Getting Kids Unhooked from Their Smartphones

Mindful

Setting guidelines around kids’ tech use starts with the habits and conscious choices of parents. Mark Bertin, MD, shares tips on how families can be mindful with their tech.

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Kids and screen time cause considerable parental angst these days—and for good reason. Research shows children spend on average seven hours a day glued to computer, tablet, smartphone, or television screens. This reality has created such a stir that in the fall, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) updated its decade-old recommendation on childhood screen time.

Far from a radical revision, the guideline newly suggests a little well-chosen time is fine starting near eighteen months, when used interactively with a care taker. Below eighteen months no time remains best, apart from maybe video conversations with grandparents. From two to five, an hour daily maximum is recommended, and for older kids, two hours total time tops, no different than before.

Why is screen time such a uniquely charged and challenging topic? Guidelines of this type are tough to implement in the real world. Kids don’t want to hear that outside of homework too much screen time actually impacts healthy development. However, since children lack mature executive function, cognitive skills required to manage life like a grown up,  wise decision-making around screens remains limited until they learn better. As strong a pull as children feel, healthy technology use relies on parents.

The Command Center of Life

Executive function is like the CEO of our lives. Anything regarding organization, planning, anticipating, focusing, and regulating behavior relies on executive function. Healthy development of executive function in early childhood has even been linked to life-longacademic and social success.

In large part, kids depend on parents to manage life while waiting for executive function to mature. Executive function represents the path toward complex problem solving and goal setting, and the ability to defer short term gratification for long term gain. The unsettling reality is that executive function doesn’t fully mature until around the age of thirty. That’s one reason kids and teens make not-so-smart decisions when it comes to social media. In a nutshell, even an independent-seeming teenager almost certainly lacks the full capacity to make long-sighted choices.

Immature executive function is a large part of what makes kids act like, well, kids. Around screens, think of it this way: Most adults have fully developed executive function and a strong ability to manage attention, prioritize, plan, and control impulses, and consider the future. They still struggle to keep phones and devices from becoming a distraction. What does that mean for the average child?

Because children lack the self-management capacities of a mature adult, they are particularly at risk when it comes to screens. For many, whatever feels best right now (I’m bored, where’s my tablet?) trumps health and well-being virtually every time. For teens immersed in their complex social world and drive for independence, volatile hormones and emotions create a perfect storm when joined with immature executive function and a smartphone. Sending naked selfies—hey, why not? The part of the brain responsible for reflection and foresight isn’t all grown up yet!

Putting Your Kids on a Media Diet

Like parents through the generations, our modern role is to love our kids, guide them, and teach them. Kids have always needed supervision, and there’s nothing unique about their fascination with technology. Parents before us managed a child’s behavior around driving, partying, curfews, and manners, and we now must keep track of technology, too. This means setting boundaries and giving them more independence as they earn it over time, not before.

Four Negative Impacts of Phone Addiction

Technology is a tool; it is not inherently good or bad. To keep it in a healthy place in our lives requires skillful use. Unlike passing trends that scared parents over the years, research shows poorly monitored screen time bluntly impacts kids for the worse. (Rock and roll was never shown to affect child development in any real way; it isn’t evil, as it turns out.) Well moderated activities may augment learning, but hundreds of studies show that when devices drive their own use, consequences follow. A few examples include:

  • Short- and long-term attention and executive function suffer. Laser-like attention towards a screen is an illusion; kids remain engaged because their attention constantly, actively shifts. That’s why it’s fun. Increased time in front of screens has been linked to long-term worsening of focus. Short-term use—like playing games on the school bus—has been linked to immediate decreases in executive function.
  • Sleep becomes disrupted. Studies show we all benefit from at least an hour without screens prior to bed. If you’re someone who falls asleep with the TV, you’re distracting yourself from restlessness but probably not helping yourself fall asleep.
  • Screen time can interfere with language, communication, and other forms of social engagement. Background television in homes has been linked to shorter social interactions. Even just having a phone on the table in a conversation has been shown disruptive. “Educational” DVDs used in one study not only failed to work—they caused language development to slow. Particularly in younger children, screen time should be an opportunity to engage, not disengage, with others.
  • Screen time breeds behavioral difficulties. One study showed nothing more than cutting inappropriate media content in preschool homes leads to better school behavior. In another, violent video games in teens were shown to decrease activity in parts of the brain that respond to violence. Of course, not every child playing video games gets swayed, but over any group of children there seems to be an influence.

