Simple Steps for Smart Families
Parenting has never been an easy job, but it’s safe to say that the new digital era has made it even more complicated. In the past 20 years, advances in technology have brought plenty of benefits to families. Being able to keep in touch from anywhere in the world, for example, and the ability for parents to enjoy more flexible working schedules have surely made life easier for parents and kids, and increased the time families spend together. However, some would argue that while we might be spending more time under the same roof, the omnipresence of electronic devices in the home is actually causing families to grow increasingly disconnected from each other. It seems that in 2020, screens are the great divider – in more ways than one!
Technology is here to stay, so whether you consider screen time a friend or a foe in your quest for family harmony, it’s important to educate our kids on healthy tech use. Giving your kids the tools they need now to become responsible digital citizens later is an integral part of being a 21st-century parent or caregiver. And that’s where the Qustodio Family Experience comes in. While most parental control software puts the parent firmly in control, we believe that the whole family can, and should, be involved in the process of finding a healthy tech balance. And while it may seem daunting, it doesn’t have to be difficult. We believe that small steps add up to big changes. Here are some simple steps to help your family set out on the right path to digital wellness, together.
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1. Have the “Tech Talk”
Being parents ourselves at Qustodio, the first advice we offer to all parents is to maintain an open and honest conversation about digital safety and wellbeing. Yes, our children are digital natives, but that doesn’t make them experts. While it might seem that they’re more tech-savvy than you, it’s easy to forget that kids’ brains are still developing, and it’s not as easy for them to differentiate the online world from the real world as it is for adults.
It’s really important that before setting rules, children understand the reasons for them, and that first conversation around your kids’ tech habits is the time to introduce the idea of responsible technology use. Start with the positives: focus first on the general idea of kids and technology. In what way can they use technology for good? How and when do they use the internet and devices at school? What are some of the most useful and important apps in their opinion? Then you can begin to talk about some of the negatives. What do they think constitutes unhealthy tech usage? Who do they know who spends too much time on devices? Is there ever a time when technology in the classroom is a problem? You might be surprised by how much your child has to say on these topics!
The next stage is to introduce the concepts of self-regulation and boundaries for device use. Do they have any idea of the time spent on their devices? If so, how accurate is their estimate? On the other hand, maybe they’ve never given any thought to it. Either way, now is the time to underline the importance of managing screen time and making sure your children understand the risks and responsibilities involved when it comes to the digital world. Of course, the depth of your conversations will vary depending on the age and maturity of your child, which is why you should be prepared to revisit the topic often. We recommend having weekly informal tech catch-ups where you can ask about their favorite new app or YouTuber. Being involved in your child’s tech experiences is a key part of digital parenting!
Finally, try framing the conversation around a topic they’re familiar with already. A great way we’ve found to educate kids on technology use is to use the analogy of healthy eating, as it’s an idea that children are already very familiar with. When you compare too much screen time to overindulging on sugary treats, your kids can understand the need for a Healthy Digital Diet more easily.
2. Establish age-appropriate activities
While it’s true that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to promoting healthy technology use for children, there are some general guidelines that you can follow depending on your child’s age. Of course, each child has a different personality, maturity level and needs, so it’s essential to customize your approach as you see fit. The American Association of Pediatrics recommends no more than an hour of screen time for children aged between 2 and 5, but after they enter grade school the guidelines start to get a little murky.
It’s around this age that we also see a big jump in the amount of screen time for kids, too. A survey by Common Sense Media last year found that on average, American 8-to-12-year-olds spent 4 hours and 44 minutes on screen media each day, while teens average 7 hours and 22 minutes — not including time spent using screens for school or homework. That’s a staggering leap from the recommended 1 hour at age 5! From around the age of 8, children are naturally beginning to grow more curious, are more easily influenced by peers and becoming more independent. That makes it an important technology milestone in your child’s journey towards responsible technology use and digital citizenship.
