Reducing screen time: How to “get your ‘no’ on”!

One thing you can rely on in life is articles and ‘news reports’ about how kids today have too much ‘screen time’. ‘Health experts’ have been decrying the amount of screen time kids have since I was a kid myself. Everything from obesity to sleeplessness to anti-social behaviour gets blamed on kids spending too long in front of a screen. Sensationalism sells, and so the media talk about kids’ ‘screen time’ as if it’s a train running out of control or as some sort of monster that is devouring our children’s lives and all we can do is sit hopelessly by and watch in horror.

Beyond the hysteria, there is a simple fact in play. There are people in control of how much screen time our children have – us! And there is a simple solution to cutting back the amount of screen time our children have: parents, get your ‘no’ on!

Back in 2007,  the National Australian Children’s Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey found that the top 10 barriers to children changing their behaviours around screen use all related back to parents. Either there was a lack of willingness to restrict their children, a lack of ability to enforce boundaries, or poor screen habits themselves that exacerbated the problem in the first place.

So in reality, its not the kids we’re bemoaning when we see these stories in the media on screen time, its the parents.

So how do we change this? It’s both harder and easier than you think.

1. Set ground rules in advance.

Don’t make up and enforce rules on the run. Many parents haven’t thought about how much screen time they’re happy for their children to have each day, they simply get to a point where they decide enough is enough and tell their child to ‘get off that thing’. Having no warning leads to the child being upset or angry and they may try to avoid or delay what they have been told to do. This sets up repetitive negative experiences around device use and to parents ‘hating that thing’. Instead of this, decide together what is a reasonable amount of screen time each day, and how that should be enforced. Health authorities in both Australia and the U.S agree that no more than 2 hours per day for children is best.

2. Take time to ask about what your child is watching or doing online.

‘Screen time’ is such a broad term it has become unhelpful. ‘Screen time’ could be doing homework, reading an e-book, creating a book or artwork, finding out how to do something, socialising with friends, playing a game or watching a TV show or movie. Most often, tweens and teens are using internet devices to communicate with their friends. Having no understanding of what your child is doing on the device they are using can potentially lead to parents making decisions about usage that are un-sensitive to what their child is up to and so perceived to be ‘unfair’. For example, if your teen is having an ‘important’ conversation online, forcing them off the device at that particular time would be  the equivalent of your parents coming past and hanging up the phone mid-conversation when you were a teenager.  Having an understanding of what your children are up to will give you a better guide when setting ground rules about device rules with them. It also contributes  to creating a positive relationship around device use, rather than repetitive negative encounters.

3. No means no. Do what you have to do to enforce it.

Electronic devices can be ‘addictive’, and children can be very persistent when it comes to trying to sneak more use after you’ve forbidden it.  I’ve known parents to switch the home WiFi off, lock up iPads in filing cabinets, or confiscate devices after a certain time each day. Do whatever you need to do to enforce the boundaries. Saying ‘no’ and then letting it happen anyway is the worst thing you can do whether its to do with device use or anything else, as you are letting your authority as the parent erode away.

4. Use technology to help you.

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This might sound counter intuitive, but its a great idea. Recently I was sent a product called ‘Parent Box’ (parentbox.com.auby a reader of this blog. This device plugs into your family internet connection and allows you to set controls on each device in your house individually. You can set up limits on downloads and time spent on the internet for each of your children, and once these limits are reached the internet is simply shut off for their device. It also enables you to easily see which devices are accessing the internet and what times they are accessing it.

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Letting technology take over the enforcing of rules that you have set with your children beforehand can cut out the arguing. Managing internet time becomes black and white and not an issue that you are always trying to enforce and being the ‘bad cop’ about. An added benefit is that your children can log in to see a dashboard showing them how much of their downloads they have used for that day or how much time they have left to use the device. This gives them more of a feeling of control over their own behaviour, rather than the uncertainty of mum or dad telling them ‘time’s up’ seemingly out of the blue.

