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Parenting in Digital Ages: What do you need to know

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Article outline:

  1. Setting screen time limits
  2. How much screen time is too much?
  3. Parent-teacher communication
  4. Controlling classroom device use
  5. Phones at school
  6. Toys and books vs gadgets
  7. Importance of playing with child
  8. Distracted parenting
  9. Influence of in-app ads on kids
  10. Selfie addiction
  11. Child obesity and technology

 

Raising resilient children: new research on setting daily screen time limits

research asks if setting daily screen time limits is really effective

Reporting on recent research presented by EPI makes the claim that screen time restrictions do not really protect children from the potential dangers of social media. As is so often the case though, the headline is bold, but the whole story much more nuanced. The research really highlights the need for children to have a good set of digital skills and resilience of character in order to navigate the modern world. There’s still a strong case to be made for setting daily screen time limits though.

Screen time benefits

The main thrust of the analysis is that by placing restrictions on internet usage, parents prevent their kids from gaining digital skills vital to modern life. It also highlights the idea that kids need to face the risks of social media themselves rather than be protected from them. In this way they supposedly learn to manage such risks themselves, with potential knock on effects managing offline problems and challenges too.

Too much screen time

The research does recognise however that the issue is more complicated than simply whether or not to restrict screen time. It notes that over a third of British teenagers are “extreme internet users” spending over 6 hours online on weekend days and over 3 hours a day online on school days. It also highlights the correlation between high levels of social network use and symptoms of mental health problems including anxiety and depression.

The role of daily limits

Despite (and in part because of) the conclusions of this research, I still feel that daily screen time limits are a much needed tool in the parenting arsenal. The building of a strong digital skill set in our kids is important. But it’s also important that they find time for physical activity, real life socialisation and appropriate amounts of sleep. 7 in 10 young people claim to have missed out on sleep due to internet usage. The majority of them also noted that this affected their school work. Setting daily usage limits on screen time (as well as scheduled bedtimes etc.) can help them achieve an appropriate balance.

Intentional parenting

Parental controls always need to be used intentionally. What do I mean by that? They need to be part of a wider strategy for growing resilient kids, not a reactive punishment or a means of manipulation.

Yes, kids need to develop mechanisms for handling online challenges on their own. But that doesn’t have to mean allowing them unfettered access to whatever they want, whenever they want. This is not a new parenting problem; there has always been a debate over the appropriate balance between protecting our kids and allowing them to make their own mistakes. The right answer for your family will depend in part on your own parenting style and beliefs and in part on the maturity and resilience of your kids.

Of course, we know that once they reach adulthood (or more likely their later teenage years), parental controls will cease to be an option. We need to make sure that before that point they are ready to meet the challenges of the digital world head on. At Kidslox, we see that for many families (including our own) that involves setting boundaries on our kids technology use. These are then gradually revised and removed as our children grow in maturity and technological and social prowess.

Why we’re going to keep on setting daily screen time limits

Unconsidered setting of screen time limits might come with a digital skills cost. But used well, alongside discussion of the potential problems posed by social media and modelling of appropriate screen time behaviour, they can also help our kids to develop good digital etiquette, screen time self discipline and an overall responsible approach to the online world.

How much screen time is too much?

how much screen time is too much

Modern children’s use of the internet, social networks, online games and other digital instruments seems to grow continuously. The absence of any electronic devices or social media accounts is more often the exception than the rule today.

Sometimes it feels like tablets and smartphones have replaced our children’s playmates, babysitters, and teachers. Screen time issues are making the news. And it’s no wonder that many parents are concerned about their kids’ everyday screen time quantities. The problem becomes even more complicated as where we used to have only one or two screens to worry about (a TV set and family computer), now a lot more screens have become a regular part of our children’s everyday life.

Screen time controversies

At the same time, adults often have a hard time figuring out just how much screen time is OK for their children. Some believe that the whole issue is just a needless moral panic, while others are sure that the whole family might need some form of digital detox from time to time.

For example, Apple’s top manager wants to protect his nephew from using social networks and ( to just add more confusion to the topic) one of Facebook’s founders recently made comments about social media’s influence on children’s brains and social skills. One way or another it’s become pretty hard to figure out how much screen time is too much and how much is actually OK for our kids.

Screen time dangers

Despite their many differences of opinion and approach, many of those who are concerned about their children’s screen time would probably agree that managing screen time gets more and more difficult as children get older.

According to the Ofcom report, between 1/4 and 1/3 of all parents are concerned about their child’s mobile device usage. Contact with potentially dangerous people and fear that their child could be bullied through the phone or social media are among parents main concerns. Of course, the amount of screen time they get is also on the list.

Parents also worry about some other specific areas.

  • Kids’ internet/computer game addiction. Many kids and teens appreciate their gaming experience more than school, and the time they spend at the screen definitely affects their personality. And as soon as addiction is developed and established it is quite hard to break it.
  • Too much screen time may lead to sleep disorders. And this may affect other areas of child’s development like motor skills. The youngest ones are the most vulnerable to this.
  • Mental health problems as a result of uncontrolled screen time and particular applications affect.
  • Many parents, even those who do not see the dangers of screen time, are concerned about the quality of content the kids have access to using their mobile devices. Different studies show that children are very vulnerable to pornography, internet ads and other explicit content. Mobile devices like smartphones and tablets give them this access at quite an early age.
  • American Academy of Pediatrics found that children’s creativity grows as you take electronic devices away from them.
  • The cost of too much screen time can be losing important social skills by the children.
  • Obviously, too much screen time reduces kids’ outside activities.

