Category Archives: technology addiction

Saving Summer: 5 Strategies to Help Reign In Family Screen Time Over Break

summer screen time

summer screen timeIt’s the most wonderful time of the year — for teachers and lifeguards. For everyone else (parents) we have a little prep work to do to make sure the summer doesn’t lull our kids into digital comas.

Most of us have learned that given zero limits, kids will play video games, watch YouTube, send snaps, and scroll Instagram into the midnight hours. This ever-present digital lure, combined with the “summer slide,” which is the academic ground kids lose over the summer, means that most parents are hoping to make the most of the summer months need to get proactive — now.

No matter your child’s age, teaching kids to use technology in a healthy way and pick up skills and habits that will make them savvy digital citizens, becomes even more critical in the summer months. Studies show that excess screen time can lead to increased cyberbullying, low self-esteem, depression, isolation, and anxiety in children and teens. Also, the World Health Organization (WHO) has now classified a new form of addiction called “gaming disorder.” That designation means health professionals can now treat dangerous levels of video gaming as a legitimate addiction. (Yes, this is the new normal of parenting).

Warning signs of too much tech:

  • Tantrums or inappropriate resistance to screen limits or refusing to let you see their devices
  • Lack of sleep (which can cause anger outbursts, moodiness, fatigue, and even illness)
  • Isolation and decrease in face-to-face time with friends and family
  • Complaining about family outings and declining invitations to participate in activities
  • Losing interest in physical activity

Tech balance in one family will look different than in another because every family has its own values, dynamic, and parenting styles. You may have to establish ground rules together and make edits over time — that’s okay, stay flexible. The important thing is to set limits and set them together, so your child feels as if he or she is part of the process and learns how and why to self-regulate over time.

summer screen time

Here are some tips for launching your family conversation and getting summer off to a positive, tech-healthy start.

  1. Discuss and agree on limits. Consider what an average day looks like. Where are the critical gaps where connection can happen? Maybe it’s transition times when you pick up your child from camp or a friend’s house. Perhaps it’s the hour after you get home from work, during meals, movie time, or in restaurants. Maybe it’s family outing such as the pool, the zoo, the theatre, roadmap time, or outdoors. Also, setting a device curfew in the summer months is more critical since kids like to take their devices to bed and keep scrolling.Discuss why and when your family should be screen-free and then put your commitment in writing in a Summer Family Media plan (every age range will require different ground rules). The American Academy of Pediatrics’ website has a fun, easy form you can fill out to create your Family Media Plan based on your child’s age.
  2. Pay attention to content: Setting screen limits doesn’t matter much if the content your child views isn’thealthy. A few questions to help assess content:
  • Is the content age-appropriate?
  • Are the apps my child uses interactive and learning-based or mind-numbing or even risky?
  • Do my family’s technology habits require filtering software to help block inappropriate websites?
  • Are the privacy settings on social media and gaming accounts set to restrict what strangers can see and who can send a direct message to my child?
  1. Jump into the fun. Part of teaching kids to understand healthy technology habits is taking the time to meet them where they are in their digital world — their favorite hangouts. When they understand you aren’t limiting screen time to punish them and that technology in itself isn’t bad, they will be more likely to see the benefits of balance and self-regulate in the future. What online games do they play? Consider watching them excel in their craft and cheering them on. Better yet, grab a controller and play along. What social media sites does your child love? Join in on Snapchat and let them teach you how to have fun with photo filters on the app.summer screen time
  2. Be hyper intentional. Zig Ziglar once said that to a child, “love” is spelled T-I-M-E. Under the influence of today’s digital culture, nothing is assumed, and most everything requires intentionality — especially grabbing the quality time we desire. Consider sitting down as a family and creating a summer bucket list of things you’d like to do before summer ends. Maybe it’s more movie nights, more beach time, a family craft or building project, volunteer work, board games, workout time, trips, whatever — be realistic that nothing on your list will happen without serious intention.
  3. From monitoring to mentoring. It’s always a good idea to monitor your child’s online activities. We are big fans of filtering software and understanding what social networks and apps your kids frequent. However, because you likely have more face-to-face with your kids in the summer months, think about ways to mentor them. Talk about current events related to online safety, pay attention to their friend groups on and offline, and use this extra time to reset some digital goals that may have slipped off your radar during the school year. Some possible goals: Set up your own Snapchat account, finally learn to use Twitter, educate yourself on dangerous apps, or let your child teach you how to improve your digital skills. With this extra valuable time over the summer, you can cover some serious ground by talking more about concepts like conflict-management, empathy, resilience, self-awareness, and digital responsibility, which will all help strengthen digital skills.

In your quest to establish summer ground rules that work for your family, don’t overlook the importance of the peer-to-peer connection that technology brings. Technology is the primary channel (like it or not) kids have to build their friendships, stay the loop, and to be affirmed. They need hangout time, and that’s usually online. Keep this in mind as you work together to find the balance that works best for your family.