Mindful Screen Management

Mindfulness means living life with more awareness and less reactive habit. For a parent, that means not trying for perfection but taking the time to monitor and readjust often. As children need our guidance around any other area of health, they need it with technology. If there’s one takeaway point around the entire body of technology research it is this: Strong parental involvement moderating screen time in and of itself correlates with academic, behavioral, and social success.

Strong parental involvement moderating screen time in and of itself correlates with academic, behavioral, and social success.

Staying involved means pushing back against mindless screen habits. The role screens play in life is driven by buckets of research and advertising dollars, an industry itching to make more and more money. Wherever technology helps, educates, or entertains in a balanced way, that’s perfect. When its use is driven by boredom, fear, or compulsion, mindfulness means pausing and redirecting our behavior.

Nothing much has changed through the years about how children develop or the role of parents. You wouldn’t let a child eat chocolate cake at every meal and you wouldn’t let them drive recklessly. By the same token, you can’t let them use screens without limits. Parenting in the digital age means the same thing as in the stone age: Children require affection, firm limit setting, and a mindful, aware, clear-sighted approach to guiding them, from sticks and stones through television and smartphones.

Six Ways to Be Mindful with Your Tech as a Family

Some basic family guidelines for screen time include …

  • Start with yourself. Children learn an awful lot just from watching their parents, and 70 percent of today’s kids feel their parents are on their screens too much. When you’re with your kids, try to put down your device and pay attention to your family. You are the first role model for screen use.
  • Parents decide how much. For all the debate about how much time is healthy, it comes down to parents prioritizing what they want to prioritize. Take a daily calendar, and fill in everything you value first. Start with bedtime, school hours, homework, reading, exercise, outdoor time, after-school activities, and down time for open-ended play. Whatever is left after that exercise is the maximum available time for screens, without exceeding the AAP guidelines. (An online tool to figure this out is available here). Another trick is to ask yourself: What percentage of unscheduled down time goes directly to a screen?

What percentage of unscheduled down time goes directly to a screen?

  • Parents decide when. Set guidelines around homework, meals, and a screen bedtime. Use allotted times wisely, scheduling so you can get what you need done around the house. Teach courtesy and manners too—meaning, when there’s an actual person around we pay attention to that person. One practice to stay engaged with others is taking a deep breath first when the phone rings or vibrates, pausing before deciding if it needs immediate attention.
  • Parents monitor content. The Internet can be an incredible, healthy, helpful source of information for curious kids. It also can expose them to much that is developmentally inappropriate. A handful of games may educate, plenty more clearly do not. Sites such as a Common Sense Media provide unbiased information for parents about what is age appropriate around various games, shows, and movies. Keep computers and screens out of bedrooms so you know what your kids are doing. Use content filters, teach healthy use, and keep an eye on overall habits. Aim to stay a wise, involved parent.
  • Remember that screens are a privilege, not a right. In generations past, kids used the family car responsibly and kept to curfew, or else there were consequences. Technology is no different. If children don’t follow family rules, there’s nothing wrong with a similar result—you’ve lost the privilege of your phone for the weekend. To disconnect for a time won’t destroy their social lives any more than getting grounded did all those years ago.
  • Make active choices. Awareness is the core of mindfulness, stepping from autopilot into active decision-making. For example, a trend has grown to give every middle school student a smartphone, although most parents realize how disruptive they often are at that age. Most experts think high school a better time for a smartphone, but the trend lives on. Around that choice or any other, pause, note what’s driving your experience, and then decide what you think best.
This article originally appeared on The Garrison Institute, one of Mindful’s partners. See the original article.

