Many parents are concerned about digital safety and too much screen time and social media while schools and summer camps are shut down. “Stay at home” orders and recommendations to “socially distance” are forcing many families to suddenly rely on the Internet for work, school, socializing, and entertainment.
‘Now, forced to be alone but wanting to be together, so many are discovering what screen time should be, [said Author Sherry Turkle]. It should be about learning and connecting. It should be humanizing… all those Zoom cocktail hours are good screen time. Even parenting coaches, once hired to draft strict screen-time rules for the family, are saying it is probably time to throw those out. ‘Be gentle with yourself,’ said Rhonda Moskowitz, founder of Practical Solutions Parent Coaching in Columbus, Ohio. ‘These are extreme times.’New York Times
Watch Mom Talk: Bending Screen Time Rules During The Pandemic
On this episode of Mom Talk on the Smart Social Podcast, hosts April Whiting and Jennifer Zumbiel, both moms of 4, have a candid conversation about bending screen time rules during a global pandemic – and how to return to a normal, healthy place with technology once life goes back to normal.
9 Digital Safety Tips For Families During The Pandemic
The Smart Social team also reached out to some experts for tips to prevent screen time addiction, depression, and other digital dangers during difficult, unconventional times.
1. Balance hands on learning with digital learning
Chris Drew, Ph.D, HelpfulProfessor.com
Once your child has completed online tasks, consider encouraging them to do practical hands-on learning activities that are also educational. For example, if they have completed a math quiz online, follow-up by getting them to demonstrate that same work using tokens or pen and paper to transfer that knowledge from online to offline contexts.
While limits are important, usage is likely to increase right now, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Yet some experts say that, under these unique circumstances, parents shouldn’t be too hard on themselves. There’s no official playbook for how to manage a household during a worldwide pandemic. As long as parents are making themselves available to their children, and engaging them in activities and learning opportunities offline throughout the day, then ‘the kids will be all right,’ said Dr. Michael Rich, director of the Center on Media and Child Health at Boston Children’s Hospital.The Boston Globe
2. Find positive ways to use technology
Holly Zink, Technology and Cybersecurity Expert for Safeguarde
Technology isn’t always bad, especially when it’s used to contact family. Whether it’s their favorite cousin or their grandparents, encourage your child to video chat with family. It will not only cheer up your family, but also lift the spirits of those you’re calling.
3. Don’t overshare on social media
Paul Lipman, CEO of BullGuard
Ensure privacy settings are limited to only trusted friends and family. This will keep you safe from prying eyes and cyber criminals who often search these sites either looking for victims for social engineering scams or information on targets they have already chosen.
Be careful online shopping. Phishing, spam and websites with malicious links are designed to steal your information. Enjoy a more secure online shopping experience by ensuring legitimacy of websites and creating hard-to-crack passwords.
Also monitor online gaming. Many games have an online component featuring in-game add-ons that can be bought for real money. Parents should set up a specific email account for game registration purposes to ensure email accounts that hold addresses, contact information and social media or online banking information are kept separate
4. Download and use social media apps together as a family
Josh Ochs, Founder of SmartSocial.com
Being stuck in the house together is a great time to learn about all of the apps your students are using and download them yourself.
It’s okay to be friends with your students on these apps (and you should). But don’t overwhelm them by stalking their profiles or commenting on every post. Instead, ask your students to teach you about the apps and collaborate with them on posts.
Being on the same apps your students are on will help you see if they are posting anything they shouldn’t be. Make note of who they are friends with and encourage them to steer clear of strangers online. Have fun with your students, but also strategically work to keep them safe at the same time.
There’s been a huge spike in reports of online child sexual exploitation during the time of COVID-19, Forbes has learned… Some sources have linked the rise in online child abuse to lockdowns enforced by national governments in response to COVID-19. ‘Due to the confinement and the fact that now, everybody, including our children, are spending more time online means there is increasing exposure to these operators who are looking for opportunities to engage with them and to contact them,’ acting head of Europol’s European Cybercrime Center Fernando Ruiz told Forbes.Forbes
During quarantine, [the parental control monitoring app Bark has] seen a rise in online predators and their referrals to law enforcement have risen by 23%… ‘We attribute this jump to children being at home and on their devices upwards of eight hours per day since shelter in place began in mid-March. The reality is that kids can be abused online, even when they’re just in the next room. Kids can be subjected to graphic sexual content, overt manipulation, and sometimes even violent threats from people who are trying to intimidate them into doing what they say,’ [explained Bark’s Chief Parenting Officer Titania Jordan.]– Psychology Today
5. Have conversations with your students about digital safety
We’re living in a time where practically every child has their own tablet, laptop, or cellphone. Do not set your kids up for failure by making them unprepared for what they could end up seeing or how vulnerable they could become later on. The best conversations to have surround what a computer virus is, online privacy, phishing and social networking etiquette, to name a few.
Young children, and even teenagers, should understand the importance of passwords and why they shouldn’t all be the same and what those consequences are if they don’t follow through. The most important note for teenagers is if you wouldn’t do it face to face, then don’t do it online. It’s as simple as that. Everything you do online is captured forever and will be used against you later on, even if it’s something you’ve forgotten about.
As employers and University Admission Officers research candidates through their social media accounts, your kids should be aware of what they’re putting online.
