Setting Boundaries for Tech Addicted Kids (and Parents)

Feb 11, 2018

You’ve tried your best but no matter what you do, your child’s favorite activity is to spend all day on their smart phone or tablet. If bribery, discipline, and intervention has not worked, it’s time for you to face the truth: your child may have a tech addiction.

Like most parents, I struggle with setting boundaries with technology that my family will respect. Before setting boundaries, though, it’s important to understand why our kids are on their devices so much. Unfortunately, the truth is that we, as parents, are partly responsible.

THINGS TO CONSIDER ABOUT TECH ADDICTION

Here are a few things you should think about before limiting your family’s screen time:

Examine Your Own Tech Usage
I never used to be a big TV person, but my husband was used to turn the TV on when he woke up each morning and kept it on until bedtime. I broke him of this habit because I find background noise terribly distracting. I’m guilty too, though. Games like Candy Crush relax me and I can easily overindulge. Additionally, I’ve exchanged books for Kindle downloads. While I know I’m reading a book, to my children it looks like screen time.

How much time do you use screens and tech devices around your children? They will learn from what they see, not just what you tell them to do. Breaking your child’s tech habit begins with working on your own.

OVERUSE OF SMART PHONES

With so many families exchanging landlines for smart phones, many of us now feel we need 24/7 access to our phones. We use them for so many of life’s details too: car navigation, camera at events, scheduling our days.

Even though such phone use is practical and handy, many of us have lost the ability to leave home without it. Take stock of how often you use and rely on your phone and other devices and think about which are not necessary.

THE MYTH OF BOREDOM

We live in a day and age where boredom is intolerable and we’ve taught that to our children too. Most people don’t know what to do if they have five minutes of free time.

However, research has shown that boredom is linked to creativity. If you or your children are struggling to be creative, to solve problems and to think outside the box, you may be spending too much of your downtime on your devices.

THE LIES WE TELL OURSELVES

I have a secret. I’m actually thrilled when my learning-disabled daughter is playing an age-appropriate video game. She struggled for years with these games, but almost overnight, seemed to have mastered one her dad likes. Pretty cool, right?

The downside is that, like most kids, she would rather play lots of games than read a single chapter in a book. I’m still happy with her accomplishment but it must be balanced with other offline activities. What lies are you telling yourself that encourages your child to spend more time on tech?

HOUSE RULES FOR SETTING BOUNDARIES

Once you’ve taken a good look at those very difficult questions and answered them honestly, you can begin creating boundaries for your child. Tech addiction often takes place among all family members, so make sure that you and your children abide by these rules.

  1. Create places and times that are tech free in your home.
    We have one big rule: NO phones or tablets while you’re eating. That includes breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. Instead, after dinner snacks in our home are also a time to turn off the TV and read together. We also keep all our devices on the first floor – except for my Kindle – to make sure the kids don’t go to sleep with our phones.
  2. Turn Wi-Fi Off.
    This is an easy way to create “tech-free” times in your home. You can also limit your phone’s data plan rather than having an unlimited package, but keep in mind that overage charges are possible and can be expensive. Using a parental control solution, gives parents the option to “pause the internet” on any mobile or electronic device – at home and remotely.
  3. Optimize their screen time.
    Your family members are going to be on their devices, so do your best to encourage educational activities that engage the whole family or boosts a skill. For example, my daughter loves photos so I’m teaching her to take pictures with her tablet and using apps to hone that skill.
  4. Create tech-free family activities to do regularly.
    While it’s fun to play a video game or watch a movie together, it’s better yet if you can come up with activities that involve zero screen time. For example, a daily walk after dinner is something we do together whenever the weather is nice. Sunshine and fresh air can positively counteract too much screen time. Playgrounds, swimming, hiking, bowling, laser tag, trampolines, library/book store events, seasonal activities, sports events, etc. are all good ideas. Check out local events to see what’s happening around you that is age appropriate for your children.
  5. Leave the phone behind.
    For any trip that’s under an hour, just leave the phone at home if you can, or leave it in your car. Don’t give it to the kids while you’re waiting for food to arrive at a restaurant, are waiting in line at the grocery checkout, or other “wait” times for activities. You’ll create a bad habit that is very difficult to break down the road. Make sure you keep this rule for date night too! Even though you’ll need your phone for babysitter emergencies, resist the temptation to use it at all while you’re connecting with your significant other.
  6. Create boundaries for using devices.
    Create a list of what your children must do before they turn on the TV, gaming device, tablet or phone. This can include crafts, chores, play time and time outside. Perhaps you can integrate a time for helping others, like volunteering at a soup kitchen or organizing a clothing donation field trip.