Benefits

But despite all the possible negative effect of kids having an extensive access to technology we cannot neglect the fact that it is deeply integrated into their life and changes it in many ways. Some of these changes are for good.

Educational development. Technology is a new and effective instrument of engaging kids more in their learning. It can completely change the way they study and make it more effective and fun.

Mobile phones and tablets make it easier for children to contact their parents in the case of emergency. Adults may call their child any time to check if they’re safe and sound.

Technology helps kids and teens to widen their life horizons. The use of Internet gives them an opportunity to express themselves and share their talents with thousands of people in social media and to make friends all over the world.

How to calculate the right amount of screen time?

If you are looking for an exact equation probably there is no one. Since every child and every situation is unique there isn’t a simple answer to the question how much screen time is too much. But there are some hints that may help us. When thinking about the right amount of screen time for our children we should take into account:

  • Child’s age – healthy screen time recommendations are different for different age groups;
  • Child’s general maturity and ability to control their emotions and desires – the more self-disciplined the child is the less controlling we might be. This well-known rule is fully applicable to screen time area;
  • Other areas of child’s life and screen time affecting them – children should develop harmonically and screen time should not take too big share of kid’s life. One thing is letting the child play a video game after doing homework and spending some time outdoors with friends, and another is letting him play the same video game instead of that;
  • Child’s screen time preferences and screen time quality – screen time amount should depend on either the child spends time with an educational app or plays some shooting video filled with violence

Do not be afraid that kids will miss a lot in modern life if we limit their access to new technologies. It does have its part in today’s people life, and we cannot but introduce it to kids. But children still learn a lot about today’s world playing with their friends and family and using the “good old” tools their parents have used like books and Lego constructors.

How can we minimize the negative effect of screen time on our kids?

  • Limit the screen time. We have a lot of ways to do this like establishing and modeling screen time rules in the house or using parental control software.
  • Use some healthy screen time alternatives. You can play real (I mean ‘board’) games with your kids instead of letting them play computer ones. Or have some outdoor fun. The fact: the more you play with your kids the more they are interested in physical play.
  • Spend time with your kids. This will not only improve and strengthen your relations but will improve kids’ social skills and empathy.

Let’s remember that it’s not only the quantity of screen time that matters but screen time quality as well. And it’s our responsibility as parents to navigate our children through the world of modern technologies.

How much screen time is too much for your child and how much is ok? Share your opinion with us.

Parent-teacher communication using mobile technology

Talking about school with our kids

Communication is an essential part of every relationship we have. And, of course, it’s one of the key tools available to us as parents. We all know how important is to talk to our kids and yet how hard it can be sometimes. Sometimes we need to search for inspiration on how to have a meaningful conversation with them.

One important area we need to discuss with our kids is school. Knowing what is going on there will help us to be more engaged. But our kids are not the only ones we have to discuss their school life with. Good parent-teacher communication is essential to effective schooling.

Parent-teacher communication

Many people believe that the role of parents is central to a child’s readiness for school and academic success. The role of a teacher obviously also plays a massive and important part. I’d suggest that our kids will achieve the best results in school when we learn how to cooperate with their teachers. And there is no chance to have effective cooperation without having effective communication, which is not always easy to maintain.

This communication helps teachers to be more prepared for their class and to understand the needs of particular students better. It also enables parents to be more deeply involved in their kids’ school life.

Technology

Most teachers and parents these days have mobile phones as well as many kids. Today we often seem to view mobile phones as an obstacle to communication! They’re a distraction, loaded with games and opportunities to communicate with friends rather than focussing on what needs to be done. That’s not what they were invented for though. They’re meant to improve communication!
We know that potentially children can use their devices as study tools. Good educational apps can facilitate their learning processes. As can internet access when researching a specific topic. But devices can also be used as a communication tool to improve parent-teacher-child cooperation.

School communication ideas

There are a lot of potential ways in which mobile devices can boost communication. Of course, teachers don’t necessarily want us to be contacting them all the time, so you’ll need to begin a dialogue with your child’s teacher about what is necessary and appropriate in your particular context. What are they comfortable with? What would they consider disruptive or intrusive? Here are some ideas of how you could potentially use your mobile devices to communicate with your child’s teacher (beyond just making calls):

  • Messengers and chat apps – whether your preference is for Remind, Viber, Facebook Messenger or something else, use it to exchange short notes with your child’s teacher or to send brief instant notifications to your child when he’s at school. (Sometimes we’re afraid that kids will get distracted by those apps, but that’s one thing we can use parental control apps for).
  • Video conference tools – can potentially be used to allow your child to discuss an unclear element of their homework with the teacher. They could also be used for you to discuss their behaviour or some minor conflict situation with the teacher. In this way you can avoid an unnecessary trip to the school over something relatively minor.
  • E-mail apps – use email to exchange more detailed notes. We tend to ask teachers to email us copies of any important communication too; paper copies sent home with the kids often seem to go astray.
  • Collaborative note taking appsEvernote is a great note taking tool, but there’s a selection of apps now which do similar things but which are deliberately targeted at the educational world. Google Classroom is widely used, but for including parents in the classwork process I’m a big fan of Seesaw. It’s an overarching system where kids keep their work so that both parents and teachers can access, monitor and give feedback.
  • Calendars and planners – create a school calendar for your child (e.g. on Google calendar) and share access with both parents and teachers. Events, homework and project or essay deadlines can all be kept here so that everyone’s on the same page and you can remind your kids about them if they forget.