Media Guidelines for Kids of All Ages

Child Mind Institute

Rachel EhmkeTips for making sure your children’s screen time is healthy

Parents used to just worry about kids watching too much TV, or playing too many video games. We still worry about those things, but now the screen time list has gotten much longer. Phones, tablets, apps, social media, texting — they all can captivate kids (and adults) starting at a very young age. What’s a parent to do? Going back to bed isn’t an option, but taking a deep breath and encouraging rational moderation is. Here are some tips, broken down by age group, to get you started.

Very young children (0-4)

– Limit exposure. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends avoiding television and other entertainment media for children under 18 months. After 18 months parents can begin introducing “high quality” programming, but the AAP cautions that parents should watch with their children to answer any questions they might have. For children two to five, the AAP recommends limiting media consumption to an hour of high quality programming, again with the caveat that parents should be watching alongside.

– Start leading by example early. Even before your child has a phone or tablet of her own, show her how they should be used. Don’t check your messages at the dinner table. Look at people when they’re talking to you — not at your phone. Remember that your children are always watching you and young children notice everything — that’s how they learn.

– Don’t underestimate the value of traditional toys and open spaces. It’s important for kids to experience unstructured “free play,” which means that they decide what to do, and how to do it, and are playing simply for play’s sake—not to get to the next level in a game, or learn some specific skill. Children should experience the fun of making up their own rules — and breaking them — as they go along. This kind of play lets kids:

  • Move at their own pace, instead of being driven (or hurried) along by fast-moving media
  • Develop creativity
  • Get experience making decisions
  • Practice sharing and working with others
  • Learn to be a leader and self-advocate

Apps — however educational they claim to be — are no substitute for the kind of learning that comes to kids naturally if we let it.

– Do leave the tablet at home. While they are helpful during a long car or plane ride, tablets and other devices are out of place in the stroller or car on the way to preschool. It’s important for kids to have the opportunity to look around them and find entertainment (not to speak of learning) in the real world, too. And they should not be part of play dates!

Grade school age kids (5-11)

– Watch things together. If you’re worried that your kids are getting bad messages from the media, the best way to counteract them is to watch alongside your kids and point out when something isn’t right. Call out a female character if she only seems to care about boys, or how she looks. Provide context if you are seeing unhealthy relationships (including friendships) or unrealistic beauty standards. Besides reinforcing your values, this will teach your kids to watch television and movies actively, not passively, which is good for their self-esteem. Do this during commercials, too!

– Screen time shouldn’t be all the time. The AAP recommends that parents set sensible boundaries on how much screen time is appropriate for their child. Just as important: designating media-free spaces, like bedrooms and the dinner table. Establishing (and enforcing) these limits from a young age teaches kids to be healthy media consumers.

– Be discerning. Determining what is quality screen time and what isn’t might not be obvious, but look out for things that:

  • Are age-appropriate
  • Engage your child’s imagination
  • Have the right values

Common Sense Media has more pointers here. Conversely, if you don’t want your child playing a particular game or watching a particular show, explain your reasons why and be specific — don’t just say it’s “bad.”

– Don’t make screens the reward (or consequence). Technology is enormously appealing to kids as it is, but when we make screen time the go-to thing kids get for good behavior — or get taken away for bad behavior — we are making it even more desirable, thereby increasing the chances that a child will overvalue it.

– Encourage other activities. There are many ways to have fun. Running around outside, playing a sport, reading books, doing crafts — variety is important for a balanced life. Encourage your kids to develop a wide range of interests. Model yourself doing this, too. Let your kids see you reading a book and making things and having a hobby. Finally, present these things as just as rewarding as screen time — not alternatives to it. Equal billing is important.

– Be prepared for them to discover porn. Even if they’re not exactly looking for it, kids today can stumble onto pornography very easily. Curiosity is often a big motivator, so don’t be shy about having some frank, developmentally appropriate conversations about sex. If they hear it from you then they’ll be less likely to turn to the Internet for answers, and they’ll be more likely to ask you to explain what they see online or hear from friends. And if they do see porn, let them know what they saw was no more realistic than any other movie.

