Parents: Plug in by Unplugging

Dec 19, 2016

Parents concerned about their children’s technology usage should examine their own

The college sweaters are long gone. Kids are running around the house. And we are solidly middle-aged. We do a lot of things to stay young. Hit the gym. Rub in the moisturizer. Color the hair. Anything to look and act young again. Thanks to the folks at Common Sense Media, we now know of one youthful behavior pattern that we mini-van driving parents have in common with our smartphone-addicted teenagers: we watch screens just as much as they do!

Okay, so that’s maybe not a youthful connection we want to maintain. But for those parents who are hoping to curb some of the over-the-top media usage they observe in their children, it might be best to start with your own technology habits. Below are three things parents should consider.

1. Examine your own behavior
Earlier this year, many parents were shocked when Common Sense Media’s teenage technology expose titled “Media Use by Tweens and Teens” revealed that on any given day, American teenagers (12- to 18-year-olds) averaged about nine hours of entertainment use, excluding time spent at school or for home work. Tweens (8- to 12-year olds) use an average of about six hours’ worth of entertainment media daily. Most of us knew our kids were using a lot of technology, but we were surprised it was that much. We began discussing ways to curb their usage, encourage more healthy behavior, and ensure their safety while in the virtual world.

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But how many of us examined our own technology habits? It turns out, Common Sense Media did just that. Their brand-new census, “Plugged-In Parents of Tweens and Teens”, is perhaps more shocking than the earlier one. Guess what mom and dad? Parents of American tweens and teens average more than nine hours with screen media with 82% percent of that time is devoted to personal screen media. Caught your breath yet? Well, take comfort in the fact that, though we appear to be hypocrites, we are blissfully unaware of it. It turns out that 78% of us parents believe we are good media and technology role models for our children.

Perhaps the first step in bringing technological harmony to our homes is to set boundaries for ourselves.

2. Recognize the dangers…and don’t be afraid to act
Sometimes we may think we are the only parents who are trying to stop broad trends from negatively influencing our children. Take comfort in the fact that you are not alone. Many of us are worried about the activities of our children in the digital universe. Others are afraid that if they get too involved, their children will get upset. That may be, but we can’t just be parents in the real world. We have to be their parents in the digital world too. It is just as influential and just as potentially dangerous.

In the Common Sense Media survey, parents indicated their concerns over some very common online activities. Half of parents worry that using social media damages a child’s physical activity. Regarding online activities, the top four concerns were: spending too much time online (43 percent), over-sharing personal details (38 percent), accessing online pornography (36 percent), and being exposed to images or videos of violence (36 percent). Other key components involve concerns that their children may be addicted to technology (56 percent) and that technology use is negatively impacting their children’s sleep (34 percent).

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Do not be afraid to be their parent. Set boundaries around usage. Limit usage during certain activities such as dinner time, homework time, and while driving. Set up controls to block access to dangerous content such as pornography, violent images, and hateful social media posts. Most parents (85 percent) said that monitoring their children’s media use is important for their children’s safety, including parents of tweens (90 percent) and parents of teens (81 percent). Most parents have reported having a range of media rules for their tweens and teens. They include:

  • 78% of parents do not allow device usage at mealtime
  • 63% of parents do not allow device usage at bedtime
  • 70% of parents reported they must approve of their children’s apps purchases “most of the time” or “always”
  • 67% of parents say that monitoring their children’s media use is more important than respecting their privacy

So, next time your child informs you that, “none of their friends have house rules”, you can let them know that most families in fact do have technology rules in place.

3. Accept the positive role of technology
Short of living on a deserted island, eating coconuts and talking to “Wilson” for entertainment, we will not be successful in removing technology from our lives. As parents, our job is to teach our children good habits that they will need to thrive in the modern world. Teaching good, balanced technology habits is as important as teaching our kids good eating habits.

Parents overwhelmingly have positive attitudes about the roles of technology when it comes to their children’s education and development skills.

  • 94% of parents agree that technology positively supports their children with schoolwork and education
  • 88% felt that technology helped their kids to learn a new skill
  • 89% felt it prepared kids for 21st- century jobs
  • 77% of parents agreed that technology increases their children’s exposure to other cultures
  • 79% said it helps their children develop creativity

In trying to be good parents, it always demands that we balance protection with freedom. We must keep our children safe, but we must also let them explore and learn in the modern world. We can embrace the positive benefits of technology and the good it brings while acting to keep them safe. And all of that needs to begin with us: let’s model the behavior we expect from our kids.

Source: The Common Sense Census: Plugged in Parents of Tweens and Teens (2016)