Before the global pandemic, many parents tried to limit their kids' screen time to the AAPA's recommendation of 0-2 hours per day, depending on the child's age.
And now, we find ourselves in truly extraordinary circumstances, in which screen time is literally our children's only way of connecting with their school and social lives. In many ways, it's a life line.
When combined with parents who are beyond overwhelmed, attempting to work from home, you've got a recipe for rampant unsupervised screen time and increased exposure to online dangers like bullying, sexting, and (gasp) pornography.
Here are some quick tips to keep everyone safe online:
1. Require your children to ask for permission before using a device.
Asking for permission reminds them that using devices is a privilege, and that it deserves a special kind of respect, according to Liz Kline of Common Sense Media.
2. Create rules about when and where your kids can use devices and apps.
Carve out time in the day that is dedicated to screen time and decide what websites and apps are permissible during those times. When considering locations for using devices, in general it's a good idea to keep them out of anyone's bedroom. It's best for kids to use them in shared spaces.
Tip: If you know you will not be able to supervise screen time (i.e. you're on a conference call or attempting to take a nap), opt for a show that you approve and take the remote control with you.
3. Have the talk. Today.
Kids need to know two main things about the internet:
First: Nothing. Is. Private. Everything they say or do can be etched into eternity. Their image can be screen-shotted during a private chat and shared with anyone. Consider getting specific about behaviors you do not want them engaging in, like taking other people's screenshots without their permission, or showing other kids their private parts.
Have them create usernames that don’t include their full names, and make sure they understand never to give out their home address or other personal details.
Second: Tone and messages are misinterpreted much more easily on the internet. They need to go above and beyond to be clear and kind. Show them some simple examples of how messages can be misinterpreted, and how the message could be interepreted and re-written to be more clear.
4. Consider a technology agreement for each child.
Common Sense Media offers a template for a technology agreement for older children. You can search for others online that fit your needs or create your own. It's a great way to get everyone on the same page about screen time expectations.
5. It might be time to talk about pornography.
“Conversations about pornography can and should start really early,” said Emily Rothman, Ph.D., a community health scientist at the Boston University School of Public Health, as reported by the New York Times. She recommends explaining to your kids that if they see naked pictures on the internet, those are not meant for kids. Ask them to tell you if they see it, and that you won't be mad and it doesn't mean they did anything wrong. Tell them you want to know so that you can make their computer safer so that it doesn't happen again.
What other recommendations would you add? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.