5. Finally, the most often broken rule of all: NEVER LET DEVICES INTO BEDROOMS.

We see it time and time again and it is where almost all ‘bad things’ online happen. Parents often say ‘but my child is a good kid, he wouldn’t do anything bad’. It’s not about whether they’re good or not, it’s about keeping them safe. The safety of letting a child play unattended near water has nothing to do with how ‘good’ they are, and neither does use of electronic devices in bedrooms.

Whatever strategies you use, know that it will require constant vigilance and the continual need to reinforce the boundaries that have been agreed on. There is no one saying this area of parenting is easy. It’s anything but! There will be some really tough times, and other times when you feel you are ‘winning’. But remember, you’re in charge and in control.

‘Screen time’ has a boss: you!

 

“What is ‘The Cloud’?”

the-cloudRecently, a parent from another school leaned across to me, and in a very hushed tone so that no one else would hear, said: “When people talk about ‘the cloud’, they’re not talking about a real cloud….are they?”

The ‘cloud’ has become such a popular term so quickly that it has suddenly become one of those things people are too embarrassed to admit they don’t really understand. But if you’re one of those people, don’t worry: it’s not a term that is commonly properly understood. So what does it actually refer to?

When computers first came on the scene they were completely individual devices. That is, everything a computer needed in order to operate was stored on its hard drive. If you saved something on one computer (perhaps a Word Perfect document, or the level you got to on your ‘Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego’ game) you couldn’t access it on another, because it was stored on that original computer’s hard drive.

This was very limiting, especially in schools and businesses. Until someone came up with the bright idea of joining computers up into a ‘network’. In a networked environment (like most people would have at work or in schools), you log in to any computer on that network and it brings up all your documents, applications and settings just how you left them. That is because all the computers in that building are joined together via cables to a central computer called a server. All your documents are actually stored on the hard drive of that central computer (server), not the individual computer you are working on.

Servers grew bigger and bigger, and the technicians required to maintain them became more and more expensive. At the same time, the internet took off. The internet connected all the computers in the world in a similar way to how we were already connecting all the computers within a building.  As internet connections became faster and faster, it became possible to begin to store things on servers that weren’t in the same building as you were. This was great, because it meant you could access those things from any computer or device, at home or at work. It also meant businesses could ‘out source’ their server needs and save all the money that would be spent trying to maintain all that data themselves.

This came to be known as ‘the cloud’, because people collectively imagined that the documents, music and photos they saved went ‘up into the air somewhere’. In reality, when you are using a cloud service, your data is actually going across cables laid deep under the sea and being stored in a ‘server farm’, which, depending on the service you are using, is most likely located somewhere on the west coast of America.

Lots of ‘cloud storage’ options have sprung up in recent years. Apple has ‘iCloud’. Google has ‘Google Drive’. Microsoft has ‘Sky Drive’. Yahoo has ‘Flikr’. And then there’s independent companies such as ‘Dropbox’ and ‘Evernote’ which are also hugely popular.

What 'the cloud' really looks like - inside one of Google's 'server farms'

What ‘the cloud’ really looks like – inside one of Google’s ‘server farms’

With the advent of small and highly mobile devices, such as smart phones and tablets, the ‘cloud’ has become more important than ever. Whether you know it or not, if you own one of these devices, you are using some sort of cloud service. That’s generally not something to worry about, but it is always good to inform yourself about exactly what you are signing up to when you buy a device or sign up to a service. If you have an Android device, you have data stored on Google’s servers somewhere. If you have an Apple device, you will have data stored on Apple’s servers. If you are on a social network of some sort, you are also using cloud servers. Every photo you upload to Facebook for example, is stored on their servers.

Each company has different agreements that you sign that deal with privacy and who owns the data in slightly different ways. Do you know if Facebook owns the rights to the photos you upload, or do you maintain ownership? I encourage you to find out!

At Kalinda, our students have Google Drive accounts that are managed by the school through a service called ‘Google Apps for Education’. This gives each of our students 40Gb of storage, and most importantly, the data remains private and highly secure, the school retains all rights to the data, and all accounts, passwords and settings are managed on site by myself and our computer technician.

So hopefully, now when someone mentions ‘the cloud’, you can nod your head knowingly and understand exactly what they are talking about – even if they don’t!