This also opens up the conversation about privacy settings. If you don’t want everyone to see where you’ve been or what you had to drink the other day, then change your privacy settings. This way you’re only sharing with those within your inner circle.
6. Be intentional about screen time
Shane Gregory Owens, Ph.D., Psychologist, PC
Any negative reaction to having screens taken away—anger, sadness, tantrums—are a good sign that your kid is spending too much time on them. In these cases, your kids’ screen time should be more limited. Be aware, this might mean that you need to adjust your own screen use, too. That will be healthier for all of you.
Parents should stick to the rules they have set for kids in terms of which apps are and are not allowed. The world is not ending, it just seems that way. Behave accordingly. If you weren’t going to get your kid a smartphone or use a specific app until next year, then wait until next year.
Parents must take their own frequent breaks from screens. It might work to set family rules and schedules for screen and non-screen activities and stick to them as best as possible. The closer you stick to your rules, the easier it will be for your kids.
It’s also important for kids to learn that there are different rules for them and for adults. Parents might have to spend time working on screens when kids can or should not. Parents must recognize this and might have to work extra hard reinforcing their kids for staying off their own screens in these cases. There might be a Candy Land, Chutes N Ladders, or Monopoly marathon in your future.
Also, be intentional about screen time. Use screens together as a family to stay in touch with friends and family. Screens are a valuable resource these days, and you now have a valuable opportunity to teach your kids the power and responsibility that come with screen access.
To combat anxiety and depression, it is vital for everyone in the house to get up and move and to spend some face time with each other. Now is a perfect opportunity to start a tradition of first-thing-in-the-morning family exercise and to return to sit-down family dinners.
7. Monitor all use of electronics in the house
Susan Hart, Mommyhighfive.com
Be aware of what your child’s school is assigning. This will help you determine how much time is actually needed on a device for school work each day. Periodically checking on your child while he or she is doing school work will help keep your child working productively.
Consider having your kids check in their devices to you after school work is done and in the evenings. Kids can only use a device if they have access to it. If you put the device somewhere safe when you don’t want it used, your child will have to find something else to do. Also, making sure your child doesn’t have access to a device at night will help ensure they get a good night’s sleep.
A parent teaches best by example, so putting your device away will help your child know it’s important. It will also allow you to spend more time together.
What will your child do when he or she isn’t spending so much time on electronics? Here are some offline activity suggestions for kids to do at home:
- Get outside: Fresh air and sunlight boost mood. Whether you have a backyard or a park down the street, you can get outside while still practicing social distancing.
- Be creative: Get out paper and crayons and color a picture. Build a creation out of LEGO blocks. Make a movie or write a story.
- Learn a new skill: Children can learn a variety of different skills that will help them throughout their lives. Kids of any age can learn how to do laundry, perform household chores, or help with cooking.
8. Create a digital safety and technology plan together as a family
Adam Bell, Marketing Assistant and Student Wellbeing Editor at Tutorful
The internet is amazing for learning, but there are distractions and dangers out there! Setting up parental controls is essential, and enabling safe search on Google is a great first step. In these unprecedented times, it’s important to maintain some sense of a normal school day. That means whatever websites wouldn’t be allowed in school, aren’t allowed during the school day at home.
Boundaries need to be created. However, don’t forget to talk with your child about internet safety. It is one thing to add parental controls, filters, and settings, but having an open and honest conversation about being safe online will allow you to learn together and trust in their usage of devices and technology. For example, you can say “no internet past 9 pm.” Setting time limits and sticking to them will help create a routine that your teenager will soon get used to.
It is best to create a plan together. Decide what you both feel is acceptable and what isn’t acceptable online. Set expectations. Teach your children about age restrictions and the apps and files they should or shouldn’t download. Explain that they need to get permission first.
9. Be proactive against eye strain and bad sleeping habits
Denise Thomas, Get Ahead of the Class
There are physical issues that can come from too much computer screen time. For example, digital eye strain and difficulty sleeping.
Symptoms of digital eye strain can be dry eyes, itchy eyes, blurry vision, and headaches. Your screen brightness should be set similar to your surrounding environment. Glare contributes to eyestrain. Using a matte screen can be helpful if you find that glare is an issue and cannot reposition the computer.
But most important for eyestrain is not blinking enough. Focusing on the computer screen intently causes us to not blink as often as usual. We will blink 10 to 12 times per minute instead of 15. This may not sound like a huge difference, but that’s all it takes to cause eyestrain. After a while our eyes may feel dry or unfocused. When this reduced blinking goes on all day, the corona cells dry out and cannot recover until they are replaced by sleeping at night. In the morning you’ll feel comfortable again.
There are a couple of things you can do that help reduce eyestrain. One is to follow the 20-20-20 rule. Look away from your screen at something that is 20 feet away for 20 seconds every 20 minutes. You can set a timer to remind children to look away from their computer at a certain object. Using eye drops can also help.
Difficulty sleeping can result from too much blue light from the computer screen in the evening hours. Blue light from the sun keeps us awake during the day but can affect our circadian rhythm at night. Experts recommend halting screen time one to two hours before bedtime. In addition, there are apps for your phone and computer that can be set to automatically reduce the blue light at a certain time of day, say 6 pm, to begin reducing light exposure.
With no concrete guidelines to go by in these unprecedented times, you might worry about digital safety and how much screen time you are allowing your students. But as long as you remain involved in their day, and mindful about creating a healthy online and offline balance, your students will make it through this. You will, too.