Do you use mobile technology to improve your school related communication already? What do you use? How does it improve the school experience?

Mobile internet blocker for schools not an option. How can we control classroom device use?

The head of a Yorkshire school was recently warned against using mobile phone jamming technology to stop children getting distracted during lessons. Julia Polley’s conundrum, how to get kids to stop browsing the internet and focus on their classes, is one that we can all sympathise with. The Ofcom spokesperson even expressed their sympathy over the school’s concerns about mobile phones in the classroom. Nevertheless, the heart of their statement was that “signal blockers can harm other people’s mobile reception, as well as interfering with the emergency services and air traffic control.” Devices that act as an internet blocker like the one planned for use at Wensleydale School in Leyburn can interfere with radio communications. That’s why their use can be considered a criminal offence in the UK under the Wireless Telegraphy Act.

Phones in school: pros and cons

Nobody’s arguing that mobile phones aren’t extremely useful and even necessary in the modern world. Most people have at least one. Perhaps you’re reading this article on an iPhone or Android tablet yourself! It is hard to think of a single area of our life not being affected by the use of mobile devices of some sort.

The classroom is not an exception. What’s more, there are some good reasons to allow mobile phone use in schools:

  • phones make it possible for us to stay in touch with our children while they’re in school
  • we can use them to monitor our children during school time
  • if something unexpected comes up (like a delay at work, resulting in a slightly late pick up from school) it gives us a way to let them know and avoid unnecessary anxiety

On the other hand, phones in school can cause some problems:

  • social media can be a platform for bullying and social exclusion, usually beyond the sight of teachers and other concerned adults
  • excessive mobile communication and reliance on trending memes and emoji usurp the formation of effective, face to face communication skills
  • having a gaming and messaging machine always to hand creates massive potential for distraction from school work
  • students sometimes even use their smart devices to cheat on exams

Internet blocker solutions

Despite the pros outlined above, the cons leave us wanting to put some form of limitation on phone or screen time usage in our schools. Many schools ban mobile devices completely and there’s some evidence to suggest it’s an effective method. Given the constantly growing role of mobile phones in our lives though, many parents find this option too extreme. They don’t want to completely prohibit the use of mobile phones. Rather they want to encourage children to use them appropriately by fostering some form of “mobile etiquette”.

Polley’s plan consisted of several parts. The internet blocking technology she planned on using is illegal. She also mentioned improving the system wide filters being implemented on the school wifi though. It might be tempting to not allow wifi access to student devices at all. To do this though would be to ignore an essential control point and drive students to rely on 4G and other mobile internet, completely beyond the schools control. Effective wifi filters are an important, though not entirely fail proof tool in our efforts to place appropriate boundaries on student device use.

Effective monitoring and control of kids’ mobile phone usage is not just the task of schools though, but also of parents. That’s why many parents today are using parental control applications or app blockers like Kidslox. These allow them to effectively block their children’s internet access at times when they need to be focussing on other things. Whether that’s in the classroom, while doing homework or when they ought to be asleep.

The most important thing is that students need to know school is a safe place for them. They have to be able to come into school feeling supported and protected.

Should I let my child take their phone to school?

should we let our kids take their phone to school?It seems that the present generation of kids and teens can hardly imagine life without the internet and smartphones. This 2015 study showed that over 70% of American teens and kids owned or had easy access to a smartphone and about 2/3 had a tablet. And those trends have continued to rise.

And kids use their devices everywhere. We’ve already got used to it. In the bathroom, in the kitchen, at sports grounds…  school is no exception. But is it right to let my child take their phone to school?

How smartphones can help in class

Before we ask ourselves that question though, it would be good to think about what ways smartphones and tablets can be a helpful instrument in class:

  • The first and most obvious benefit of having a phone in school is the fact that you can contact your child at any time you need. Of course, a regular non-smartphone can serve this purpose just as well
  • A smartphone can be used to take notes and record lectures
  • A smartphone or tablet can be used as an organiser
  • Internet search can help to prepare a good report or allow students to check facts during class. Of course, whether or not this is appropriate will depend on the situation/class/teacher
  • Generally speaking, your child’s electronic device can be great study tool if you pre-install some helpful educational apps on it
  • On a more negative note, some argue that as so many kids Do bring smartphones to school, kids who don’t do so face a form of social discrimination and can wind up being left out of the group

What are the dangers of smartphones in school?

Some potential dangers of smartphones in school can include:

  • Using smartphones in class can distract children’s attention. Another (rather unsurprising) study shows that kids who surf the internet and answer messages during class earn worse grades on average compared with those who didn’t
  • Social media misuse can leave kids feeling that they’re missing out. It can even worsen their feeling of safety and have a negative impact on their relationships with their peers
  • While they’re at school, if you have no pre-set controls working on a device, you have no way of controlling the amount of time your kids spend on their device
  • Similar to the previous point, kids can potentially use school as an opportunity to access inappropriate content. Even if it’s something they wouldn’t usually do, they may even experience peer pressure to do this

What questions should I ask to help decide whether I should let my child take their phone to school?

