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!

 

Beyond Facebook – popular apps your tweens and teens now use Pt 2

In our last post we started looking at the top apps that tweens and teens are using for online social interaction now that all their parents are on Facebook. Last time we looked at iMessage and Kik, the two most popular instant messaging services of the moment. In this post we’ll take a closer look at photo sharing site ‘Instagram’, and the infamous exploding message provider ‘Snapchat’.

Instagram

InstagramInstagram is primarily a photo sharing site. Users can take a photo from within the app, apply one of many different filters to it, and then share it with their friends or the wider world. Instagram exploded in popularity a number of years ago on the back of the filters users could apply to their photos. Remember your old family photos from the 70s – square shaped and slightly faded? You can use the filters in Instagram to make your photos look like they’ve jumped right out of one of those old albums.  Or you can get very arty by applying the filters to enhance those ‘interesting’ shots you may have captured that you secretly think are quality art works. You can also put ‘hashtags’ on your photos so they can be found by other people that share your interests. For example, searching ‘#cats’ on Instagram will give you millions of photos of people’s cats.

Recently I had a friend travel over to the Winter Olympics in Sochi and send me some amazing images of what he was seeing and doing over there. The true power of social media apps like Instagram is that I can search ‘#Sochi’ and see photos not just from my friends, but from everyone who was at the Olympics using the app, including the athletes themselves.

It must be said though, ‘arty’ or ‘retro’ photos, or even searching up events by hashtags, are not really what our teens or tweens are up to on Instagram. Their world revolves around communicating via posting comments under the photos that are put up on the site. In this way, much like with the messaging apps in our last post, the original purpose of the app has been twisted by kids to the point where it has basically become a chat room facilitator.

Because the comments under the photos are the most important thing, anything and everything could be a subject for an Instagram photo. Photos can range from pics of pet cats and dogs, to ‘selfies’ – a term which describes a person trying to pose to look as good as possible while taking a picture of themselves. Once that photo is posted, the comments can begin. The comments that continue on under these photos become the social hub of the site. Its important to tweens and teens that photos get ‘liked’ or commented on by their ‘friends’ (or anyone else) and in fairly quick time. The more attention a post gets the better they feel. This is part of their social acceptance ritual. A little like when we were in Primary school and we dreaded being the last kid chosen by the captains picking out teams for footy at lunch time. You’ve nominated yourself for the game, if no one wants you on their team it’s an embarrassing experience.

Kids often use Instagram to ‘advertise’ their messaging usernames for more ‘private’ chats. They may post a ‘selfie’ and say ‘Kik me @___’ (see previous post about this) or something similar. Many kids are just keen for anyone to take notice and chat to them, which isn’t the safest state of affairs, particularly if their account isn’t set to private and each of their photos is geotagged so that everyone knows exactly where they are (see below).

Like most social media sites, things can get very nasty very quickly. We’ve seen groups of users gang up to single out and abuse a particular child. We’ve also seen more subtle negativity, such as ‘cooler’ kids placing comments that tell ‘less cool’ kids to stop commenting on their photos. This sort of snub in such a public space can be socially devastating.

More generally, I’ve found the language and subject matter on Instragram to be shocking to parents. It doesn’t matter how ‘cool’ or ‘hip’ a parent considers themselves, they are universally shocked and disgusted when I’ve shown them some of the conversations their child has taken part in or at the very least been a witness to.

As mentioned above, Instagram tags all your photos with geolocation information, which is really important to know about. This means that everyone can see exactly where and when each photo was taken. This is called ‘geotagging’, and there is a post dedicated just to that topic here.

Instagram states that it is restricted to children over the age of 13.

Snapchat

Snapchat is a messasnap chatging site with a key difference which has made it hugely popular with kids. When sending a message or photo to someone on Snapchat, you can choose how long the message exists once they receive it. A bit like the old ‘self-destructing message’ in the Mission Impossible series, the person you send the message to will only have it in front of them for the amount of time you set, and then it will explode in front of them.

In an age where kids are becoming all to aware that what they post online can stay there and haunt them forever after, Snapchat must feel like a great alternative to kids where the user is in control of who can see what they post and how long they can see it for. Or so it seems.

Sending exploding messages is fun, so that kids at about a year 5 or 6 age often refer to it as ‘playing on Snapchat’. However, the false security of a message that explodes in between 1 and 10 seconds has meant that the app has become the forum for many ‘dare’ related games, or pictures/text being sent that otherwise wouldn’t. And in the end, the user that receives the picture can screen shot it on their phone, or take a picture of their screen with another device, and therefore have the picture in their possession long after it explodes.

