about giving somebody the personal information including photos as once they are sent they could go anywhere.
When it comes to passwords tell kids to use long sentences. Easy for children to remember and hard for others to crack. And keep it in secret together. Also explain why they should use different passwords for each account and the consequences of not doing so.
Teach how to check that the virus protection is updated and how to answer requests. If children are unsure, they can ask parents.
4. Social networks as a specific concern. Your kid can feel safe by the apparent distance a screen gives between him and the person he is communicate. Always remind children that online is still the real world. Everything that kids do over the Internet is captured and could come back to haunt them. Further it can influence your getting the university degree or job hiring, because some serious people might look at social media profiles when researching candidates.
“If you wouldn’t do it face to face – don’t do it online,” – Shelagh McManus, online safety advocate for security software Norton recommends. Ask children to check their privacy settings and be accurate with the info they post (or lock down their profiles.) It’s very important to be friended on Facebook to monitor child’s post and control the content he publishes.
5. Boundaries that bring freedom. The discussions about boundaries and screen time limits provide a clear understanding of what is safe and secure. Get the parental control app like Kidslox to be sure that your child will know why the daily limits schedule is needed and what should be prevented as inappropriate content and some online risks.
Kidslox parental control lets you block apps, block internet and filter web content with ease. One account is all you need to protect as many iPhones, iPads, iPods, Android phones and tablets and other mobile devices as you have in your family. Prioritise your family time by placing daily limits on your child’s screen time.
“Enforcing boundaries and engaging in age-appropriate open conversations about your child’s online activities will encourage your cyberminds to learn the benefits and realise the dangers of the Internet. Parental control boundaries can bring freedom,” – Ben Densham, CTO of cybersecurity testing company Nettitude admits.
10 tips to keep our kids safe online
Kids today learn how to use computers, smartphones and tablets even before they can talk! By the time they reach primary school they have a remarkable level of proficiency and digital skills. This offers them a lot of benefits, but despite their ‘advanced’ status in this area they still remain children and do not always have enough life experience or critical thinking skills to be fully protected from the risks posed by that technology. How then can we keep our kids safe online?
Young kids are even more prone to accept the things they see or read online as truth than adults. They can be easily scared or shocked by some content, misled by fake news or be manipulated by others.
Here are 10 tips to help make the internet a more friendly environment for our kids. Got some more tips of your own? Add them in the comments below:
- share screen time with your child as much as you can (especially when the child is very young)
- set some screen time rules and try to model them yourself and encourage their use
- set up the security settings on your web browser and
- use content blocking software to protect your children from even accidentally visiting potentially dangerous sites
- use parental control software to block apps and set other appropriate limits on device usage
- use a child friendly search engine like KidRex or Kiddle on your computer
- teach your child to keep their personal information private and not share it directly through emails, social media and registration forms
- take time to discuss with your children things they face online like fake news, online bullying and so on. Encourage openness in your children
- set screen time limits so that excessive computer or portable device use can’t harm your child
- stay aware of new challenges your kids may face in the realm of technology
And the main thing, let’s always be there when our kids need our advice or help – no matter whether it’s a real life or virtual life issue.
Please, feel free to share your own ideas about how we can keep our kids safe online in the comments.
Kids viewing internet porn:
another complex screen time issue
Today’s digital world provides our kids with a lot of opportunities that we didn’t have as children. Some of these opportunities are great, some less exciting and others may even concern us. Easy access to the information on the internet via phones and tablets falls into all camps. We like the idea that our kids can learn useful skills and get new essential knowledge (and let’s be honest, sometimes the iPad is just great way to keep a long car journey drama free). Even so, we recognise that the internet comes with an inherent danger that our kids are vulnerable to inappropriate content including porn.
How many kids are vulnerable to adult content?
It’s so much easier for a child or a teen to get access to pornography today than it was 20 years ago. This study found that 93% of boys and 62% of girls are exposed to internet pornography before the age of 18. It gets even scarier when you recognise that the average age a child first encounters porn is around 11. These figures give us some idea just how accessible pornography is and how badly our kids are protected from it. This is a (perhaps surprisingly) central part of the screen time problem.
How does Internet porn affect kids?
Watching porn causes various problems (not only for kids but for porn consumers in general):
Their view of themselves. Porn causes a negative effect on self-esteem, shame and guilt. In part this is because of the way the human body is presented in porn – boy and girls think they are somehow less worthy because they don’t look like porn actors.
Their view of relationships. Many people (not only kids) try to bring things they’ve seen in porn into their relationships. And since pornography is often full of misogyny, domination and even physical violence, watching pornography can easily lead to relationship breakdown. Watching pornography distorts attitudes towards sexual intimacy, respect for partners and the very idea of commitment and marriage. In kids this broken world view can easily lead to relationship and marriage difficulties further down the road.
