As one of my top five most popular posts of all time, I'm reposting this at the start of Summer 2018 with some updates:
- Be proactive. Begin talking to your kids now at the start of the summer about your expectations, hopes, and your own struggles. Check out these parent-child media agreements from Common Sense Media as a starting point. Print one off and add your own rules on the back and discuss consequences, too. A smartphone with an internet connection is a privilege, not a right. You can turn off the internet by using Restrictions to remove access or apps for a while if necessary, but still let your child have a phone for contacting you when needed.
- Limit access to adult content and violent video games. Summer often means less parental supervision. Turn on free restrictions in the settings on a smartphone to reduce the availability of porn sites, inappropriate content, naughty and nasty age 17+ apps. Do the same for your home wifi, too, using a free tool like Open DNS. You can't cut off all access to bad content, but certainly can make it less likely to be seen. Talk openly about why you're doing this, too, explaining why it's important to avoid this content, and do the same for yourself. Encourage your child to stay out of violent video games, too.
- Take advantage of tools to help you monitor the time you and your child spend on devices. On an smartphone, you can simply go to Settings>Battery and tap the clock to view the number of minutes per day/week spent in each app. Set goals for reducing times if necessary. If you want a more advanced tool, check out Curbi, which lets you set time limits and create automated rules, remotely toggle the internet on/off on your child's phone, and see what apps are in use.
- Summer doesn't have to be tech free. Entertainment on a screen in moderation isn't bad. Just don't let it be a huge part of your day. Decide what an appropriate amount is for you and your child and try to stick to these guidelines. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends two hours of entertainment screen time per day for kids over age two. Watch movies and play video games with your kids. Common Sense Media has great questions for parent child discussion about most movies, apps, and video games. Have them show you what their friends are up to on social media and talk about it.
- Help your child create a positive digital presence. Talk about how your kids represent themselves online and how it will affect their future. Discuss what is OK to photograph and video. Talk through what is OK to share through Snapchats, text, and social media. Nothing is temporary with technology, and anything can easily be stored, re-shared, or screen shots taken. Help your kids T.H.I.N.K. before they post and digitize things Grandma would be comfortable viewing.
- Boredom is OK. Help your child learn it's not necessary to always be entertained, watching YouTube, playing video games, surfing the internet, or checking social media to see what others are doing—joy can even be found when missing out. Model this as a parent when you have downtime, too! Get creative and find ways to occupy your time without technology. Encourage physical activity, being outside, reading a book, and playing a board game.
- Go off the grid occasionally. Plug your phone in to charge and leave it leashed. Don't take it with you, go do something with your child, and don't post about it on social media. Show children that the time you spend with them is important, doesn't have to be shared with anyone else, and doesn't require likes and comments from others for validation or affirmation. Talk about this with your child, even if this is a struggle for you. Try spending an hour, part of a day or even going longer without technology.
- Practice being present. Limit distractions when technology is present (three ways to do this) and be where your feet are. Establish tech free zones like the dinner table, car rides, and on family outings. Friends are especially important to teens, so talk through and agree to boundaries and expectations for vacations, such as allowing an hour of social media/gaming each evening to maintain those connections yet prevent constant distraction and interruption, texting and SnapChatting during the day.
- Trust your kids and gradually give them more freedom as they show responsibility. Check in with them and discuss how they are using technology and social media. Let them carry their technology with them and practice not constantly checking it. Turn off notifications and help them not to get caught in the trap of using their phone as a pocket slot machine. When your kids make mistakes use them as teachable moments rather than having super harsh consequences. Don't snoop or spy unless your child is really struggling, having behavior problems or mental health issues--and if they are, don't go it alone--seek out professional counseling.
- Talk with other adults about helping kids have a healthy balance with technology. Compare notes with other parents and share successes and struggles. Even though your child may tell you that everyone has an iPhone, Snapchat, and uses Instagram by fifth grade, you will find that's not the case. Many parents don't give kids smartphones in elementary school, many parents keep devices out of kids' bedrooms overnight, and many parents hold off on allowing social media until middle school or later.
Now take action! If you made it through reading all ten tips, great, but don’t stop! Do something when you finish this article. Learn more by looking through the links below. Subscribe to Common Sense Media's parent newsletter. Remember, you are the parent and can set the rules. Research shows that the most stable adults had parents who set limits and said no to some things when they were kids.
- Five Ways to Raise Digitally Balanced JOMO (Joy of Missing Out) Kids in a FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) World
- District Digital Citizenship Committee: Tonka Schools Campaign to Raise Awareness of Cyber Safety at Home