Online Safety and Screen Time Limits for Kids
Summer is here, school is out, and that means your kids should be outside enjoying the sunshine, swimming in the pool, or taking part in your library’s summer reading program. For kids the prospect of these activities may or may not be as exciting as the idea of watching hours of TV or playing video and computer games. It’s important, however, to put limits on children’s screen time, just as you put on sunblock to prevent sunburn; overexposure can be dangerous. We have some tips on how to impose those limits and foster safe, beneficial media time.
K9 Web Protection is a free security software for home computers that blocks inappropriate and unsafe content, as well as allows parents to set restrictions on individual or groups of websites and the times of day when the Internet can be accessed. Though not an antivirus program, it does block malware and phishing sites. Activity logs allow the administrator to review browsing history, and its tamper-free structure prevents savvy children from altering protection settings. Downloads for iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch are also available. For more information, visit the website here.
Modeling and Instilling Good Technology Habits:
Set a good example. Children model the behavior of their parents, so if you expect them to limit screen time and find other creative activities to do, don’t use all of your spare moments to text, play games on the phone or computer, or watch hours of TV. Set times to put technology aside and give your full attention to your family, maybe one whole day a week and during mealtimes. You might be pleasantly surprised by the deeper conversations you have or new things you find to do.
The screen time that is allotted for shows, films, games, and research can be categorized as pure entertainment, educational, and/or inspiring creativity. Encourage media that requires thoughtful interaction, such as spelling games or artistic programs over mindless button-pushing. Do some research and steer your children to new sites based on their interests, talents, and areas needing improvement. Be willing to play along and use your own imagination.
Keep the computer and TV in a common area (not in a child’s bedroom) to maintain informal monitoring and create an open atmosphere where the family discusses and shares the content they access, both negative and positive. Explain the harmful effects of malware or inappropriate sites so they learn to use their own judgment and self-control in online behavior.
As children grow older and expect or require less monitoring, parents should continue to foster that open atmosphere so teens feel they can talk to you about exciting new friends or sites as well as any uncomfortable online encounters, particularly if they feel bullied or otherwise at risk.
Limit multitasking. Though it can be a preferred skill in the workplace, multitasking can actually hinder attention span, productivity, and work quality of kids. When it’s homework or reading time, the TV should be off, texting put on hold, and Internet browsing used only for research relevant to the task at hand. Their minds better absorb and retain information when not distracted by varied demands on their attention, such as the continuous play of video or back-and-forth reply required in texting.
Remember that before e-books and video games there were hardcover books and board games. If you can access information or participate in activities outside of virtual space, do so! Check out library books, play with a deck of cards, build a fort, or visit a planetarium or museum. Use online information as a supplement to engaging activities, not a replacement for them.
(Basis for discussion of screen time limits on WEEU radio broadcast 6/13/13)
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