Snapchat will often be used with another app. For example, two kids may carry a conversation on using iMessage, and at the same time be sending photos via Snapchat. One might say to the other ‘I dare you to write “I love Dave” on your hand and take a photo’. Innocent and childish enough, although we’ve seen dares very quickly move to things like a boy saying to a girl ‘I dare you to take your top off and sit there for 5 minutes and send photos as proof’. These type of dares have led to parents of children involving the police, and when this happens anyone in possession of these types of photos can be charged with child pornography offenses.

Unfortunately these types of events are not rare, in fact, quite the opposite.

Snapchat is another app that specifically states that it is only for users 13 or over and we strongly recommend that parents of our students at Kalinda prohibit its use.

Beyond Facebook – popular apps your tweens and teens now use Pt 1

In our last post we looked at how teens were deserting Facebook for other apps that were ‘cooler’, or, more specifically, parent free. With most parents on Facebook now, it is no place for kids to carry out their social interactions. They maintain a presence on the site, but use other apps and services when interacting with friends.

What follows is part 1 of a 2 part post which aims to give a brief overview of the apps we have observed are most popular among our students in grade 5 and 6 right now. The information following aims merely to help parents understand what these programs are, what they do, and the potential issues that may come up.

Kik and iMessage

These instant messaging services are highly popular for teenagers and also in Primary schools for students as young as grade 3.

imessage-logo

iMessage is only available on Apple devices. Surveys we conducted at Kalinda before our 1:1 iPad program began found that up to 90% of students grade 4 and above owned an Apple device, usually an iPod touch or iPad. iMessage comes free with these products. iMessage is basically SMS, with the key difference being that you don’t need a phone account for it to work. As long as you have Wifi connection you can send as many messages as you like and it will never show on your phone bill. iMessage is quick and easy, making it great to quickly get in touch with your friends. Conversations can sometimes start on iMessage and spread to other apps, for example, one child might ask the other: “What to play on Snapchat?” (an app we will cover in our next post). iMessage can be turned off in the Settings on your ‘iDevice’.

KIK

Kik Messenger is available on both Apple and Android devices, and needs to be downloaded from the relevant app store (iTunes or Google Play). This is a key difference as it means you can message anyone with the app, not just friends with an Apple device.

Conversations that start on more public social media sites might cross over to Kik, when users decide they don’t want so public an audience for what they are saying. Kids will often advertise their Kik username on social media sites, such as Instagram, with the words ‘Kik me @…..’ (inserting their username), meaning ‘message me’. Being so open about their username allows almost anyone to contact them, which quickly makes a ‘private’ messaging service anything but.

One thing that parents often don’t understand is the nature of the messaging that happens on apps such as these. Parents (as a general age group) tend to most commonly message one person at a time, and this is usually done when you have something specific to tell that person. My wife messages me to say ‘bring milk and bread home’ etc. Tweens and teens message multiple people at once, and do so regularly, whether they have something specific to say or not.  This means you can have any number of people involved in a message exchange unsupervised by adults that has no guiding purpose to it. In our experience this is a recipe for disaster and very frequently ends in tears or worse. We’ve found that students can quickly find themselves involved in conversations with friends that have invited friends who have then invited their friends. Pretty soon they may be talking to 18 different people and only know 3 or 4 of them. Therefore, you might consider these apps more like chat room facilitators than private message services.

The nature of this type of group messaging is that conversations can quickly spiral out of control as things are said that children don’t know how to handle. If someone is mean to someone else in an online group situation, it can be a very distressing experience for the victim. Unfortunately group mentality can often kick in, with others in the group jumping on the wagon of giving the victim a hard time, and those that may have usually stepped in to stop the mean statements in a ‘real life’ setting staying quiet because they’re not too sure how to respond. To exacerbate matters, children are often unsure how to ‘leave’ a chat that may be making them uncomfortable, with all messages still popping up as notifications on their device long after they wanted to leave the conversation.

As you may be gathering, even though many parents have expressed to us that they see message services as harmless, unfortunately the practical result of children messaging anyone and everyone without adult knowledge is generally negative, and teachers very regularly have to pick up the emotional pieces as students return to school the next day.