Technology is a great tool for children, but like everything else, moderation is key. Don’t let them spend their whole lives in front of the screen when a whole world of activity awaits them.

4 Things Every Parent Needs to Know About YouTube

Jan 22, 2017

Need to know how to French Braid, tie your shoes or speak a different language? How about some entertainment like adorable animal videos or music videos? You can find all this and SO much more on YouTube!

It’s that SO much more that every parent needs to know about! While YouTube can be a wonderful wealth of knowledge and entertainment, it can also be a wealth of inappropriate content as well for your child.

Here are 4 things every parent needs to know about YouTube

  1. Their own YouTube channel – your child may be interested in opening their own YouTube channel to upload videos. When deciding whether to allow this or not, consider whether the channel would be public or private and what videos would be permitted to be uploaded.
  2. There is inappropriate content on YouTube – just like they may inadvertently stumble across internet porn or other inappropriate content on an internet search, you child could come across that on YouTube as well.
  3. Most YouTube videos allow comments – when you have the conversation with your child about how to behave on social media, be sure to also include YouTube and incorporate some “best practices”.
  4. YouTube Kids – YouTube has become so popular among children and teenagers that Google came out with a kid friendly version geared towards those ages 13 and under. This site is designed to censor any inappropriate content.

The popularity of YouTube is undeniable and can offer some exciting, educational and entertaining options for children, teens and adults! Like most things in today’s technology driven culture, it needs to be used responsibly, with discretion and parental supervision. Parental control software allows your child to have independence as they explore YouTube but with boundaries parents set to block or warn of inappropriate content. Our children and teens are exposed to a lot today and with this exposure also comes the opportunity and parental responsibility to teach them how to manage it appropriately.

Tween Years Are The Most Stressful For Moms

Jan 07, 2018

Forget the “terrible twos”, tween years are hard for everyone, including teachers, coaches, and caregivers, but a new study shows that these years are especially hard on moms. Middle school is the most trying time for children with the combination of adolescence, growing peer pressure, hormonal changes and their search for a unique identity. Since moms place such a large amount of their identity on the well-being of their kids, it makes sense that this time is especially difficult for them as well.

Many people assume the first year of motherhood is the most difficult, with the new learnings, fears, and anxieties that come along with an infant. Interestingly, though, a new study from the National Institutes of Health say that raising a tween is the most stressful. This could be because new moms usually have an abundance of support, both emotionally and physically, during this huge transition. Their worries and fears revolve around feedings, sleeping schedules and other things within their control. Once kids reach their tween years, the stressors become more complex and often include issues like bullying, sex, social media, puberty, and relationships . This is a time where kids are maturing at different speeds and adjusting to more independence in the middle school setting.

The stress a mother feels as her kids move into their tween years doesn’t all come from outside factors. Because mothers’ identities are tied closely to their children’s well-being, they are more in tune with the emotional distance teenagers have during this developmental stage. The reality of “role overload” is prevalent during tween years, with moms trying to handle schedules, jobs, and family roles all at once. While some of these factors are out of a mom’s control, there are ways we can stay better connected to our kids during this difficult time.