That’s why we created the new Kids’ Experience specifically with these age groups in mind. This is a crucial time when it comes to your family’s digital wellbeing, and it’s important to take the time to make the right choices for everyone. Which brings us neatly to the next step:
3. Research together
The more involved your child is with this process, the more likely they are to be an active participant in regulating their own tech habits. Now is the time to decide together what exactly you want to get out of the online world. Your child might be asking for their own phone, which should be considered carefully. While there are certainly some safety benefits like location tracking, for example, most experts recommend waiting for as long as possible.
It’s also essential that you discuss which apps your child will be using and for what. Screen time can serve an educational purpose but should not replace the support and guidance offered by a parent or teacher! We recommend writing a list of the apps your child has asked for and doing some digging into them. Ask other parents or older kids what they know about them and check a reliable online source.
By the end of this process, you should both have a good idea of what you want to get out of the internet – and what you don’t. Now is the time for Qustodio to step in!
4. Set Boundaries for Device Use – but make it positive!
Qustodio lets you set screen time limits and time limits for apps but we always recommend you involve your child in the decisions. Talk together about what you think would be some appropriate limits, and remember that your tech habits are just as important! As with everything when it comes to parenting, you must lead by example. It’s no good limiting your kids’ tech use if they never see you unplugged!
Child Psychologist and Digital Parenting Expert Dr. Nicole Beurkens recommends that rather than jumping straight in with a list of rules, a simpler and more effective strategy is to decide as a family on some specific times and places where screens will not be used. “Turning the problem on its head in this way works amazingly well,” she says. “It feels more natural and, because it applies to everyone, it’s fair”.
Here are Dr. Nicole’s tips for creating tech-free zones and moments for your family:
- Make the dinner table, and preferably meal times in general, a device-free zone for everyone. Place a basket on the floor or counter and have everyone leave their devices in it on the way to the table.
- Set a rule that activities you do together will be screen-free, such as playing games, reading books or going for a walk.
- Limit device use in the car. For shorter rides, leave devices at home or turn them off and keep them in a box in the trunk so no one will be tempted by them.
- Remove screens from the weekday morning routine while getting ready for work and school. This allows for less stress first thing in the morning because everyone can stay focused on getting ready, instead of being distracted by screens.
- Keep screens out of the bedroom so everyone sleeps better. Taking electronic devices out of the bedroom before sleep is a simple way to promote safe and healthy habits for children and adults.
- Avoid media multitasking, which basically means use one device at a time. Children and adults often use multiple devices at the same time without even realizing it.
Once you’ve established your family’s healthy tech habits, you can agree on the limits to be put in place (We recommend no more than 1 – 2 hours of entertainment-based screen time a day). Download and print a copy of our Family Digital Agreement for each person in the family, sign the document and then use Qustodio to set the rules you’ve agreed on.
5. Encourage Independence
Now that you’ve planted the seeds of digital wellbeing and responsible technology use, it’s time for your child to manage their own screen time and self-regulate, which they can do through the Qustodio Kids’ Experience. Through the Qustodio app on their devices, they can access their own dashboard which provides them with more feedback about their own screen time and time limits. Giving kids and teens easy visibility of their own data gives them a sense of autonomy which plays a huge part in preparing them for a life lived online, and Dr. Beurkens couldn’t agree more:
“Giving children access to information about their digital habits is an important step in helping them be aware of how they are using devices. Showing them the amount of time they are spending on different apps and websites, and how much time they are spending on digital media overall, helps them gain skills for determining what may be healthy or unhealthy for them. It also provides a starting point for a conversation between parents and children about device use and limits that would be helpful.”
Remember to keep checking in regularly and keep the “tech talk” going. We’ll tell you when a new app has been installed on any protected device, but why not encourage your child to tell you themselves? You can share your new app finds too! And stick to your tech-free zones and unplugged moments to make sure you maximize the time you spend together as a family. After all, as Dr. Nicole says, “It’s not so much about how long you’re online, but how you spend your time offline that counts.”
Now you’re ready to take the first steps into a safer and brighter digital future as a family! Make sure your children’s devices are all updated with the latest version of Qustodio and log in or sign up now to start implementing healthy tech choices today!