Category Archives: teens online

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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Social Underground: Kids Using Google Docs as New Digital Hangout

Over the years kids have succeeded in staying one step ahead of parents on the digital front. Remember the golden days of social? Teens owned Facebook until every parent, auntie, and grandparent on the planet showed up. So, teens migrated to Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat hoping to carve out a private patch of land for their tribe. And, according to a report in The Atlantic, the latest app these digital nomads have claimed as a covert hangout surprisingly is Google Docs.

Yes — Google Docs — that boring looking online tool many of us parents use at work to collaborate on projects. Google Docs is perfect when you think about it. The app can be accessed on a tablet, laptop, or as a phone app. It allows multiple users to edit a document at the same time — kind of like an online party or the ultimate private group chat.

To interact, kids can use the chat function or even highlight words or phrases and use a comment bubble to chat. Because teachers use the application in the classroom, kids are using Google Docs to chat during class without getting busted or dupe parents at home into thinking they are doing their homework.

Another big perk: Schools have firewalls that block social networking sites during school hours, but Google Docs is officially cleared for school use.

The Risks

As with any app, what begins as a covert, harmlessly chat channel between friends, can get malicious quickly as more and more people are invited into a shared document to talk.

Kids can easily share videos, memes, and hurtful, joking, or inappropriate content within a Google Doc. They can gang up on other kids and bully others just as they do on any other social network. Similar to the way images disappear on Snapchat in 24 hours or on Instagram stories, the “resolve” button on Google Docs chat function, allows kids to instantly delete a chat thread if a teacher or parent heads their way or hovers too closely.

Because Google Docs live on the cloud, there’s no need to download or install a piece of software to use or access it. Any device connected to the Internet can access a Google Doc, which means kids can also use it as a digital diary without a digital trail and hide potentially harmful behaviors from parents.

10 Ways to Coach Your Kids Around Digital Safety 

  1. Know where they go. Just as you’d ask where your child where he or she is going offline, be aware of their digital destinations online. Check on them during homework hours to be sure they aren’t chatting away their learning time.
  2. Check for other apps. If you’ve grounded your child from his or her smartphone for any reason, and they claim they have online homework to do, check their laptops and tablets for chat apps like Kik, WhatsApp, hidden vault apps, and of course, as we now know, Google Docs (see right for the icon).
  3. Remember, it’s forever. Even if an image or video is “resolved” on Google Docs, deleted on Instagram or Twitter, or “vanishes” on Snapchat, the great equalizer is the screenshot. Anyone can take one, and anyone can use it to bully, extort, or shame another person anytime they decide. Remind kids of the responsibility they have with any content they share anywhere online — privacy does not exist.
  4. Sharing is caring. If your child is on Google Docs and you have a hunch, they aren’t doing homework, ask them to share their document with you so you can monitor their work. Just hit the big blue “share” button and insert your email address and you will have immediate access to the homework document.
  5. Keep in touch with teachers. If your child’s grades begin to slip, he or she could be distracted at school. Ask about what apps are used in the classroom and alert the teacher if you think your child might be distracted be it with technology or anything else.
  6. Parental controls. Hey, we’re busy because we’re parents. Enlist some help in monitoring your child’s online activity with parental control software. This will help you block risky sites, limit excessive app use, and give you a report of where your kids spend most of their time online.
  7. Look for red flags. Everyone needs and desires privacy even your teen. The tough part is discerning when a teen is being private or trying to hide risky behavior. A few red flags to look for include defensiveness when asked about an app or chat activity, turning off a device screen when you come around, and getting angry when you ask to see their screen. Another sign of unhealthy app use is an increase in data use and fatigue at school from lack of sleep.
  8. Connect with other parents. Here’s the snag in the whole plan: The rules that apply to homework and devices at your house, may not apply at other people’s homes where kids often study. Bullying or inappropriate online behaviors often take place under other people’s roofs. So get intentional. Keep in touch with other parents. Find common ground on digital values before letting kids go offsite for homework time.
  9. Talk, talk, talk. Your best defense in keeping your kids safe online — be it using apps or other sites — is a strong offense. Talk with your kids often about what they like to do online, what their friends do, and address digital issues immediately.
  10. Be flexible. Parental monitoring is going to look different in every family. Every child is different in maturity, and every parent-child relationship varies greatly. Find a monitoring solution that works for your family. Coming down too hard on your kids could drive them into deeper secrecy while taking a hands-off approach could put them in danger. Try different methods until you find one that fits your family.

Remember: You won’t be able to keep your finger on everything your child is up to online, but you can still have a considerable influence by staying in the know on digital trends and best online safety practices.

The post Social Underground: Kids Using Google Docs as New Digital Hangout appeared first on McAfee Blogs.