Many schools already have some sort of “smartphone code” included in their charters so the dangers described above may not be such an issue for your kids. But if we want to completely protect our children, by not allowing them to take their smartphone to school, that decision is ours to make. Here are a few questions we can ask ourselves to ensure we make the right decision:

  • Is my child mature enough to have their own smartphone and to take it to school?
  • Can I protect my child from undesirable content and other network dangers? (Does the school have some sort of restrictions on its local network? Do I need to install a parental control app on my child’s device?)
  • Does my child understand some basic smartphone etiquette rules?
  • Do we have a relationship of trust that will enable us to talk about any issues that could arise out of having a smartphone at school? (bullying, fear of missing out, being distracted from work, sexting and other inappropriate phone use, etc.)

Do you allow your child to have a smartphone at school? What are the main reasons for your decision? Let us know in the comments section.

Traditional toys and books vs gadgets

Kidslox team believes that our future depends on using imagination. Motivating children to use imagination is a very responsible task for parents. Today we live in a digital world which steals our ability to develop the skills of daydreaming. Those black screens are only dictating their own rules which we used to observe. Gadgets for our kids are like bounded boxes with no access to the world of creativity and reality in general.

That’s the reason why we made our own experiment “Gadget or Toy?” Parents asked their minors to wait for them for 5 minutes in a separate room. We left a toy and a gadget on the table to choose from. Watch who wins! Modern children have a wide range of toys but they also grow up with gadgets beside them. Are you sure that your child is protected from the persuasive screen? The huge tech-companies do everything to grab children’s attention with smartphones or tablets. Kidslox parental control app in its turn does everything to ensure kids wellbeing.

“A toy should be 10 percent toy and 90 percent child”

– Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, a professor of psychology at Temple University.

Physical play and reading books encourage imagination and creativity. We’ve noticed this with our children as well, especially when they engage in an individual play. That’s when kids get a chance to figure things out on their own, without having the adults, or a smartphone/tablet, to tell them what to do. “Kids are born scientists. They are born curious about the world,”Neil deGrasse Tyson, a world-renowned cosmologist said about a child’s innate desire for exploration.

When they are staring at the screen, they don’t have the opportunity to explore the things around them. The animation or online game on the tablet will do all the work for the child’s brain – figuring out what you see or how to play is the only real task. When children interact with traditional toys or read an illustrated book, their brain works better. In this case, the increase of connectivity among all the networks of the brain has already been proved by scientists. Especially, if we talk about imagery.

A recent study shows that babies and toddlers addicted to touchscreen games may have lower verbal skills as compared with their toy peers. Moreover, teachers warn parents that being overexposed to iPads and other gadgets children lack the motor skills to perform simple tasks such as using building blocks. The UK Association of Teachers and Lecturers warn of kids’ excessive tablet usage “including possible withdrawal, loss of interest in or ‘crowding out’ other activities, lack of control, irritability, deception and furtiveness, poor performance, poor concentration and a loss of educational opportunities.”

Therefore, even the flashiest, the most interactive gadget is no replacement for playing and reading. And of course, it’s better when mom and dad can play with their kids and read them stories.

We followed up Neil Geiman’s idea of an obligation to imagine. He is a well-known English author of fiction. He gave the advice about how to see the importance of human’s daydreaming: Look around you: I mean it. Pause, for a moment and look around the room that you are in. I’m going to point out something so obvious that it tends to be forgotten. It’s this: that everything you can see, including the walls, was, at some point, imagined. Someone decided it was easier to sit on a chair than on the ground and imagined the chair. Someone had to imagine a way that I could talk to you in London right now without us all getting rained on. This room and the things in it, and all the other things in this building, this city, exist because, over and over and over, people imagined things.”

How chid’s brain works for creativity

Everything changes when we experiment with things and realize that things can be different. Everything changes when we read because books can show us a different world. It can take your child somewhere they have never been. Books teach us to be different people and live different lives and stories. Fairy tales and fiction are for building child’s empathy and escapism. They are about freedom of ideas and information, about education, about communication, and entertainment. And what gadgets are for? They are mainly for entertainment.

However, these days parents have a lot of options when it comes to reading a story for a kid. They can read an illustrated book, play an audiobook, put on a cartoon, or even ask Alexa. Kidslox wants to tell parents about the Dr. John Hutton’s study, which explains what may be happening inside your children’s brains in each of those situations. He is a researcher and pediatrician at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. He had an idea to realize what brain networks were likely to be influenced by the story: language, visual perception, visual imagery and the default mode network – “how something matters to you.” So, Hutton read three versions of the story (audio only, the illustrated pages with a voiceover, and an animated cartoon) to 27 children around the age 4. While kids paid attention to the stories, the MRI machine scanned for activation within certain brain networks, and connectivity among them. Here’s what the research found:

  • The only-audio condition was “too cold”: language networks were activated, but there was less connectivity between all the networks.
  • The animation condition was “too hot”: the audio and visual perception networks showed a lot of activity, but not a lot of connectivity among the various brain networks. “The cartoon was doing all the work for the child,” – Dr. John Hutton explained. The kid’s comprehension of the story was the worst in this condition.
  •  The illustrated storybook was “just right”: it increased connectivity between all the networks they were looking at: visual perception, imagery, language and default mode.

“When we read to our children, they are doing more work than meets an eye. It’s a muscle they are developing bringing to life in their minds”

– Dr. John Hutton claims.