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Mind-Bending Tech: What Parents Need to Know About Virtual & Augmented Reality 


Virtual and Augmented reality technology is changing the way we see the world.

You’ve probably heard the buzz around Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) and your child may have even put VR gear on this year’s wish list. But what’s the buzz all about and what exactly do parents need to know about these mind-bending technologies?

VR and AR technology sound a bit sci-fi and intimidating, right? They can be until you begin to understand the amazing ways these technologies are being applied to entertainment as well as other areas like education and healthcare. But, like any new technology, where there’s incredible opportunity there are also safety issues parents don’t want to ignore.

According to a report from Common Sense Media, 60 percent of parents are worried about VR’s health effects on children, while others say the technology will have significant educational benefits.

Virtual Reality

Adults and kids alike are using VR technology — headsets, software, and games — to experience the thrill of being in an immersive environment.

The Pokemon Go app uses AR technology to overlay characters on an existing environment.

According to Consumer Technology Association’s (CTA) 20th Annual Consumer Technology Ownership and Market Potential Study, there are now 7 million VR headsets in U.S. households, which equates to about six percent of homes. CTA estimates that 3.9 million VR/AR headsets shipped in 2017 and 4.9 million headsets will ship in 2018.

With VR technology, a user wears a VR Head Mounted Display (HMD) headset and interacts with 3D computer-generated environments on either a PC or smart phone that allows them to feel — or experience the illusion — that he or she is actually in that place. The VR headset has eye displays (OLED) for each eye that show an environment at different angles to give the perception of depth. VR environments are diverse. One might include going inside the human body to learn about the digestive system, another environment might be a battlefield, while another might be a serene ocean view. The list of games, apps, experiences, and movies goes on and on.

Augmented Reality

AR differs from VR in that it overlays digital information onto physical surroundings and does not require a headset. AR is transparent and allows you to see and interact with your environment. It adds digital images and data to enhance views of the real world. AR is used in apps like Pokémon Go and GPS and walking apps that allow you to see your environment in real time. Not as immersive as VR, AR can still enrich a physical reality and is finding its way into a number of industries. VR and AR technologies are used in education for e learning and in the military for combat, medic, and flight simulation training. The list of AR applications continues to grow.

To support these growing technologies, there are thousands of games, videos, live music and events available. Museums and arcades exist and theme parks are adapting thrill rides to meet the demand for VR experiences. Increasingly retailers are hopping on board to use VR to engage customers, which will be a hot topic at the upcoming 2019 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.

Still, there are questions from parents such as what effect will these immersive technologies have on children’s brains and if VR environments blur the line between reality and fantasy enough to change a child’s behavior. The answer: At this point, not a lot is known about VR’s affect on children but medical opinions are emerging warning of potential health impacts. So, calling a family huddle on the topic is a good idea you have these technologies in your home or plan to in the near future.

VR/AR talking points for families

Apply safety features. VR apps and games include safety features such as restricted chat and privacy settings that allow users to filter out crude language and report abusive behavior. While some VR environments have moderators in place, some do not. This is also a great time to discuss password safety and privacy with your kids.

The best way to understand VR? Jump in the fun alongside your kids.

Age ratings and reviews. Some VR apps or games contain violence so pay attention to age restrictions. Also, be sure to read the reviews of the game to determine the safety, quality, and value of the VR/AR content.

Inappropriate content. While fun, harmless games and apps exist, so too does sexual content that kids can and do seek out. Be aware of how your child is using his or her VR headset and what content they are engaged with. Always monitor your child’s tech choices.

Isolation. A big concern with VR’s immersive structure is that players can and do become isolated in a VR world and, like with any fun technology, casual can turn addictive. Time limits on VR games and monitoring are recommended.

Physical safety/health. Because games are immersive, VR players can fall or hurt themselves or others while playing. To be safe, sit down while playing, don’t play in a crowded space, and remove pets from the playing area.

In addition to physical safety, doctors have expressed VR-related health concerns. Some warn about brain and eye development in kids related to VR technology. Because of the brain-eye connection of VR, players are warned about dizziness, nausea, and anxiety related to prolonged play in a VR environment.

Doctors recommend adult supervision at all times and keeping VR sessions short to give the eyes, brain, and emotions a rest. The younger the child, the shorter the exposure should be.

Be a good VR citizen. Being a good digital citizen extends to the VR world. When playing multi-player VR games, be respectful, kind, and remember there are real hearts behind those avatars. Also, be mindful of the image your own avatar is communicating. Be aware of bullies and bullying behavior in a virtual world where the lines between reality and fantasy can get blurred.

Get in the game. If you allow your kids to play VR games, get immersed in the game with them. Understand the environments, the community, the feeling of the game, and the safety risks first hand. A good rule: If you don’t want your child to experience something in the real world — violence, cursing, fear, anxiety — don’t let them experience it in a virtual world.

To get an insider’s view of what a VR environment is like and to learn more about potential security risks, check out McAfee’s podcast Hackable?, episode #18, Virtually Vulnerable.

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