By guest author Jenny Fremlin, PhD, Media Psychology
As a parent and media psychology researcher, I am often asked about the technology rules in my home. Sometimes my daughter’s friends aren’t too happy after their parents talk to me and suddenly the online restrictions from my home are implemented at their own. I do have rules to make life a little easier and a little more balanced, but here’s the kicker: There’s not a 100% tech solution for parents, the hard part is that you have to be involved. Pay attention. Know what they are talking about and listen.
That said, here are the best ways I’ve found to use technology to simplify media use. Kid tested, mother approved.
Trick #1: Automate limits. We all know sitting at a screen all day is unhealthy, yet time flies. How do you know when to stop? It’s easy to set a time limit for gaming, videos, or specific platforms. It’s harder to enforce it. I use the Disney Circle to limit what I have to do – not what my kid can do. The limit was there before, but this device takes away the nagging. There’s no more talk about how long an app or a device has been used, there is a record of the time and it shuts off the internet. I use the Circle because too often I lost track of time! And then it was like, oh no you’ve been on waaaaay too long. But it also monitors MY use and lets me know what I use, when, and for how long. And as parents, I think it’s important to aim to do what we say is best.
I see it as a side benefit that the Circle has some restriction settings and monitors use by device and individual. But don’t think you can set it and forget it. If the recent YouTube problems show us anything it’s that algorithms aren’t the best curators of safe content for kids.
Trick #2: Dive in. Monitoring use is the easy part. Bopping to their favorite music and listening to sales pitches that come from the YouTube “influencers” is the hard part. (At least without swearing.) Because it is all a pitch, whether it’s for toys or DIY, it’s important for parents to understand that the content kids are watching is big business. And then you need to explain that influence in a way that doesn’t insult the person your child watches and loves, because fandom and the relationships we build with people we watch are real even when they are one sided. Those relationships CAN have a positive influence, you just have to get the right ones. These shows and the people in them are shaping kids through relationships. So as a parent, dive in. Ask about what they watch on their shows, what they like most about it. If those questions are too boring to get responses, ask something fun and more specific. What shows make you laugh the most? What’s the weirdest thing you learned from a show? Tell me more about it. Maybe even ask them to show you their favorites.
Trick #3: Bedtime for screens. Create a screen bedtime that is two hours before actual bedtime. That’s the amount of time pediatric research has shown makes a difference in how fast a child can fall asleep to get quality sleep for healthy development. I can tell you from personal experience that when I let my guard down and extend the bedtime by even 30 minutes, I regret it when real bedtime rolls around and sleep just isn’t happening easily.
This is another feature on the Circle, it can turn off all internet access at a specific time for each person. We use it as a timer in our home. The tech limitation is that the device itself still works, but if you go into it with the mindset that it is letting you know time is up then it’s easier to set the device down too.
You can turn off the screen two hours before bedtime so sleeping is easier and cut down app and internet use and record the history – but that doesn’t change the influence of what they see, hear and FEEL when they are using it. Those restrictions do make a difference, but they aren’t everything. They help you as the parent, not the child. The end goal is for kids to learn why the restrictions exist and think critically about what they watch so they become their own best advisor on what they do with the information they take in.