By Tonya Graser Smith
Rumors of the Momo Challenge are making the rounds again – this time on YouTube Kids – and with them comes the need for parents to be vigilant regarding children’s screen time and use of technology. If you don’t know about the Momo Challenge, it’s a viral video that encourages children to harm themselves, and this TV news segment sums it up in under two minutes.
Kids and young adults ages 3-23 – Gen Z –are the first generation to have technology present from birth. They don’t know a world without a smart phone at their fingertips or the ability to “just Google” the answer. Likewise, Internet and screen-time safety are topics I frequently talk about with parents, one on one and in public presentations around Charlotte. Now is a good time to revisit the matter. Here are six tech rules every family should adopt.
1. For children, there’s no tech privacy within the family.
Children should not have passwords on their devices – or at least passwords that are unknown to their parents. There’s no private use of technology – TV shows, YouTube videos, social media and so on.
For younger kids, you have to watch their shows with them or be in the same room. For older kids, you might use apps like Screen Time or WeZift to monitor time spent on screens and programming consumed. For teens, regular, unannounced checks of their devices are a must.
2. Outside the family, tech privacy from your children is a must.
There’s no sharing of passwords with friends. Your kids aren’t to let friends text from their phones. Further, they must respect the privacy of others. One mistake – sharing a picture a friend who isn’t wearing clothes, for example – isn’t just stupid; in North Carolina it’s a crime called revenge porn, and kids and adults can be charged.
3. Establish tech time parameters and bedtime.
Devices like cell phones, iPads, laptops and video game controls are collected each evening and stored where the kids can’t get to them. They don’t need to know where they are. What kids do need is time for their brains to take a break from screens. They will sleep better and be better equipped to do well in school the next day.
You could consider having unplugged Saturdays weekly or monthly. On these days, the whole family goes without Facebook, texting and so on. And one of my favorites: If your child is having friends over, call it a no cell zone and collect phones at the door so they can … gasp, talk to one other face to face. (They will actually thank you in their own preteen/teen ways!)
4. Make technology a privilege not a right.
You’re the boss. Just because every other seventh grader has a cell phone, doesn’t mean yours is ready to have one. This goes within the family, too. A younger sibling might expect to get a phone at the same age as your older child, but if they aren’t ready to use it responsibly then it’s a no go.
Also, if your motivation for giving your child a phone is for your convenience – so they can call you when play practice is over or you can reach them when it’s time to come home from their friend’s house – know that they don’t have to have an iPhone X; a flip phone works just fine. Also, if you child doesn’t respond to your texts or answer when you call, it’s time for a cell phone timeout.
Lastly, remember phones don’t buy love. Parents, together, separated, or divorced, must be united on when cell phones are given.
5. Link physical activity to screen time
If your fifth grader is asking for more screen time than is allowed, you might consider it so long as they aren’t becoming a couch potato. An extra 30 minutes of TV or Minecraft is fine – after 30 Burpees or walking the dog. This way kids get much needed physical activity and a break from screens. The American Academy of Pediatrics makes recommendations for appropriate amounts of screen time based on the age of the child.
And if you model these habits of physical activity too, your kids will be even healthier for it. (Get off Facebook and go for a run!)
6. Create a technology emergency plan.
Start by making sure your kids have at least one family phone number committed to memory. Why? Because kids lose stuff, including phones. And let’s be real, sometimes adults lose stuff, too. Next up: You should absolutely have your child’s cell phone location settings set so that you know where they are – or are supposed to be – at all times.
Another idea is to show your children how to use their cell phones to get out of tricky situations. For example, agree on a password that when texted to you tells you your child is at a party that has gotten out of hand and needs a ride home immediately, no questions asked. You can show up and be the heavy and allow your child to save face – and stay safe.
When our children were born, we promised to protect them from all danger, and these days that includes keeping a close eye and firm grip on their technology. You won’t be able to keep up with all the ways technology changes or evolves, so keep in touch with other parents. What are they learning, hearing, doing when it comes to technology? How are they keeping on top of it all?
Also, many schools have tech talks; go to them. A great resource to build out your family technology plan can be found at healthychildren.org.
If nothing else, remember these two well-worn, but true phrases: Less is more. Better safe than sorry.