Kik recently raised the minimum user age from 13 to 17 years of age. As we’ve said often, it is our recommendation that Primary aged students should NOT be using apps such as this, and that parents should reinforce to their children the age requirements and have a conversation about why those restrictions may be in place. It might be helpful to relate it to other ‘real world’ things, such as drinking alcohol, or driving a car. These activities aren’t bad in themselves, but society has imposed an age limit because people under that age may not have the capacity to deal with the potential situations/dangers that may arise when doing them.

When it comes to these type of social apps, as parents we walk a difficult line between protecting our children from harmful situations and isolating them socially. For example, if all your child’s friends are conducting most of their social interactions on iMessage, then a simple ban on using the app will cause your child to feel isolated and cut off from what is going on, which may have negative consequences for them socially and be emotionally distressing for them in itself.

Once again, there is no substitute for a good relationship with your child, and regular ‘co-viewing’ sessions. If you build up trust with your child, then hopefully they are happy to sit with you and discuss the types of conversations that are going on online, both positive and negative, and you can guide them in how they navigate their own course through the different situations that arise. Begin with allowing your child to look through your own online interactions with you (as long as they’re appropriate) from a junior Primary age, and as they grow older they will have learned lots about how what people say online reflects on people’s perceptions of them as a person, as well as how it impacts the people they post it to.
NEXT WEEK: Part 2 – Instagram and Snapchat

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

air-jordan-5-v-retro-fire-red-white-black-fire-red-1

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!

 

 

Sharing Photos Online

In our last post we looked at Geotagging and the importance of making sure when you post photos online you are not inadvertently sharing a whole lot more information about yourself than you might have realized.

This week I wanted to continue the theme of sharing photos online because it is now the most common thing that children and young adults do on social networks. There are a lot of factors to consider before sharing a photo, or even sending it to just one other person.

One important point for our children to realize is that as soon as they send a photo to even one other person, the choice about whether that item stays ‘private’ or not is no longer only with them. The privacy of the picture is now also dependent upon the person you sent that picture to. Effectively, as soon as you send a photo to anyone, it is out of your control what happens to it.

That’s why considering a whole range of factors before you share a photo, either with one person or one hundred, is very important.

The poster below is a great guide for older students (and parents) to help them make considered and informed decisions before sharing any photos online, particularly those that include other people. It comes to us from ‘Common Sense Media’.

Geotagging – What it is and why it’s important for every parent to know about

Geotagging refers to the information that a ‘smart device’ such as a phone, tablet or digital camera stores each time you take a photo or video.

We all need to be aware that whenever we take a photograph or video, information such as our geographical location, date and time, and the camera settings we used, is almost always embedded in the digital files of that photograph or video.

This identification data is usually stored as ‘metadata’ in what is called an EXIF file, as part of your digital photograph.

This is a great feature, because instead of having to label every photo with where and when it was taken, it’s all done automatically for you. With software like iPhoto, you can even view all your photos on a map of the world, seeing all your travels in a brilliantly visual way.

So what’s the problem?

When people share photos online, they often don’t fully understand all the information they’re potentially sharing.

Sharing photos online has exploded in popularity over the last couple of years. Social network sites such as Facebook and Instagram make it really easy to upload photos and share them with friends. Young people today share their photos frequently and almost automatically, on any number of social networks.

On most Instagram accounts for example, a stranger can pull up a map and see the exact location, date and time of every photo that the Instagram user has posted. That would mean that complete strangers can get a very clear picture of their lives. The information could show them where the child goes to school, where they live, where they play sport on the weekend, when and where they go on holidays, where their friend’s house is etc etc.

As always, if you are informed about the problem, you can take measures to be safe:

  • If you allow your children to have any sort of social network account where they share photos, ensure that you make them aware of the information that is potentially attached to the photos they are sharing.
  • Investigate with your child the policy of the social network they use in regards to geotagging. At the time of writing, Facebook strips the EXIF data from uploaded photos and gives people the option of turning on or off geotagging when users make a post. Instagram automatically stores the data and makes it available to any user. Go into the settings of the account and turn this feature off.
  • There should be a settings option on every phone and tablet device that allows you to turn off geotagging of photos taken with that device. (On an iPhone or iPad go to ‘Settings’, ‘General’, ‘Location Services’)
  • Ensure any social network account that you set up is set to ‘Private’
  • Discuss with your child the importance of not ‘friending’ people they don’t know. Doing this negates any safety gained from making an account private. We have had students in Level 4 with over 1000 ‘friends’ on Instagram!

Once again, Kalinda recommends that parents follow the legal age guidelines of social network sites and not allow children under 13 to be using them. It is a lack of understanding around issues such as this that can be potentially dangerous for them.