HOW TO STAY CONNECTED TO YOUR TWEEN

Spend Disconnected Time Together: This may seem obvious, but it’s SO important to spend time with your kids detached from phones, TV, and the internet. This is especially important during the tween years when kids are starting to become more independent and are dealing with societal pressures. Take time to go for a walk, play with the dog, eat dinner as a family and engage with your kids on a personal level. Many parents walk in the door looking at their phones these days. Put the phone down and make your kids a priority by connecting face to face without distractions.

Be Aware of Pop Culture Dangers: As kids enter their tween years, they’ll be more and more influenced by pop culture. This is inevitable, but it’s important for parents to limit exposure and help tweens develop self-confidence in things outside of pop culture. For parents concerned about the content their kids are ingesting via social media, tools allow parents to stay in the know with their tweens social media use. It’s also good to encourage kids to detach from the internet and pursue passions like sports or music to help them build a strong sense of self and individualism.

Stay Involved in School Work: As kids enter middle school, their school work gets progressively more difficult. Parents can engage and help them work through projects, stay on task, and meet deadlines by keeping up with their schedules and offering help when needed. This not only strengthens the bond between parents and kids, but also teaches them important life skills about time management, delayed gratification, and staying on task.

Accept Your Tweens Need for Independence: One of the toughest things for moms during the tween years is understanding their child’s need for independence. Parents often overcompensate when their kids start to rebel but instead try setting reasonable limits and understanding when kids try to push them. Being firm, but loving is key during these years.

Don’t Downplay Hormones: As women, we understand the reality of hormonal changes, but for tweens, this is their first time dealing with these changes in their bodies. They can be moody and go into tantrums without fully understanding why or what is happening. This is a key time for parents to connect with kids, explain what is happening to them, react with sympathy and compassion, but still teach them self-control.

Don’t Take It Personally: Tweens are going through a lot of changes in their bodies, social scene, school workload, and other factors. They may act out, and while it’s not okay to be disrespectful (and every parent should teach them that) it is important for parents not to take it too personally. It’s a difficult time for everyone as tweens start to desire independence and parents have to remember to stand their ground and not overreact in these trying situations.

How to Protect Your Kids From Online Predators

Jan 02, 2018

pokemon

With the rise in smartphone and internet usage by children, the landscape of online predation has changed drastically. It’s no longer solely a matter of protecting kids from pornography, it’s now become an issue of kids sharing explicit photos and videos at their own will and then being exploited by predators. Social media and the access of a camera phone (with location data) is making it easier than ever for sexual predators and cyberbullies to target kids through what experts are calling “sextortion”.

The FBI recently issued a warning on the rise of “sextortion” cases], stating that online predators are now befriending kids on social media and convincing them to take explicit photos, then using bullying tactics to get the minors to send pornographic videos. Kids are being conned into taking photos, thinking it’s a relatively innocent exchange, and then being forced to continue through manipulation and blackmail.

The rise in sextortion is also added by teens sharing more information about themselves on social media sites than they did in the past. Here are some of the kinds of information these teens are posting:

  • 92% post a real name
  • 91% post a photo of themselves
  • 71% post their school name
  • 71% post the city or town where they live
  • 53% post their email address
  • 20% post their cell phone number

PEW

With almost all teens on Facebook (92%) using their real name and sharing photos (91%), social media has become a hotbed for online predator activity. It’s creating a sense of friendship and comfort among minors that makes it easier for them to let their guard down. So, how can parents and caregivers protect children from these types of online predators? It starts with education and open communication.

KEEP OPEN COMMUNICATION

While it can be difficult for parents to talk to their kids about online predators and sexual exploitation, it’s essential to keeping them safe. Before a child is allowed to have any sort of social media account, parents and caregivers should be speaking openly about the dangers of online predators and cyberbullying. Kids should know the dangers of sending explicit photos or videos and that any person asking for these kinds of media should be reported to an adult. Sexual curiosity is a normal part of growing up. Parents can help keep communication flowing by explaining that if a child is being exploited, they should feel comfortable telling an adult or speaking with police.

SET PRIVACY AND SECURITY SETTINGS

For minors especially, it is essential to have strict security settings in place. Parents should also be monitoring their child’s social media activity by becoming “friends” on various social media accounts and being present while kids are using social media in the house. Using a Family Contract, is a great way to create healthy boundaries for your family.