Addiction. Pornography is addictive and can cause sexual dysfunction as well as psychological disorders like shame, depression and anxiety. The younger the pornography consumer the higher the risk of addiction development.
Problems with the law. In some cases downloading pornography can lead to the legal issues.
What can we do?
As parents we do have some instruments to protect our kids.
Let them know that you love and care. Do not blame or shame them if you found out that they have with this problem.
Discuss the issue of pornography with our kids. Yes it’s potentially awkward. Yes both they and you might well squirm at the very idea of discussing sex. Of course, the openness of this conversation might well depend on your child’s age and maturity. But the less mysterious this subject is for them the less illicit allure it will hold. Talking to your kids (on any potential problem area) is generally a starting point.
Develop more open relationships with our kids. This comes out of the previous answer. And it’s less of an immediate solution, more of a long term plan. If your children trust you, there’s a much greater chance that they’ll come to you with their questions and not to the web.
Protect them online. Use a good parental control solution on your kids’ computers or tablets with a content blocking feature to protect kids from inappropriate content online.
Did you or your friends face this problem? What solutions would you suggest?
High quality children’s content
and where to find it
High quality content
It’s easy to say “only allow your children access to high quality content”, but much harder to a) control what content they access and b) judge which content can be considered “high quality”. When it comes to controlling which content is accessed, three methods immediately present themselves.
- Watch/engage with content together with your child.
- Only allow your child to watch tv or play on the computer in public areas of the house so you can keep an eye on what they’re accessing.
- Use parental controls to place limits on what can be accessed.
All of these come with their plusses and minuses. As with any strategy for limiting what children can access, they all work best if the child in question isn’t actively seeking ways to bypass the rules. If they are, you’ll need to pay significantly more attention to their activity in this area.
When it comes to judging the quality of content, first check out what other parents are saying. Ask the parents of your child’s school friends. Use online resources like Common Sense Media. We recently asked the Kidslox community about educational apps they recommend and these are their top 10 responses.
Manually raising the quality
Don’t be too harsh on yourself though. Even if you need to just drop them in front of whatever’s on for a bit, you can manually improve the quality of the experience for them. Does that sound odd? How can you manually raise the quality of even the worst show or game?
What is it that makes good content good? It’s content that gets our kids thinking, reacting, solving puzzles, asking questions. Content that demands some sort of response rather than being passively and unquestioningly consumed.
The best content provokes this in them without our intervention, but even the most mundane show can become better quality viewing if you ask your child a few age appropriate questions. “What’s happening?”, “Why is she doing that?”, “Do you think what he did is a good thing?”, “Can you do that too? / Show me”. You get the idea. You can provoke interaction from your child even if the show in question doesn’t manage it.
Spending time together
In fact, “co-engagement” has long been the recommended way of getting the most out of a range of media. Try playing some of those computer games together with them, let them teach you the controls and show you what they can do. Watch some goofy youtube videos together – can your kids adequately explain what’s so enthralling about unboxing videos? Even “high quality” content can be boosted in its usefulness by being watched together with a parent (or potentially with an inquisitive friend, sibling, etc.).
Does your device have any children’s ebooks on it? A lot of the more highly recommended and even prize winning ebooks come with lots of animations and interactions, side games and puzzles. “Educational” as these distractions are purported to be though, they can never replace the value of parents reading to their children. Get the most out of ebooks then, by reading them together with your child. Point out different elements, talk about what’s happening, just like you would with a regular, non-e-book.
Creation over consumption
As I said before, high quality content demands a response. That’s one reason why I love games that include a “level maker” function. The creative energy that kids exercise creating puzzles and scenarios of their own can be fantastic. I’ve noticed that level makers often appeal to specific children though. For some kids it’s one of the first things they check out, they might not be too concerned about even completing the game, just in making something interesting. For most kids though, it’s a nice idea, but not one that they actually delve into very far. Perhaps they might though, with a little encouragement.
Look into the games your kids play and if any have a level builder function, encourage them to try it out. Challenge them to create something specific. Offer to make a level together with them, or to have a go at playing the level they make.
This emphasis on creation over consumption isn’t limited to games though. Encourage it in all sorts of media. If they like watching Youtube celebrities, encourage them to try making some videos. If they’re browsing pictures on Instagram, have them give photography a try. A friend’s teenage daughter loves fantasy films and recently started engaging with collaborative online fan fiction, a creative writing exercise that has her thinking about story arcs, character development and more.
There are numerous inventive ways to tap into the creative outpouring that the internet fosters. It falls to us though to make sure that we’re actively encouraging our kids to actually do that and not be content to just look at what other people have made.