Parents have an obligation to read aloud to the children. Besides, adults should teach the kids to read for pleasure. Use reading-aloud time, as the time when no phones are being checked, when the distractions of the world are put aside. Your dialogue reading with a child is the most effective thing you can do. The emotional bonding and physical closeness are always missing during any study. Learn, play and exercise the imagination and creativity together.

On the importance of playing together with your child

playing together with your child

We live in the technologically advanced, futuristic age of our own childhood dreamings. The world our kids will live in is going to look even more like a sci-fi film and technology will be integrated with almost every aspect of their lives.

That comes with a lot of great upsides, but as almost every sci-fi film explores, it also comes with dangers. Both obvious and unexpected.

Individual play vs relationship building play

Today I want to think a bit about play and especially about the importance of parent / child play time. Looking around me I see that screen based play has come to take a very large place in our kids lives. It’s not bad in and of itself, in fact it’s often a very healthy and positive activity. But we see more and more that screen time has an ability to displace other activities from our kids’ lives, including relationship building.

Classical child raising systems and theories didn’t really provide for the possibility that kids might choose to spend a big portion of their life in the imaginary world created by computer games and online videos and neglect other important areas of their development.

Perhaps the easiest sounding step towards solving this problem is that we need to start playing together with our children and having meaningful family time. But as always, it’s much easier to say than to do. So how do we help them make this transition from solely computer game based fun to something a bit more real?

Why computer games?

To start off, it might help to think about why kids choose computer games over other activities:

  • Children find a large amount of freedom in computer games. Freedom that in most cases is not available to them in real life. Inside games the complex and largely unvoiced social rules which govern most of their life are replaced with simple, quickly learnable game rules which the child can manipulate for a quick reward. Within the game they are an active agent of their own success, outside the game they might feel themselves an unwilling or unwitting pawn to rules they don’t understand. This illusion of reality management can be a really powerful motive for playing computer games.
  • Games stimulate kids’ imagination by involving them in new, bright and active worlds. That’s one of the reasons why children (and (let’s not fool ourselves) adults too) can spend many hours playing on their computer or phone without noticing how much time has passed. 
  • Many things which are relatively complicated in the real world are quite easy to do while playing a game. Gaining proficiency in some skill, (especially a skill that their parents don’t have) can be a big motivator.
  • Most games are designed to have an addictive quality to them. From daily log-in prizes and a misleading sense of early mastery to catchy, earworm background tunes and regular updates or expansions, game developers understand how to make games that draw people in for long periods of time and have them coming back on a regular basis.
  • The lead characters of many games are very attractive to kids. Whether their main appeal lies in humour, cuteness, coolness or any other aspect of their design, it’s no surprise to me that even playing make believe, away from the screen, children often choose to play the part of computer game characters.

From virtual to real world fun

Having thought about what makes computer games attractive to our kids, (maybe you thought of a few more reasons your kids engage well with computer games – let me know in the comments below) now it’s time to try and find ways to transition them across to some real world games.

The freedom and control element I mentioned above is a very attractive part of computer games. Kids often have a competitive edge. They’re looking for opportunities to expand their capabilities, establish their space and to improve their status. Inside a game they have a great chance to become a winner.

My son, like many of his peers, likes to play different combat games on his computer or tablet. He likes to master (through his game alter-ego) different karate kicks or sword techniques. I take this as a source of inspiration and from time to time we play some real “combat” games using wooden swords to fence or setting up battle scenarios with his toys.

I also mentioned the role of imagination and the attractiveness of game characters. Imagination is one of the keys to success in creating an attractive and compelling real world game environment. My son is a big fan of superheroes, so we incorporate them into a wide range of activities. Whether it’s playing with Lego figures or pretending to be superheroes ourselves. We discuss our names, what super powers we have and what our weak spots may be. We even make temporary superhero costumes from old clothes.

More tips for parents

Sometimes we feel that our ability to entertain our kids is limited by something beyond our control. We don’t have the time right now. We don’t have the money right now. It might be true, but don’t let it stop you!

I remember a time when I couldn’t easily find money for a cinema or arcade trip, but wanted to treat my son to some quality time “out and about”. So we went to a big shopping mall and went up and down the escalators making faces and doing other funny things. Then I made a race for him in a shopping cart and we watched and laughed at some advertisements being shown on a big screen. I spent a little money on a juice box and chocolate bar and somehow, we’d had an amazing afternoon of father and son bonding. We remind each other of those times to this day.

I tell this story just to illustrate that even if you think there’s some obstacle to you engaging with your kids, with some creative effort on your part, those obstacles can be overcome.

Of course, you can even can play computer games together with your child. Whilst it might not be your traditional way of understanding parent/child bonding time, it can still be really valuable. Any sort of communal play is an important type of family time. You may even enjoy it!

If a child lacks deep friendships or significant relationships, computers can easily come to take this role in their life. This is a real problem for many in the present, digital era. Build these relationships now, in part by playing games together with your child. Now’s your chance.

 

Distracted parenting

distracted parenting blocks relationship with children
Being a parent is not an easy task. We know that. We’re not expecting it to be easy. I don’t think it’s meant to be easy. But sometimes, especially as young parents, we feel overwhelmed with the child raising routine and look for some relief. And checking your mail, reading some stories on Facebook or just texting friends are all ways that we like to take a break.