KEEP PHONES/COMPUTERS IN COMMUNAL AREAS

The FBI suggests keeping all cell phones and personal computers in a communal location. Special Agent John Letterhos, who works with the Child Exploitation Task Force in Charlotte, NC, told reporters that he’s noticed video and photos in “sextortion” cases were almost always taken inside the bedroom. By requiring kids to use social media in the living room or other communal locations, it helps prevent this kind of dangerous activity.

By speaking openly with kids about the dangers of social media, sexting, and online predators, parents can better prepare children for the dangers of online activity. Kids need to know that everything put online can be accessed by others, even when only shared with people they know. It’s easy for a picture or video to be saved and shared, creating an opportunity for predators and cyberbullies to take advantage of the situation. Setting strict security parameters and keeping cell phones and personal computers in a communal area are good ways to monitor online activity.

Slaves to the Screen – How Young Kids Are Getting Addicted

Dec 28, 2017

In many ways, children’s lives today are not drastically different than those of their parents. The morning routine is still the same: complaining when the alarm goes out, rushing to brush teeth, scrambling to find backpacks, and running to catch the bus. After school is a constant struggle of trying to squeeze in time for lessons, sports, friends, homework, a healthy meal, and a good night’s sleep. The key difference from our childhood and that of our children’s is that every aspect of their lives is now connected and infiltrated by technology.

Electronics are now even an integral part of our child’s education. Both of my school-age children, in addition to their personal iPhones, are tethered to iPads supplied by the school. Digital textbooks, enrichment support materials, and Rosetta Stone language lessons are loaded onto their school supplied iPads. School assignments can be submitted electronically. If there is a question about an assignment, I no longer need to send in a note to the teacher, my child will just email or direct message their instructor. Grades and general communication to parents are posted instantly on parent portals.

CREATING THE PERFECT STORM OF TECHNOLOGY ADDICTION

If you think your child is spending too much time in front of their screens and worry that they may be addicted to technology, trust your instinct. Your children probably are addicted and so are most parents. See how you and your kids fare on the Parent-Child Addition Test Test from Net Addiction.

Unconsciously, many well-intended parents have participated in a perfect storm trifecta leading to our children’s addiction to technology: (1) Rise of addictive technology, (2) Smartphones given at a younger age, (3) Adolescent brains not fully developed.

Addiction Cycle

RISE OF ADDICTIVE TECHNOLOGY

Parents number one job is to keep our children safe. However, keeping our kids and ourselves from becoming addicted the technology is becoming increasingly difficult. New York Times bestselling author Adam Atler’s latest book Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked, has illustrated perfectly how technology companies are getting us hooked to spend more time on their apps and platforms by using the psychology of colors, sounds, and learned behaviors to get and keep us addicted to technology. Atler states in his book:

“Greg Hochmuth, one of Instagram’s founding engineers, realized he was building and engine for addiction. ‘There’s always another hashtag to click on,’ Hochmuth said. “Then it takes on its own life, like an organism, and people can become obsessive. Instagram, like so many other social media platforms, is bottomless. Facebook has an endless feed; Netflix automatically moves on to the next episode in a series; Tinder encourages users to keep swiping in search of a better option. Users benefit from these apps and websites, but also struggle to use them in moderation. According to Tristan Harris, a “design ethicist,” the problem isn’t that people lack willpower; it’s that “there are a thousand people on the other side of the screen whose job it is to break down the self-regulation you have.”

It is important to remind ourselves that the tech geniuses that create technology platforms, games, interactive experiences, streaming services, and apps are also gifted marketers. Before releasing their products and services to the general public they run thousands of tests to determine which background color, badge, sound, font, filter, graphic treatment, or behavioral reward will get you to spend the maximum amount of time on their app. Once launched, they are constantly tweaking the experience to get you addicted to come back for more (or ideally never leave). As parents, we need to be diligent in understanding how much time – and on what apps or websites – our children are spending their time.

