American youths never have known a world without the internet, without desktops and laptops and without tablets and cell phones. While advancements in technology have enhanced the academic experience, making learning easier, more immersive and a maybe a little fun, they also come with downsides. One of them is the fact that access to countless Web sites, multiple social-media platforms and at-home and mobile electronic devices is addictive.
Parents are the first line of defense against bad habits and behaviors in their children, including spending all day and all night staring at their screens.
“It’s no secret that kids love electronic devices,” states a Consumer Reports article titled “How to Use the Parental Controls on a Smartphone.” “Whether they’re playing games, texting friends, or checking out the latest viral video, they’re constantly connected, leaving parents with the unenviable task of setting limits on device use to protect their children from inappropriate content and excessive screen time.”
The goal is reducing the amount of hours tweens and teens get lost in the digital domain. It will be a challenge but not as hard as one might think.
“There are simple ways to limit screen time and purchases, control access to the content your child views, monitor your child’s activities, and preserve family privacy,” according to the Consumer Reports article. “You just have to locate and activate those features.”
Free apps are available for both Android and Apple devices. Google’s free app for Android and Apple’s free app for iPads and iPhones give parents the power to control and manage usage.
“There are a lot of free options you can use to keep an eye on your kids online,” Consumer Reports technology editor Melanie Pinola said. “With Google Family Link and a Google account you set up for your kids, you can do anything from monitoring their app usage to seeing where they are on a map.”
Additional controls enable parents to restrict certain apps from being accessed by their children. Also, YouTube offers a program specifically for the age-12-and-younger set that preselects appropriate videos for that audience. And YouTube launched YouTube Kids, yet another option.
“For parents, the first step in limiting their children’s screen time is to apply the tech version of the golden rule: Model good behavior,” according to another Consumer Reports article titled “How to Limit Your Kid’s Screen Time.” “According to a report from Common Sense Media, a nonprofit group that works on technology issues, many parents set a bad example. They average 9 hours per day in front of screens, with only about 90 minutes of that time dedicated to productive work.”
As if the detachment, distraction and physical inactivity associated with too much of an online presence are not enough, there is the risk of serious impacts on childhood health. Top on the list are type 2 diabetes and obesity. To avoid all that, experts suggest making rules and sticking to them.
“The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends setting hours-per-day limits for kids; the organization offers a media time calculator to help you determine appropriate limits, taking into account a child’s age, sleep habits, and other activities,” according to Consumer Reports. “This classic advice is as useful as ever: Keep computers and game consoles in a communal space such as a family room. And at dinnertime, or on a phone-free Friday, force everyone – including adults – to “check” their phones into a drawer or box.”
Kim Moldofsky, who runs a Web site called The Maker Mom, said another idea to help cut back on screen time is to provide alternatives.
“I fall on the side of trying to immerse kids in real life as much as possible,” Moldofsky told Consumer Reports. “If you see your kids spending too much time glued to the screen, a long-term solution is to sign them up for a soccer league. In the short term, you can insist that the dog needs a walk.”
Other serious impacts on childhood health are attention-deficit disorder and speech delays.
“One of the major skills children learn as they grow is how to communicate with others,” Children’s Health states in an article titled “How and why you should limit screen time for kids.” “As adults, we take for granted our ability to speak and communicate. Children’s brains are working hard to develop these complicated skills. The brain is wired to learn language from actively listening to adults (which doesn’t happen when the child is focused on a screen) and engaging in in-person interactions and conversations.”
Here are some recommendations on striking a balance between the real and virtual realms.
- Clearly explain the rules to children.
- Emphasize why the rules are important.
- Be consistent with the rules. In other words, if there is a babysitter, make sure he or she enforces the rules while the parents are out.
- The method of reward and punishment can be applied to managing screen time. For example, a child can be rewarded with 30 minutes extra screen time for doing a chore at home or earning an A in school. Conversely, screen time can be taken away if a child fights with a sibling or does not complete homework.
Alice Ann Holland, Children’s Health’s research director of neuropsychology, concludes, “Once screens become inevitable, you have to retain the parent role and remember that screens are a privilege for a child, not a right.”
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