When it comes to kids and media, there are two things you can always count on: Kids are always going to want more screen time; and just when you think you've wrapped your head around the latest site, a new one pops up.
And who can blame us parents for falling behind? It's a full-time job staying on top of the latest app releases, constantly-changing privacy policies, the newest viral videos, and the age-appropriateness of the hottest blockbuster movie.
So, instead of trying to learn everything about your kids' media life, take a step back. There are some practical, basic things every parent can do to shorten the distance between your kids' ever-increasing immersion into the world of media and tech and your ability to manage it all. Adding these simple solutions to your New Year's resolutions will start you off on the right foot.
Make a schedule — and make it detailed. You want to make sure your kids are getting a good balance of screen time and other activities? Write it all down. This step is so essential it's recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Some families can get by with a general "videogames-only-on-weekends policy." But given that media use only increases as kids get older (see above), it's a good idea to make a detailed daily or weekly plan that includes all the stuff your kids need to do (chores, homework) and all the stuff they want to do (video games, iPad, etc.).
Get to know your kid's favorite device. Whether it's your smart phone, their tablet, or the family computer, pick a device and familiarize yourself with it. Ask your kid to show you his or her favorite games, social networks, apps and other stuff they like. Learning the ins and outs of Minecraft will earn you some major street cred — and it's fun. And knowing how your kids are interacting with content will help you enable features and settings that improve safety and privacy protections.
Review behavior dos and don'ts with Internet first-timers. Some basic rules to give your kids:
- Do: Ask your parents if you can go online; have basic social skills; understand a site's rules and know how to flag other users for misbehavior; recognize "red flags" (like if someone asks you personal questions like your name and address).
- Don't: Go online without a parent's permission; share passwords; pretend to be someone else; share personal details, like name and address; be mean.
Put cell phones to bed. You've heard of sleepwalking? Now, there's sleeptexting. Or just staying up really late to be online — which interferes with sleep and school. Establish a charging station in your bedroom and make sure kids hand over all of their devices before night-night.
Make this the year you stop texting and driving. Studies show that texting and driving is as dangerous as drinking and driving –- and yet, many drivers (both teens and adults) continue to do it even though they know the risks. Together with your kids, visit itcanwait.com to learn more about the dangers of texting and driving, and take the pledge to stop. Do whatever it takes to prevent yourself and your teens from this dangerous habit: Turn off the phone, stow it in the glove compartment, download a phone-disabling app, and watch this video.