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.

ParentBox-System-Unit_150x100b

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!

 

Facebook ‘dead and buried’ with teens (or, why ‘spying on’ or ‘friending’ your child online is not the answer)

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Early 90s ‘Air Jordans’

In the mid-90s, sports shoe makers had a big problem. For years, sneakers had been their biggest sellers, with models such as Nike’s ‘Air Jordan’ and Reebok’s ‘Pump’ being wildly popular with teenagers, not just for playing sport, but as a fashion statement as well. But all of a sudden, kids stopped buying them. Shoes that were only very recently highly desired items for teenagers became fashion poison, almost overnight.

So what happened? In short, sneakers became so popular that even parents started going out and buying them.  And once parents started wearing them, that was the end of them being ‘cool’. If mum and dad are wearing a pair of Nikes down to the shops, their kids hardly want to be seen in the same.

Within months, 'Vans' were the coolest thing on the block

Within months, ‘Vans’ were the coolest thing on the block

This situation brought on the rise of the ‘skate shoe’. Skate shoes had existed for years, but their popularity had been limited to the skateboarding community (hence the name), and therefore were seen as ‘alternative’, and so were perfectly placed to become the next ‘cool’ thing for teenagers. Within a matter of months, ‘Vans’ had replaced ‘Nike’ as the shoe to be seen in.

So why are we talking about shoes when this is meant to be a post about Facebook? Put simply: all this is exactly what appears to be happening to Facebook.

The recent Global Social Media Impact Study in Europe observed those aged 16 to 18 in eight countries for 15 months and found Facebook use was in sharp decline.  It claimed that Facebook was “not just on the slide, it is basically dead and buried” and that young people now see the site as “uncool”, mainly because, you guessed it, their parents and older relatives are now using it.

Professor Daniel Miller of University College London said, “Where once parents worried about their children joining Facebook, the children now say it is their family that insists they stay there to post about their lives. Parents have worked out how to use the site and see it as a way for the family to remain connected. In response, the young are moving on to cooler things.”

This study has since been challenged by those producing data that shows the majority of young people still have active Facebook accounts. That may be true, but the people arguing this are missing perhaps the most important point of what this report found. And its particularly important for parents.

The study did not say that young people weren’t using Facebook at all. If found that it was being used very differently by teenagers to how it was a few years ago. Facebook is now used by teenagers as a way to stay in touch with older members of their family or siblings or friends that were overseas, rather than a platform to engage in social interaction with their mates.

In other words, just like with shoes, parents are ‘onto’ Facebook, and so their kids are ‘onto’ the next thing. And just like with shoes, the next thing has already taken over.

In our next post, we’ll look at some of the ‘next things’, such as Instagram and Snapchat. In the meantime, the important point to note out of all of this is that ‘friending’ your child on Facebook does not mean you know what they ‘get up to online’.

I’ve had many parents, when I’ve been discussing cybersafety, say confidently that they either ‘spy’ on their child’s Facebook account or make their child ‘friend’ them, and therefore they know everything they are doing and saying online. Unfortunately, this couldn’t be further from the truth. In most cases, parents haven’t even heard of the social networks their children are ‘really’ using. In other cases, they may have discovered the ‘next thing’, but are are being duped by ‘fake’ accounts that their child has set up. Last year, in a survey of our year 5 and 6 students, we found that not only were a large number of them using the photo sharing site Instagram, but that many had more than one account. Not surprisingly, this second (or even third!) account was news to their parents.

Like all the posts on this blog, this one is not designed to shock or scare, but merely to ensure parents are informed and are putting into place effective strategies to help keep their children safe, not falling into the trap of thinking that ‘spying on’ or ‘friending’ their child is the answer.

Because just like in the fashion world, when parents ‘arrive’, kids quickly move onto something else!

 

 

Water and Technology don’t go together. Or do they?

Parenting with technology is hard and it’s a new frontier. It’s not something we can really ask our own parents for advice on because it hasn’t existed before in the same pervasive way it does today. Therefore I find it can help to relate it to something we do know about and which we may be more confident with in our parenting.

The most helpful metaphor I’ve found is probably water safety. There are many similarities between what you do as a parent to ensure your child is safe around water and what you can be doing as a parent to ensure your child grows up being safe online.

  • Education starts from as young as possible with the parent and child in the water together.

It’s generally accepted by both water safety experts and technology experts that starting education at the earliest age possible is beneficial. We want to ‘normalise’ the experience of being in water for very young children so that they are familiar with it and see it as a positive thing. We also want them to know as early as possible what to do if they happen to accidentally find themselves in trouble in the water so they can take measures to return themselves to safety.

Online safety is no different. The strategy of trying to restrict your child from using any technology until they are much older is as silly as trying to avoid water for their entire childhood. In fact, even sillier, as at least pools have fences around them.

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We wouldn’t even consider banning children from using swimming pools until they’re ‘old enough’

pool 2

Shared experiences from the earliest age is the best policy

Having said that, you would never just throw your child into a pool unsupervised. Technology is no different. It’s important to be ‘present’ with your child as they begin to use technology, just like being in the water with your toddler for their first swimming lessons. You need to guide them and begin to show them at the earliest of ages how to use a device in a safe and responsible way, and also what to do if they find themselves in a tricky or uncomfortable situation.

It is now common place for children from about 18 months to be using their parents’ smart phones and tablets, but not as common for parents to be actively monitoring this or guiding their child through the use of the device. Kids are often left to their own exploration with the benefit to the parent that it is keeping the child occupied in a waiting room or during a dinner outing.