AGE KIDS GET THEIR FIRST SMARTPHONE

The age kids are getting smartphones creeps younger all the time. Nielsen just released a report on the age kids get their first smartphone with a full-service plan (voice, messaging, data). The study found:

  • 45% of kids, slightly less than half, received a smartphone with a service plan at 10-12 years old.
  • The most popular age when a child got a smartphone was 10 (22%).
  • However, 31% of kids got their devices at even younger ages with 16% at age 8 and 15% at age 9.

I must admit my youngest child received her smartphone at 10-years old as well. My husband and I had not planned on getting her a full-service phone at that age, in fact we prided ourselves on not caving into the pleas that “everyone else has one”, but when our youngest child was put in a dangerous situation by no fault of her own, we purchased a phone for her so she could always contact us. We are not alone, the #1 reason why parents purchase a smartphone for their child under the age of 13 is so they can easily contact their child or their child can contact them.

Wireless addiction

Providing a smartphone to your child makes it easier to reach them but parents who participated in the Nielsen’s survey also expressed concern about:

  • Their kids losing their phone (77%)
  • Smartphones being a distraction (72%)
  • Too much time spent on the device (71%)
  • Lack of control as to what content their child can view (68%)

Luckily most of the parental concerns can be addressed by implementing parental controls either on the device or via a downloadable app.

Parent Concerns

THE ADOLESCENT BRAIN

There is a reason why your adolescent child needs to be told what to do multiple times, can get easily distracted, lacks impulse controls, responds to peer pressure and can get easily addicted to technology. While the human brain reaches its full size by age 10, neurologically speaking, the adolescent brain has not fully developed and there is a mismatch between two major brain regions: (1) Limbic region that regulates emotion, and (2) Prefrontal cortex that helps manage impulse control. Per Jay N. Giedd, Director of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the University of California, “The prefrontal cortex functions are not absent in teenagers; they are just not as good as they are going to get. Because they do not fully mature until a person’s 20s, teens may have trouble controlling impulses or judging risks and rewards.”

There is not much a parent can do to rush the process of your child’s neurological maturity, but we can equip them with guardrails to keep them safe until their brain is more fully developed. Jessie Weinberger, who wrote the smartphone and internet safety book “The Boogeyman Exists: And He’s in Your Child’s Back Pocket,” said she surveyed 70,000 children and found that, on average, sexting began in the fifth grade, pornography consumption began when children turned 8, and pornography addiction began around age 11. Parents need to help their children grow the skills needed to control impulses, plan ahead, and resist peer influences; as well as use parental controls to limit exposure and temptations.

FAMILY CONTRACTS THE FIRST LINE OF DEFENSE

Ultimately, only parents can determine if their child is ready for a smartphone and if the pros outweigh the cons. If you determine that your child is truly ready for a smartphone, before shopping for one, sit down with your child and determine what house rules and limits will be part of the privilege of getting a phone. Whatever rules are agreed upon, include them in a family contract signed by both the child (or children) and parents, before a phone is purchased. Make it clear to your child that if they break house rules; phone privileges will be suspended.

PARENTAL CONTROLS

There are a variety of parental controls available on most device phone settings, as well as downloadable apps. For iPhones and other Apple products (iPad, MacBook) parent controls, there are several options parents can enable or disable. The iPhone’s parental controls live inside the settings app. Windows 10 and Kindle parental controls also have a number of built-in options you should explore. Most Android phones are deficient in similar built-in parental control settings.

It is unrealistic to think you can shield your child from all addictive technology, but with the proper tools in place, parents can help their children to not only be entertained but also be enriched and enlightened with all the amazing options right at their fingertips.

The Importance of Social Media Age Restrictions

Dec 26, 2017

The data is in, kids enjoy social media. The studies confirm it.

In fact, 89% of teens ages 13 to 17, according to Pew Research, reported using at least one social media site and 71% reported use of more than one site. Did you know that Just about every social media site allows users to sign up when they reach 13 years of age?.