Distracted parenting

But this simple solution can cause another problem. We talk a lot about screen time for children and parental control solutions but we shouldn’t forget the other side of the coin: “distracted parenting”. Quite often we parents pay more attention to our own electronic devices than to our children! Whether we’re at the playground looking at our phones while the children play or we’re actually doing something together with them and then stop to write an sms, the effect is always a negative one.

One survey (made a couple of years ago now) showed that almost a third of children “feel unimportant” when their parents are distracted by phones or other electronic gadgets. They also felt that their parents check their devices too often and mostly their parents agreed with that assessment.

Is technology to blame?

It’s not only the technology that’s at fault. What we call distracted parenting has been around since long before the rise of technology. We’ve all had days when we’ve forgotten to pick up the kids from school or we became so engaged in a conversation that we didn’t notice them wander off. What’s especially dangerous about technology though, is that it gives us so many more opportunities to be distracted. Especially if we feel compelled to check every incoming notification.

Distraction as stress relief

I mentioned that parenting can be very stressful. And that we often use our iPhones and tablets to escape this stress. But by responding to the phone call or automatically checking our mail when we’re focussed on our child, we immediately break the connection with them (often at the most critical moment). When we recognise this, it can cause even more stress and emotional tension. We can wind up being so conflicted and guilt ridden about how our own habits affect our kids. We can’t let this happen.

Balancing modern life realities with child development needs

We want to be a good role model for our children. We understand that children need their parents’ attention and that small talk about school, childish questions about the way things are and all other manner of small moments together add up to create a healthy childhood. Perhaps we’re even aware of how our kids’ concentration levels and brain development depend on some level, on their interaction with us, their parents.

How then, can we balance this deep need of our children to have our attention with the similarly constant demand for attention that comes from our devices? I suspect it’s beyond easy for you to say what’s more important to you, your child or your Facebook profile and yet somehow our children are coming away thinking they get 2nd place. The problem of distracted parenting reveals that we need to learn how to control our own screen time and not just that of our kids.

Be intentional about it. Decide to give your child your full attention when you’re together and to check your messages during appropriate pauses or at the very least to say to them “it’s time for mummy to check her messages now” rather than phasing out and suddenly ignoring them. If you find it challenging and sometimes slip up, don’t beat yourself up about it! We all have these moments, especially when we’re trying to take on such an all pervasive problem as screen distraction. If you catch yourself in the act of ignoring your child for the sake of your phone, apologise then and there. If you only realise after the fact, note what happened, think through what you would have liked to have done so that you’re ready to react differently next time and carry on with your day.

What tips and tricks have you tried to stop your devices interfering with your relationship with your kids? Let us know in the comments below.

The influence of in-app ads and TV commercials on our kids

in-app ads and tv commercials

Our kids are growing up in the digital era, in a world filled with all sorts of different information channels. This naturally affects the way in which they develop and the way we evaluate their maturity. Now, as well as traditional development landmarks like ‘he’s walking’ or ‘she started to speak’, we use new ones: ‘she can already to turn on the tablet’ and ‘he knows how to switch TV channels’.

Of course, when they turn the tablet on, they soon come into contact with in-app ads. TV commercials seem to become a larger and larger portion of our screen time. We may not realise it, but our kids are one of the target audiences for many TV and in-app ads.

Easy catch for in-app ads and commercials

Kids don’t understand that one of the main purposes of app ads and TV commercials is to get access to their parents’ pockets. They’re willing to watch them again and again even when they don’t fully understand the message.

Somehow, endlessly repeated TV commercial clips or in-app purchase suggestions seem to be not as annoying to kids and teens as they are to us adults. Moreover, at some point these ads start to influence the formation of their views and opinions. Most kids absorb it like a sponge and it makes them stay at the screen longer and longer. We’ve written before how screen time can affect kids’ health and learning skills.

Ads as a cultural pillar

Recently I heard my son’s classmates enthusiastically discussing the features of a new game app. After a while I realised that the app had not yet even been released! Their debate over the game’s quality and playability was informed solely by a teaser trailer advertisement.

TV commercials and movie trailers have long held an influential role in our culture. With the rise of video sharing platforms that let you watch the same ad. many times over and apps which put adverts right into our hands, ads have become a formative part of our kids’ subculture. If you didn’t see the most recent ads, you’ll have less in common with and less to discuss with your peers. This could potentially affect your acceptance by the group.

Is it that bad?

Maybe it’s not all that bad. Connecting with others over a movie trailer or game ad is still connecting with others. At the same time, ads are fundamentally a sales tool, designed to get you to spend money. Kids are even more susceptible to them than the rest of us. There’s a reason there are rules in many countries governing what advertisers are allowed to do when it comes to marketing to kids.

It’s pretty hard to avoid ads altogether though. They do keep kids informed on current trends. They may even help develop memory (how many commercial jingles can your kids recite?). Of course, given the content and aim of the adverts, you might consider such memory formation to be something more sinister than celebration worthy. What can we do to make sure our kids lives and opinions aren’t completely directed by the ads they watch?

The parental role

As parents we have a number of responsibilities when it comes to in-app ads and TV commercials.

