"Media and digital devices are an integral part of our world today. The benefits of these devices, if used moderately and appropriately, can be great. But, research has shown that face-to-face time with family, friends, and teachers plays a pivotal and even more important role in promoting children's learning and healthy development. Keep the face-to-face up front, and don't let it get lost behind a stream of media and tech."
Treat media as you would any other environment in your child's life. The same parenting guidelines apply in both real and virtual environments, including setting limits and ensuring safety.
Make your own family media use plan. Media should work for you and within your family values and parenting style. When used thoughtfully and appropriately, media can enhance daily life. But when used inappropriately or without thought, media can displace many important activities such as face-to-face interaction, family-time, outdoor-play, exercise, unplugged downtime and sleep. Make your plan at https://www.healthychildren.org/MediaUsePlan.
Treat media as you would any other environment in your child's life. The same parenting guidelines apply in both real and virtual environments. Set limits; kids need and expect them. Know your children's friends, both online and off. Know what platforms, software, and apps your children are using, what sites they are visiting on the web, and what they are doing online.
Set limits and encourage playtime. Media use, like all other activities, should have reasonable limits. Unstructured and offline play stimulates creativity. Make unplugged playtime a daily priority, especially for very young children.
Screen time shouldn't always be alone time. Co-view, co-play and co-engage with your children when they are using screens—it encourages social interactions, bonding, and learning. Play a video game with your kids. It's a good way to demonstrate good sportsmanship and gaming etiquette. Watch a show with them; you will have the opportunity to introduce and share your own life experiences and perspectives—and guidance. Don't just monitor them online—interact with them, so you can understand what they are doing and be a part of it.
Be a good role model. Teach and model kindness and good manners online. Because children are great mimics, limit your own media use. In fact, you'll be more available for and connected with your children if you're interacting, hugging and playing with them rather than simply staring at a screen.
Know the value of face-to-face communication. Very young children learn best through two-way communication. Engaging in back-and-forth "talk time" is critical for language development. Conversations can be face-to-face or, if necessary, by video chat with a traveling parent or far-away grandparent. Research has shown that it's that "back-and-forth conversation" that improves language skills—much more so than "passive" listening or one-way interaction with a screen.
Limit digital media for your youngest family members. Avoid digital media for toddlers younger than 18 to 24 months other than video chatting. For children 18 to 24 months, watch digital media with them because they learn from watching and talking with you. Limit screen use for preschool children, ages 2 to 5, to just 1 hour a day of high-quality programing. Co-viewing is best when possible and for young children. They learn best when they are re-taught in the real world what they just learned through a screen. So, if Ernie just taught the letter D, you can reiterate this later when you are having dinner or spending time with your child. See See Healthy Digital Media Use Habits for Babies, Toddlers & Preschoolers.
Create tech-free zones. Keep family mealtimes, other family and social gatherings, and children's bedrooms screen free. Turn off televisions that you aren't watching, because background TV can get in the way of face-to-face time with kids. Recharge devices overnight—outside your child's bedroom to help him or her avoid the temptation to use them when they should be sleeping. These changes encourage more family time, healthier eating habits, and better sleep.
Don't use technology as an emotional pacifier. Media can be very effective in keeping kids calm and quiet, but it should not be the only way they learn to calm down. Children need to be taught how to identify and handle strong emotions, come up with activities to manage boredom, or calm down through breathing, talking about ways to solve the problem, and finding other strategies for channeling emotions.
Apps for kids – do YOUR homework. More than 80,000 apps are labeled as educational, but little research has demonstrated their actual quality. Products pitched as "interactive" should require more than "pushing and swiping." Look to organizations like Common Sense Media for reviews about age-appropriate apps, games and programs to guide you in making the best choices for your children.
It's OK for your teen to be online. Online relationships are part of typical adolescent development. Social media can support teens as they explore and discover more about themselves and their place in the grown-up world. Just be sure your teen is behaving appropriately in both the real and online worlds. Many teens need to be reminded that a platform's privacy settings do not make things actually "private" and that images, thoughts, and behaviors teens share online will instantly become a part of their digital footprint indefinitely. Keep lines of communication open and let them know you're there if they have questions or concerns.