What should I let my kids watch?
So you’ve heard the old AAP guideline that children should have a maximum of two hours of screen time a day, or you’ve heard from groups like Digital Nutrition that screen time is ok, so long as it’s “nutritional” content, positive screen time that builds character in your kids. When it comes to the actual screen time itself then, what sort of thing is acceptable and appropriate to watch?
What are the needs of your family?
Obviously every child has their own needs and every family has their own set of expectations when it comes to determining what makes for appropriate viewing, but there are a large number of groups out there offering standard ways of assessing the appropriateness of material.
The first and perhaps most widely recognised standards are those used for rating films by the BFB in the UK and the MPAA in the US. It offers a good general guideline to the inappropriateness of a film on a superficial level, taking into account bad language, violence, nudity and adult themes, but there’s no guarantee that watching a U (US ‘G’) with your kids will be engaging, encouraging or necessarily hold any redeeming qualities whatsoever.
This is exactly the reason why groups like Common Sense Media (CCM) publish ratings and recommendations based on age appropriateness instead. They focus on how well suited a film is for watching with children and their reviews also include suggestions for conversations you can have after watching to make sure your kids learn something helpful from what they’ve watched.
There are plenty of resources online for finding reviews of films. Make sure that you read up at least a little before letting your children watch something. It’s easy to overlook, as the ease of just switching on the tv can make the extra step of doing a little research seem like too much work, but today it’s easier than ever to quickly find review material and make sure your kids aren’t wasting the screen time you allow them watching something inappropriate or damaging.
Of course, there are plenty of viewing options that aren’t film based. Regular television programming has always been tricky to regulate and keep track of, (though if you’re in the states you can take advantage of the v-chip system), but again sites like CCM can help give you a solid understanding of whether or not a certain bit of programming is likely to be inappropriate for your child. Of course, if your children are watching tv on a mobile device, via the iplayer, nickelodeon, disney channel or other channel app then parental controls like Kidslox can also be used to make sure that viewing happens only under controlled circumstances, when the parents allow it.
This brings us solidly to the internet. Of course, many internet based tools offer some sort of filtering as part of their service in an effort to ensure that parents are happy to let their kids use the service. These services are generally not bad, but as with all systematic approaches their standards vary from service to service and will likely also vary from yours. Filtering systems also can’t account for your child’s strange tastes. Actually you’re not alone in this by a long stretch, some of youtube’s most popular videos include unboxing videos and commentated video games!
Deciding when your children can watch something on their mobile device is something you can achieve with Kidslox. Deciding what they can watch and how to enforce that is a little trickier and will involve a bit of research into the filtering services offered by the media you use, perhaps some research into specific films, shows and channels and most importantly (as with every element of parental control) it should involve a conversation about it with your kids. What should you talk to them about? Ask them what things they like and want to watch and what it is they like about those shows and channels. Ask them to tell you if they see anything that makes them uncomfortable. Watch together with them sometimes and ask them questions about what’s going on to make sure they’re thinking about it and not just absorbing. When you pay an interest in what they’re watching, it helps them to understand that it’s important, as well as helping guide your parental decision making.
How can technology help us to be
better parents? A few practical ideas
Digital devices create conflicting feelings in many parents. On the one hand, we’re kind of used to the fact that they play a big role in our lives and an even bigger one in our kids’ lives. We like the opportunities they provide for our kids and understand that a certain amount of tech savvy can potentially take them a long way in today’s world. On the other hand, we might feel guilty about using devices as child minders and worry that our kids are missing out on real life opportunities in favour of digital ones. We may even feel that digital devices steal our time with our kids and drive a wedge into parent-child relationships. But can technology help us to actually be better parents?
Technology gives parents new opportunities
Those who argue that screen time scaremongering has been overdone often focus on the positive influence and opportunities available via the use of modern technology. Given the central role smart devices now play in our children’s lives, perhaps it’s time even the more sceptical among us started utilising that potential of technology to strengthen our connection with them. This 2015 study showed that digital technologies can inspire and encourage parents to look for the new points of contact, be more actively involved in the life of their kids and be better parents.
So, here are a few ideas on how we can use digital technologies to develop stronger connections with our kids and improve as parents:
Connection. We’ve know for some time that the younger generation prefers to text than to talk. Of course we can encourage live conversation too, but if we want to really connect with them, maybe we should try doing it their way… I’m not just talking about sms use here; try out WhatsApp, Viber, Snapchat, whatever system your kids are on. Not only can this help you to connect with them, it will also give you much clearer insight into the ways such apps can potentially be used.
