September 18, 2018
By Lynette Owens
Back to school can be a stressful time for students and parents alike. The lengthy summer break is sometimes difficult to shake, but a new school year means establishing new routines and getting back into good habits for the year ahead. It’s an especially important time for kids to return to healthy doses and uses of technology. With mounting concerns over the effects of excessive screen time, parents today don’t just need to focus on the type of content their kids are consuming online, but how long they’re spending glued to their smartphones or gaming devices.
So why not lay down some new ground rules as we kick off the new school year? We’re here to help you make informed decisions as responsible parents.
The dangers associated with cyberspace are well understood by now. The internet is a fantastic tool for kids to share, play and socialize with. But on the flip side there are scams and hackers, cyber-bullying risks, and privacy challenges from posting too much info. There are tools to help you restrict and monitor your child’s internet usage that can help manage these issues. But what about the sheer amount of time they may be spending online?
Over the summer, the amount of time your kids spent online may have been far more than during the school year. I can attest to this and know there are many others who could, too. The time was largely harmless and very social in nature (connecting with friends in Instagram, playing Fortnite with far-off cousins, etc.). However, at the start of the school year, the rules in our house are not as lax anymore to ensure my kids prioritize schoolwork, extracurricular activities and most importantly, sleep.
Like many parents, teachers and experts, we all worry about the amount of time our kids are engaging with screens at the cost of other things. In January, two major Apple investors who together own more than $2 billion in shares wrote an open letter to the tech giant’s board expressing concerns about the “unintentional negative consequences” of usage, especially by younger users. It cited research claiming that the average American child gets their first phone at 10 and spends over 4.5 hours on it daily. Additionally, over three-quarters (78%) of teens check their phones once an hour and half say they feel addicted. While some of that time online is required for schoolwork, a lot of it is discretionary. It’s up to us as parents to help our kids strike a healthy balance by setting and adhering to rules about screen time and discussing the importance of connecting with people offline, being outdoors and getting enough sleep.
Back to Basics
Here are some tips to help you and your family make the transition to the new school year much easier:
- Look at screen time as a whole. As early as elementary school, many kids are required to use Google docs for schoolwork. Monitor how much online time their teachers require. Ask your child’s teachers for an estimate per week. Consider this in addition to the screen time you will allow your kids to have for fun, before you decide your rules.
- Discuss priorities with your kids. Have a conversation with your kids about what is most important during the school year: Homework, after-school activities, connecting with friends or making new ones, and chores. Make sure your kids have time for these things before firing up the Xbox.
- Have kids earn screen time. Make sure kids get homework done, pick up their room, make a birthday card for a family member, or do something productive or meaningful to earn screen time for fun.
- Talk to them about safe, responsible use. When they do get time for Snapchat or Roblox, make sure you talk to them about being safe with who they friend or what they download, treating others with kindness and respect, and coming to you if something goes wrong.
- Charge all devices outside the bedroom. Set up an area that kids won’t access at night to charge phones or iPads. Make sure they plug them in early in the evening to ensure they get a good night’s sleep.
- Use parental controls to set screen time limits. There are many useful features already available to you in the devices your kids are using but also in security software you may have installed on your devices. These restrictions or parental controls can actually allow you to limit your child’s screen time by denying them access after a specific time. Trend Micro offers such a tool with its Trend Micro Internet Security products. Click here to find out more.
- Be the example you want them to follow. This one is self-explanatory, but bears repeating.
Of course, there’s a difference between internet overuse and addiction. If you genuinely feel your child may be exhibiting signs of addiction, contact your child’s pediatrician to start. You can also review some of the great information and resources from the Center on Media and Child Health, a collaborative effort between Harvard Medical School, Children’s Hospital of Boston and the Harvard School of Public Health. The CMCH has published a Time Management tip sheet that is worth reviewing, as well.
As with any kind of decision you make about your kids and the role technology has in their lives, it’s important to keep those communications channels open. Sit down and have a discussion about why you’re doing what you’re doing — listen to your kids’ concerns and have that open dialog. Following the tips above can help you make sure your kids are consuming a healthy dose of the internet in their lives.
FREE PROGRAM FOR SCHOOLS: If you are interested in having a Trend Micro representative present to your school community about helping kids to become good digital citizens, please contact us at email@example.com.
Lynette Owens is the Founder and Global Director of Trend Micro’s Internet Safety for Kids and Families program. With 20+ years in the tech industry, Lynette speaks and blogs regularly on how to help kids become great digital citizens. She works with communities and 1:1 school districts across the U.S. and around the world to support online safety, digital and media literacy and digital citizenship education. She is a board member of the National Association for Media Literacy Education, an advisory committee member of the Digital Wellness Lab, and serves on the advisory boards of INHOPE and U.S. Safer Internet Day.
Follow her on Twitter @lynettetowens