Warn children about the importance of privacy and the dangers of predators and sexting. Teens need to know that once content is shared with others, they will not be able to delete or remove it completely, and includes texting of inappropriate pictures. They may also not know about or choose not to use privacy settings, and they need to be warned that sex offenders often use social networking, chat rooms, e-mail, and online gaming to contact and exploit children.
Remember: Kids will be kids. Kids will make mistakes using media. Try to handle errors with empathy and turn a mistake into a teachable moment. But some indiscretions, such as sexting, bullying, or posting self-harm images, may be a red flag that hints at trouble ahead. Parents must observe carefully their children's behaviors and, if needed, enlist supportive professional help, including the family pediatrician.
Teaching Your Child About Smart Tech Use
Power of Words
This video is a great way to start a discussion with your kids on the power of their words in the digital world. There may not be a face to the username on the screen, but there's a person behind it who can be just as impacted by words as if they were said in person.
Typically when I talk to kids and ask them what kind of shows they like to watch they answer with some YouTube star that I have never heard of. Kids love YouTube - so what do you need to know as a parent/guardian to help your kids safe online and set healthy boundaries?
First, it's good to know that the rating on YouTube is 13+ so although YouTube has certain filters, the content is not screened for anyone younger that that. It's important to note that what the site considers age-appropriate may not match your values. The website Common Sense Media offers a range of information on YouTube. One article, Parents' Ultimate Guide to YouTube offers answers to some of parents' frequently asked questions like: "How can I find out what my kid has been watching on YouTube?" "How can I minimize my kids' exposure to iffy videos on YouTube?" "Are there any parental controls on YouTube?" You can read the full article here.
If you find that YouTube is not the right fit based on your child's age, there is also a YouTube Kids option. Common Sense Media has another great article entitled Parents' Ultimate Guide to YouTube Kids. YouTube Kids may be a better option, but also note that it is not free from flaws and still requires some parent monitoring. For the full article, click here.
Social Media Use
How old should my child be before I allow them to use social media?
This Family Zone article sat down with three social media experts and here's what they said:
This is Facebook’s required minimum age by law. However ‘It's difficult to prescribe a precise age limit as kids need to have social and emotional skills to cope with the demands of social media. For some kids, this is 13 years and for other kids it may be 15 years."
Instagram 13+ possibly 16+
Two of the experts suggested age 13, however they strongly urge parents to monitor their kids use of Instagram given the amount of inappropriate content available. Parents need to ‘help their children understand that their identity and sense of worth is NOT determined by the number of likes, comments and shares’. One expert suggested 16+ ‘As the app contains a lot of pornography that kids shouldn’t be able to look at and after discussing it with [Senior students I work with], they agreed.'
The minimum age depends on each child’s level of maturity ‘Adolescents' brains are wired to be impulsive. Their prefrontal cortex which is the part of the brain responsible to managing their impulses isn't fully developed until early 20s for females and late 20s for males.’ One expert suggested this age limit 'due to the security risks, anonymity, Geotagging issues and graphic content. Adult content posted as stories such as relationships etc’.
Apps that should be banned for use by young people
The cyber experts have also outlined a few apps that are very popular amongst kids and teens, which they believe should be banned entirely for kids 17 and under;
Yellow - Similar to Tinder, except aimed at teens
Omegle - Graphic live webcam chat
Sarahah - Can be used for anonymous bullying
Whisper - Inappropriate content
Live.ly - Live video content with minimal censoring
Conversation starters to help determine if your kids are ready for social media
‘Do you know what the app is used for?’
‘How do you plan to use it?’
‘What sort of things will you post on the app?’
If they display a lack of understanding around what the apps are used for, or are vague when discussing how they’ll use the app then it is fair to say they aren’t ready for it. Family Zone's Cyber Experts strongly urge parents to research an app before allowing kids to use it.