This is the very first point at which a child’s use of technology starts to become somewhat of a mystery to the parent. If parents of toddlers don’t know exactly what their child is ‘getting up to’ on an electronic device, imagine what the state of play will be by the time that child is 12 years old.

  • Never leave a child unattended near water.

Once again, you’d never leave your child alone near water, and the same should apply with technology. It should be used only in common areas where you can monitor what is happening regularly. Kids with technology in bedrooms is never safe. It’s not about how responsible your child is or isn’t. Children cannot always know the full consequences of what they are doing online. They need guidance and consistent monitoring in order to be safe.

  • Seek advice on whether a body of water is safe before you let your children swim in it.

We drill our kids to only swim between the flags at the beach. This is not only because that is where the beach is being monitored by Life Savers, but also because you know that section of the ocean has been declared the safest place to swim by an expert that has come to the beach before you and checked everything out. Once again, online safety is no different. If you’re not sure whether a particular program is safe for your child to be using, then do the necessary checks to ensure it is.  Don’t know anything about Minecraft? Look it up. Read about it. Talk to your child about it. Sit with your child as they use it and get them to explain to you what they are doing. Play it yourself! Do everything you can to be as informed as possible about what your children are doing online. It’s not always easy, especially if you are not naturally ‘tech savvy’, but it is extremely important.  Some people I talk to are very proud of the fact that they are not using programs such as Facebook as they consider them to be ‘stupid’ and a ‘waste of time’. That’s fine as a personal opinion. But if your child is using it, you need to sign up straight away and get to know what it’s all about.

  • Water can be dangerous, but swimming in it isn’t a ‘bad’ thing to let your child do

There is a stigma around children and technology use that can negatively impact on our effectiveness as parents. Parents can feel bad about letting their children play on a device because they have some idea that it’s ‘not good for them’. This often doesn’t change the fact that their child uses the device regularly. Being almost in denial of the fact that technology use is happening in the first place can mean that you haven’t properly planned out your parenting strategy, let alone the related safety concepts you want to teach your children.

Technology is not a bad thing, and it in fact can be a very positive and educational thing for children to be using, as long as it’s age appropriate, in moderation and with the right supervision. Accept that technology will be part of your child’s everyday life and begin to plan in an active way to guide their use and educate them about it, just as you do with swimming.

Forming a positive relationship around technology with your child as early as possible, where you are actively involved and interested in what they are doing, will be the best thing to set you up to effectively support them during their teenage years.

Where to begin? 3 Key Tips to get started

As mentioned in the ‘About’ section, this blog aims to provide parents with information relating to cybersafety issues and ICT in general. In this post we will look at the issue of trying to keep up with and monitor what your children are up to online.

It is extremely important that parents monitor their children’s internet use, but also guide them in a positive and informed way about how to use it safely and responsibly. Easier said than done? Absolutely. But here are 3 points to follow that we can get you started on the journey:

  • Keep devices out of bedrooms. Ensure that your children only use internet enabled devices, such as iPods, phones and tablets in shared areas of the house. This benefits you in 2 ways:
    • it makes it easier for you to monitor what programs they are using and who they are communicating with
    • it ensures that children are not up late at night using the device when they should be sleeping. Our teachers often deal with incidents that happen between students on iPod Touches online late at night, when both sets of parents assumed their children were asleep. The other thing to bare in mind is that research is consistently showing that using a backlit device, such as an iPod Touch, close to bedtime inhibits the body’s ability to sleep, which in turn directly impacts the child’s ability to learn at school.
  • Agree on ground rules and set usage times in advance. Ensure that there is a clear understanding with your children about the periods of time in which they can use their devices. Agree as a family about the consequences of misuse. Allowing children to spend hours and hours on a device is not healthy. Suddenly telling your children they have to get off their devices or that they’re banned from them without warning can cause arguments and lead to children rightly or wrongly feeling they are being treated unfairly. The best method is to set usage times and ground rules in advance so that your children know they have a certain window of time on the device, and then when the time is up they will need to get off and do something else. They will also be clear on the behaviours expected of them while using the device.
  • Engage in ‘co-viewing’. From the earliest age, take an interest in what your children are doing online. Engage in positive talk about it, and also take the opportunities to educate them about potential traps or dangers, such as purchasing items or engaging in social chat within games. We always advise that Primary students are too young to be on social networks such as Facebook or Instagram. If you choose to allow your child to create an account on a social network, or in fact any age appropriate game or website, ensure you also sit with them to set the account up. Remember, you are as responsible for their safety online as you are in the real world. You wouldn’t throw them in a swimming pool without ensuring first that they had learnt to swim! The internet is exactly the same. Learn together how to make the account private, set a complex password that can’t be ‘guessed’ or ‘hacked’, turn off photo geo-location permissions that can track where your child is. If you don’t know how to do these things don’t allow your child to set up an account until you find out. A quick search on You Tube or Google will usually provide you with the information you need.Once the account is set up, regularly view the interactions on the social network or game with your child, rather than spying on them, as this allows you to share in what is happening and to guide them in a trusting and positive way.  This approach is also less likely to lead to children wanting to hide things from spying parents, or parents that they perceive as always being ‘negative’ about the technology, or who ‘just don’t get it’, as they get older. Building a positive relationship around technology use is incredibly important, because it means if something goes wrong down the line, your child is more likely to feel comfortable coming to talk to you about it rather than hiding it away.