  1. First of all, we can limit our kids’ screen time to make sure that they receive a healthy balance of other social inputs and more physical activity.
  2. Secondly, we can monitor the apps they use and the channels they watch to ensure that they are not being inundated with advertising and to check that the advertising they Do see is age appropriate. High quality apps tend not to include in-app ads.
  3. Improve the quality of their screen time by discussing what they’ve watched or played with them afterwards.
  4. Most importantly, we need to make sure our kids are media savvy. Advertising is everywhere. From billboards, to TV shows and from T-shirts to Google. Even if we’re good at regulating screen time, at some point our kids need to learn how to discern what the advertisers in their life are up to. Why are they being shown this? What does the advertiser want from them? Is there a hidden advertisement in a seemingly ad free show or article? How are they being manipulated?

With these bases covered, we can help our kids to understand their world, think freely, acquire priorities we approve of and generally make better decisions.

Selfie addiction: is that even real? Making sense of selfie culture

 

With the mushrooming influence of social media on people’s minds, selfies have become a huge part of modern culture. New selfies hit Instagram at a rate of 100 a second. From a simple self-portrait selfies have transformed into a whole culture. Yet many are critical of this trend, saying it promotes self obsession, unhealthy attitudes towards self perception and is especially attractive to young people. Chasing ‘likes’ can quickly become a danger signal, so where’s the borderline between a harmful ‘selfie addiction’ and a natural desire to participate in a defining cultural movement and to capture moments of your day to share with others?

Positive perspectives on selfie culture

Taking selfies is often motivated by a desire to present oneself in a certain way. The number of ‘likes’ a given photo gathers is an easily measurable metric, which of course becomes problematic when people start using it as a metric of their own popularity and even likability. But selfie taking couldn’t have become the cultural phenomenon it has without having some genuine value that people are keen to join in with.

First of all, posting aspirational selfies boosts self-esteem, confidence, and appreciation as well as develops the ability to visualize the desired effect. In such a way, children consciously choose their own projection on a social platform. Comments and likes provide approval and recognition. Still, teens are not afraid of their imperfection (in case it is a natural non-filtered image) taking real-to-life pictures with no concerns.

Another positive aspect is that selfie is viewed as a form of self-expression. Besides traditional drawing, dancing, sewing etc. modern visual world enforces new ways of self-presentation. Teens find selfie to be a natural and effective way of self-expression in terms of visual context.

Additionally, picture taking teaches kids to be creative, to exercise their skills as a photographer, choosing the best perspectives and filters. For many it’s a motivating and fun pastime developing hidden talents.

Negative implications

The reverse side of the coin is that selfie culture teaches children to concentrate on themselves while ignoring the needs of others. A child who is constantly praised can become preoccupied with themselves and forget about the existence of other people in the world. Self-obsession is fertile ground for narcissism that kills empathy. Thus, we might get the generation of egoists who totally don’t care about people surrounding them.

While approval and acceptance tend to increase child’s self-esteem, the lack of online praise can undermine young person’s self-confidence. If they don’t receive the expected number of likes and comments, they may feel unhappy or even depressed about that.

Another danger lies in the fact that social media push teenagers to snap perfect shots of themselves. So young people sometimes just can’t stop taking numerous selfies. Psychologists claim such obsession can transform into selfie addiction for those who already have specific psychological disorders. The latest example is a 22-year-old guy who takes about two hundred photos of himself every day. He spends hours deliberately brushing up, chooses the right time to post pictures, and if they don’t gather enough likes, he removes the snap.

Unfortunately, not all people who surf the Internet mean well. Online bullies and predators are no longer unusual. So an innocent selfie on social media can provoke ugly comments by haters. Or at the worst, a child might become a target for perverts who can blackmail them. Young guys don’t think about the exposed background of their pictures that might include personal details of their life. Abusers are likely to analyze such information and be aware of teens’ daily schedule and whereabouts. Further actions of cheaters are hardly predictable.

Selfie addiction and social media

The overwhelming majority of modern teenagers use social media to gain approval of others. Additionally, Facebook and Instagram are platforms where we give the first impression to others so teens tend to work up a good reputation. By focusing on external aspects of life such as a trendy outfit or a new lipstick young people keep themselves from real relations and friendship. So surprisingly social media prevent people from actual socializing.

Another aspect of social media influence is that image-centric platforms like Instagram might cause depression. The reason for that is the constant urge for users to compare themselves and others. In order to create a perfect profile, teens post only the most amiable selfies, depicting happy moments only and creating the illusion of a happy-go-lucky life. Still, young people forget this imaginary life is not real and the constant comparison drives them crazy. Receiving a proper number of likes within a certain period is the difference between success or failure for teenagers.

Hints for parents

In most cases, selfies are no more than teenage fun and they don’t imply any danger. If you see your child is over-concerned with selfie-taking and it affects their self-esteem and mood, consider starting a conversation about that.

Teach your children that selfies and the feedback they get about them shouldn’t affect their self-esteem in any way. There’s no point in comparing themselves and others as nobody’s perfect and all people have bad days sometimes.

Make sure your offspring doesn’t overuse exposing personal life on self-portraits.
Encourage teens to post pictures they really like to be seen by anybody and they don’t feel shame to show them to mum or granny.

Overall, encourage young people to develop their real not virtual identity and put less significance to their online profile. In such a way selfie addiction won’t absorb them and have a negative impact.

 

Child obesity and technology: research

Childhood obesity currently affects around 17% of kids in the United States and continues to increase each year. Generally speaking, obesity is the result of a disbalance between caloric intake and energy expenditure. Obesity in childhood is likely to have negative consequences in adult life, including a higher risk of developing diabetes, heart disease, insulin resistance, certain cancers, and more.

