Let’s face it- mobile devices are a pervasive part of our lives these days. We use them, our kids use them. But how much is good for them? And what do we do when things have gone awry?
Smartphones usage can be addictive, provide an academic distraction, impair sleep, interfere with social relationships, increase risk of depression, and increase risk of cyber bullying and exposure to inappropriate sexual content (AAP, 2016; Bélanger et al. , 2011). We also know that teens use devices positively: to access learning opportunities, to express themselves, and to serve as gateways to civic issues and causes. So how do we balance positive use with safety concerns?
After reviewing many research studies, the American Academy of Pediatrics publicized general recommendations about screen usage in 2016. The AAP suggests setting limits on time and type of media permitted; making sure media use does not interfere with sleep, dinnertime, and other healthy behaviors; and cultivating on-going communication about online citizenship and safety.
Set appropriate boundaries on Internet/Smartphone use.
Start by talking to your child. More than likely, they have some pretty good ideas about where the limits should be, and you can go from there. Taking a collaborative approach reinforces mature decision making, and empowers your child and the relationship. A 2012 Pew Research Center study found that almost all teens surveyed used their real name and photo, while many also used their birthdate and town where they lived. We also know that teens who are educated on the importance of online safety are more likely to use some of those measures to keep themselves safe than those who are not educated. So start by deciding on some smartphone-free areas of the house such as the dining room and bedrooms. Ask that all devices be used in communal spaces in the home and with others present (not the bedroom!). Create a family charging station and ask that all phones be docked at dinnertime and by 9pm. These are just some suggestions that have worked for clients, but work together as a family to decide what works best for you.
Set an example. We are so tempted to fill all our bits of down-time looking at our phones. We sit on the train, in the car, and in a clinican’s waiting room looking at our phones, playing games, checking the news, etc. We need to set the examples for our kids. When with your children, if you need to use your smartphone, be sure to tell them the nature of what you are doing and that it is urgent. Do you best to return to being present with them wherever you are. Social media, online games, and the news can wait. If interested, families may customize and print a Family Media Use Plan at HealthyChildren.org/MediaUsePlan.
Develop an escape plan. If your child is bullied or threatened by online content, what should they do? To whom do they go for help? Discuss strategies in advance and have a plan. Strategies include ending interactions, deleting of apps and profiles, blocking content. Talk to the school administration and your child’s mental health care provider. The situation may warrant contacting the police or other appropriate authorities.
Consider software. Many parents worry about cyberbullying and harassment, explicit photographs/images, illegal content, and sexual solicitations. You may need to consider using filtering, blocking, or monitoring software. Some apps and devices are able to tailor internet access and manage usage like a digital allowance. Whereas it may be useful, it does have limits, and it should be only part of the overall strategy for keeping your child safe.
Change the conversation. Why not wait? In addition to the headaches that come with setting usage limits and worrying about content, smartphones are expensive. Wait Until 8th is an online pledge for parents to delay giving their children a smartphone until at least the 8th grade. The goal is to decrease the pressure felt by kids and parents alike, and create a positive community of parents. And remember, if your child needs access to a phone at a younger age, basic phones make and receive calls and text messages too!
CircleTM with Disney
- An in-home screen time management system for families
- Works separately from your existing router
- Allows you to set up age categories for the users
- Approximately $99 for device, no subscriptions, no add-ons
Our Pact (mobile app)
- Allows parent to control/limit social media time on child’s phone from parent’s phone
- Block or permit texting, block specific apps, screen time allowance, family locator
- Parent can set a time schedule for device usage, choose which apps are accessible, shut down the phone at a certain programmed time
- Basic plan is free, multiple children and multiple schedules $1.99-6.99/month
Teensafe (mobile app)
- Copies of kids’ text messages sent to parent’s phone
- View text messages and iMessages, read deleted texts and iMessages, view WhatsApp and Kik messages
- View device location history
- View call and web history
- Free trial, full data access is $14.95/month
Life360 (mobile app)
- Family locator app, family members can privately “check in” to locations, chat within the app
- Basic plan is free and includes limited place alerts, location history, and driving history. PLUS and Driver Protect options allow for additional and extended services and range from $2.99- $7.99/month.
- Driver Protect option (free 7-day trial) can monitor location but also driving speeds and phone use in car. Includes crash detection, emergency response, and weekly driving reports.
Bark (mobile app)
- Uses algorithms to look for a variety of potential issues, such as cyberbullying, sexting, drug-related content, and signs of depression. Alert sent to the parent if an issue is detected with a suggested solution.
- Free trial, $9/month for unlimited devices
American Academy of Pediatrics
Wait Until 8th
AAP Council on Communications and Media. (2016). Media Use in School-Aged Children and Adolescents. Pediatrics, 138(5).
Reid Chassiakos, Y., Radesky, J., Christakis, D. et al. (2016). AAP Council on Communications and Media. Children and Adolescents and Digital Media. Pediatrics, 138(5).
Bélanger RE, Akre C, Berchtold A, Michaud PA. (2011). A U-shaped association between intensity of Internet use and adolescent health. Pediatrics, 127(2). Available at: http:// pediatrics. aappublications. org/ content/ 127/ 2/ e330