Your child’s friends are on the websites, talking about media they saw on the websites, sharing their experiences and stories on the websites. The “happening” stuff is happening online, and kids want to be a part of the hub. Naturally, kids under the age of 13 want to engage in this as well. And they are.

A study by knowthenet.org.uk found that about 59% of children have used a social network by the age of 10. Signing up for platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram underage is not difficult. Birthdays are easily faked to inflate ages and companies very rarely monitor this or even do anything about it.

Parents may pause at the thought of their younger children using social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, and rightly so. A child tapping into a network shared by billions of people worldwide and trying to navigate safely is an intimidating thought.

WHY ARE AGE RESTRICTIONS NEEDED?

There is a biological importance to age restrictions. One could raise the question, are we ever developed enough to have our words and actions cemented into a history book accessible to the whole world? I doubt very many people are. But before the age 13, the implications of being exposed to this, living history book called the internet are amplified. At around age 12, biologically, most kids have not developed robust enough cognitive functions for impulse control or ethical thinking.

Understanding the effect of a post on social media is beyond the cognitive grasp of a young mind, and any mistake or misjudgment cannot be wiped from the online slate thereby potentially effecting their future. Moreover, if a child is targeted by harassers or predators, their limited ability to handle such a situation at a young age may put them in danger, both mentally and physically.

Along with issues of kid’s undeveloped brains and responsibility, there are legal ramifications when kids falsify their age to create a social media account. The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) is designed to protect the personal information of children under 13 online. Companies are required to notify and receive permission from parents to collect personal information from kids. The act also bars companies from collecting images or video that could identify the child. The protections outlined in COPPA are not extended to children under the age of 13 but claiming they are 13 to open an account. When a child signs up for an account with a falsified birth date, they are outside the reach of protection offered by the act and their personal information is at risk.

KEEPING KIDS SAFE

Age restrictions on social media platforms are in place to keep kids safe. Unfortunately, violating these restrictions is simple and easy. When young kids falsify their age and use social media, they are often too young to understand the implications of their posts or effectively handle dangerous situations, and cannot be protected by laws directed at the safety of youth online. Luckily, parental control software, is a proven method to restricting monitor your children’s access to social media until they are responsible and ready.

Heavy Screen Time Rewires Your Child’s Brain

Could screen time actually be beneficial to your child’s cognitive development? It was once theorized that the more stimulation on the child’s developing brain the better. Of course, this theory was suggested prior to the onset of phones, tablets, and social media!

Is the human brain designed to withstand the exposure to screen time that we’re seeing in today’s youth? Many would argue no. Studies have suggested that excessive screen time is associated with increased hyperactivity, increased tendency towards risky behavior, obesity and delayed language development.

INNOVATION OF THE HUMAN BRAIN

Recent research out of the University of California asked the question, “has the human brain evolved along with our growing technologically advanced culture?”. A 2012 survey conducted by the Pew Research Center showed that more than half of the internet experts interviewed predicted the brains of teens and young adults will be wired differently, and yield positive outcomes, by 2020. Some of the predictions include the following:

  • They’ll be better able to multitask with less distraction than the older generation.
  • They’ll be better able to find answers quickly. This will be a function of their access to and ability to search effectively and access information online.

So, like so many parental decisions, you need to know your child. Be well informed with recommendations from your pediatrician and trusted family and friends. And also be well informed on how your child responds to screen time. What’s good for one child may not be good for another. Consider using parental control software to set limits on the amount of screen time and type of content your child can access. Here are a couple of questions to ask yourself to assess how your child is responding to screen time:

  • Are there any behavior changes following screen time?
  • Has exposure to screen time prompted arguments in the household?
  • Has screen time prevented your child from engaging with their friends, completing their homework, attending school?
  • Have you noticed a change in risky behavior or sensitivity to stimuli associated with the amount of screen time?

As with most things in our life, moderation is key when it comes to screen time consumption by both adults and children. Use your best judgment on when your child needs to unplug and take a break from technology.