A variety of factors contribute to obesity among children, including parental behavior, media influence, and socioeconomic factors. Multiple studies have demonstrated that a sedentary lifestyle, such as watching TV and playing video games, is a major contributor to obesity in both children and adults.

National guidelines recommend that children engage in a minimum of an hour of moderate physical activity every day, yet studies show that only 21% meet these requirements. Instead, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation study, in the US, children aged 8-18 spend an average of 44.5 hours a week exposed to electronic media. This means children spend more time hooked into media than with any other activity aside from sleep. It follows then that there is a direct correlation between child obesity and technology overuse.

Q: How does screen time influence the different areas of my child’s life?

A: You might be surprised but your child’s well-being and health are influenced in a number of ways by being attached to electronic media. Excessive screen time can lead to increased body weight and diminished: academic performance, homework completion, reading, metabolism, physical exercises, sleep duration, family time, playing with friends.

Links between child obesity and technology

Numerous mechanisms link the effects of electronic screen exposure and obesity. Substitution of physical activity for technology, increased energy consumption from eating while looking at screens, the impact of advertising, and decreased sleep levels, are among the factors.

Energy intake

There’s a lot of evidence to suggest that the influence of screen media on energy intake is the key mechanism connecting child obesity and technology overuse. Epidemiologic studies indicate that kids who are more exposed to screen media tend to eat fewer fruits and vegetables but consume more high-fat snacks, soda, and fast food. As a result, they have a higher energy intake.

It should be noted that the junk food business is really big. Just imagine: Americans spend over $110 billion annually on fast food which is more than the investment in higher education, cars, and computers put together. Experimental studies show that longer screen time brings on increased energy intake in youth with a healthy weight. The other way around, screen time diminish results in the decrease of dietary intake.

Advertising

Food advertising is also associated with excess energy consumption. Over 80% of all ads in children’s programmes are for snacks or fast food. According to the Federal Trade Commission, in 2009, US food and beverage corporations spent over $4.2 billion on advertising in all media. Research reveals that food ads undermine children’s food preference and food ration.

Current technology allows advertisers to reach kids and teens via various online techniques. Thus, websites of top food brands have advergames (games that are used to push the product), cartoon characters, and an allocated children’s area.

Relevant research findings indicate that advertisement is an effective tool to get younger children to ask more junk food and to affect their parents. Perhaps the most vivid illustration of the marketing power is the following fact: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation spend $100 million per year in the attempt to diminish childhood obesity while the food companies spend far more than that every month on junk food marketing to the young generation which has an adverse effect on the young generation’s health.

Sleep

Sleep deprivation is another mechanism connecting digital screens and obesity. The latest review of the literature concerning sleep and screen time connection discover that more than 90% of the studies show a strong link between screen time and bad sleep which is usually measured by later bedtimes and less sleep time. Inadequate sleep has been related to weight gain in children, especially those aged between 3 and 7. Thus, a longitudinal study of teenagers in New York revealed that 3 or more hours of daily screen exposure doubled the risk of falling asleep issues in comparison with those who had less than 1 hour of screen per day.

The cause-and-effect relationship might be as follows: sleep problems provoke change in the appetite-regulating hormones increasing hunger and decreasing satiety; little sleep duration can impact child’s choice to consume more calories and less nutritionally-dense foods; short sleep can result in increased snacking and eating food outside regular meal times, especially at night.

Physical activity

It is often assumed that digital media replaces time of physical activity. And a number of studies favor this assumption. In particular, the findings of the Capstone project supports the idea that a sedentary lifestyle and excessive exposure to screen time are associated with weight gain and obesity in children and teenagers. On top of it, the evidence revealed the prevalence proportion of childhood obesity increases with higher amounts of screen time due to decreased levels of physical activity.

Research findings show that physical activity is a principal component in diminishing sedentary behaviors among teens. Also, studies suggest a strong inverse relationship between physical activities and obesity. Intense physical activity has a greater influence on obesity than low and moderate levels of physical exercises. Increasing physical activity, decreasing screen time, and enhancing eating habits have been shown to prevent the risk of obesity, or even decrease existing obesity as well.

How to use Kidslox screen time to help prevent obesity?

The European Academy of Paediatrics and the European Childhood Obesity Group have worked out the following recommendations for parents concerning the use of mass media:

  • Do not allow kids under 4 years unsupervised use of any digital devices
  • Be aware of the content children consume and block the inappropriate one
  • Watch favorite programmes together and learn your child to question media messages

Screen time rules

The American Academy of Pediatrics insists on the following:

  • No screen time for children aged two years and younger
  • No more than one hour of screen time daily for children 3 to 12 years old
  • Restrict computer and mobile device usage in a child’s room
  • Do not permit a TV in a child’s room
  • Do not allow digital media use during meal times and homework
  • Encourage physical activities
  • Regularly eat family meals
  • Set a regular bedtime for your kid
  • Be a good example to follow for your child
  • Set limits

How to use Kidslox to help prevent obesity?

Kidslox parental control might be a perfect solution to help prevent obesity in your child. With its help, parents can benefit from limiting kid’s technology use and therefore promote active past time. Above that, you may prevent exposure to undesired content and schedule device usage. Take your rightful place as your child’s leader by taking actions that restrict screen time and prevent negative implications of obesity. Use Kidslox for managing your child’s screen time and protect their health.

 

 

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