Encouragement and support. Public acknowledgement on social media is a bit of a tricky minefield. We’ve noted before that collecting likes is both addictive and ultimately leads people down a largely negative emotional path, despite the fact that many spend time on social networks “to feel better”. That said, if you deem your teens to have a reasonably healthy attitude towards social media, occasional public encouragement and recognition will no doubt go down well, even if they do cringe a bit at first 😉
Monitoring and protection. Given the amount of time your kids spend online, you might want to brush up on technical ways to keep them safe and provide boundaries for them there. As with any other potentially dangerous area of life, it’s appropriate to provide certain limits and rules which are removed as they grow in maturity. Parental control software like Kidslox can provide some protection on mobile devices. It’s also worth going through privacy settings of various apps and services used by your kids. For young kids, you might want to vet the content they consume by checking out reviews first (e.g. on Common Sense Media).
Digital lifestyle tools. From having a shared online calendar to using a pocket money management app, there are all sorts of tools available to help parents accompany their kids on their initial experiences of the connected world. By being involved in this process rather than a remote, regulating voice, we’re more likely to get included as they start making their own, independent steps further down the line.
Guidance. Even if they’re more technically savvy than we are, our kids still need our guidance, both in non-tech areas of their lives and to understand what appropriate technology use and content engagement look like. Discuss their technology use with them. Discuss their school day with them. Discuss just about everything with them! Conversation and example are how you’re going to impart your values to your kids. Use video call software like Skype to include grandparents or other remote family members and friends in your kids’ lives more often.
Don’t forget about them! Keeping up with our kids’ timetables can be exhausting. It’s easy to forget something or have something slide. There are all sorts of reminder apps and personal organiser solutions out there. Use one to stay ahead of the game.
Can technology help us as parents? Be bold
Finally, don’t be afraid to be a parent in the digital age. For those of us less technically inclined it might take us out of our comfort zones to engage with technology in this way. New opportunities and new challenges may confuse us. But we never win if we don’t try. And the battle for our kids’ hearts is easily worth the small discomfort of experimenting with new parenting approaches.
Protecting our kids from harm vs allowing
them to make their own mistakes
My son came up to me yesterday and said: “Dad, I want you to know. My classmate wanted to share with me some clip from YouTube. But it was bad and I didn’t want to watch it. I refused. And, you know, I would never choose to watch it”.
I was proud of my son of course, I love that he wants to share that with me. But I was also concerned. Of course, I could solve this problem immediately with the help of the parental control app on his phone, but at the same time I want him to be able to make his own decisions, to learn from his mistakes and successes. I don’t want to create a burden of responsibility too hard for him to carry. But I do want him to choose responsibly what he’ll watch. I also want to make his sessions on YouTube safe so that the choice he has to make isn’t too difficult for him. How can we make sure we’re protecting our kids while leaving them room to grow?
Step by step
At first, parents simply make their children’s decisions for them. And that’s ok.
But as children grow up adults begin to direct their actions so that the kids themselves learn to make a choice. In the beginning the process is based mainly on examples and simple explanations. Parents of a young child are strongly obliged to provide safety for their kids and take care of their health.
But when the child begins to walk and talk independently, the parents’ task becomes more and more complicated. Now adults have to establish some rules and explain to the child what’s good and what’s bad.
Preschoolers can already control their behaviour to some extent. They can make a more or less conscious choice and don’t just react instinctively. At this stage children can learn that their decisions have consequences and they should make decisions taking into account their circumstances. If we want them to develop this ability during their tween and teen years we as parents have to provide a clear structure, guidance, parental control and support.
Structure, parental control and support
There are three key components of this structure:
- Cause-and-effect thinking (we encourage children to anticipate the consequences of their actions to help them form a basis for their decisions)
- Use of clear and constant rules
- The most important part is parental involvement in the kid’s life
In my own case I use Kidslox parental controls to set a limit for my son’s screen time and use YouTube’s ‘Restricted’ (parental control) mode. But I allow him to choose what he wants to watch. And I try to discuss with him his preferences, to encourage the right choice and the ability to set limits for himself.
Some tips for parents
How can we decide where the boundaries are though? When should we let them choose and when should we make the choice ourselves? It might help to ask ourselves a few questions when we’re making these decisions about how to create a safe environment for our kids. For example:
- Did I do the same thing or something similar myself at their age? If so, what came of it?
- What are the risks? (ie. what will be the result if they make a bad choice? Will they recognise that it was a bad choice? Immediately or over time?)
- Is there an age they could reach or a sign of maturity they could give at which I’d be willing to let them do this thing? If so, what is it?
Finally, accept your own imperfections and the imperfections of your children. Don’t force your child live in a world of “perfect” adults that always know exactly what’s “best” for them without allowing them to make their own choices, enjoy their own success or learn from their own mistakes.
Eventually, we all have a need to grow.