Link between social media and depression stronger in teen girls than boys, study says

CNN

As “Fortnite” Blows Up, Parents Need to Up Their Game

A new survey confirms what most parents already know: Kids are going crazy for “Fortnite.” Here are some practical tips to manage it. By Sierra Filucci 
As "Fortnite" Blows Up, Parents Need to Up Their Game

Does your kid talk endlessly about Tilted Towers and V-Bucks? Do his shouts of “Revive me! Revive me!” ring throughout your home? Have you considered moving to a remote island without internet access to rid yourself of absolutely anything having to do with Fortnite? Welcome to Fortnite frenzy! You’re the parent of one of 125 million players of the enormously popular multiplayer third-person-shooter video game Fortnite: Battle Royale.

Want more tips on how to handle the Fortnite frenzy?
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As parents of Fortnite players know, getting kids to stop playing can turn into a battleground of its own. According to a new Common Sense/SurveyMonkey poll, about one in five parents says it’s at least moderately difficult to get kids off the game. About a quarter say they’re concerned about how much time their kid is playing, and the same number express worry over their kid’s exposure to violence in the game. Here are a few other key findings:

  • Fortnite is super popular — but still not as popular as Instagram. More than six in 10 teenagers (61 percent) say they have played Fortnite, coming close to the percentages of teens who say they use Snapchat (73 percent) and Instagram (74 percent), found in a previous survey.
  • Girls play, too! (But not as much as boys.) Although teen boys are much more likely to say they’ve played (75 percent), 47 percent of teen girls say they’ve played. Of teens who play, about 22 percent of boys play at least once a day, compared to 9 percent of girls.
  • It might be more tempting than geometry. More than one in four teens (27 percent) say they’ve played Fortnite during class at school.
  • Swearing happens. A third of teens (33 percent) say they’ve been exposed to inappropriate language or harassment while chatting with other players.
  • Fortnite = friends (especially for boys). Half of teens (50 percent) say playing Fornitehelps them keep up with their friends, 50 percent say it has helped them learn teamwork, 44 percent have made a friend online, 40 percent have improved their communication skills, and 39 percent have bonded with a sibling. But boys are more likely than girls to claim positive benefits from playing Fortnite. Notably, teen girls are more likely than boys to say they have bonded with a sibling by playing Fortnite.

So, how do you manage a game that’s more fun than math class, keeps kids connected, and even has some positive benefits? By knowing enough about the game to help your kid keep it balanced with all the other stuff they need to do. One way to learn more about the game is to sit down and play it yourself (one in five dads has tried it, as have about 18 percent of moms!). Then, when it comes to setting limits, you’ll have a bit more insider knowledge. These tips will help, too:

Limit by round or time, depending on type of play. In “playground mode,” friends play together in an open world without the usual constraints of a normal Battle Royale session. This means that if you learned the trick of telling your kid they can play a certain number of rounds (which can last anywhere from one to 20 minutes), this new type of play makes those rules moot. In “playground mode” kids can endlessly “respawn” (or come back to life), which means if you want to set a limit, it needs to be based on time (like half an hour or 90 minutes). And kids’ usual excuse of not being able to quit mid-game doesn’t apply in “playground mode.”

Know how to use Fortnite settings. A big concern for parents — especially for younger kids — is the ability to talk to strangers while playing Fortnite. There are a few very easy ways to deal with that. First, don’t get your kid a headset. Without a headset, kids can still play but won’t be able to talk to anyone (unless they simultaneously call their friends on their phones). Another option: Go to settings from within the game, click on “Privacy: Public” and change to “Privacy: Friends” or “Privacy: Private.” That way kids will only play with people whose handles they know (and hopefully have met in real life). Last, turn off voice chat. Go to settings, click on the gear icon, and toggle voice chat to off.

Use parental controls. If you need something a little stronger to enforce your rules around Fortnite, you have a few options. Because Fortnite needs to be connected to the internet to work, any tool that will shut off internet access will allow you to shut off the game. If kids are playing on a console, turning off Wi-Fi through your provider’s app or device should be pretty easy. If kids are playing on an iPhone or iPad, you can use the settings within the device to set limits (or disable access completely) to Fortnite. Check out more information about Screen Time settings in iOS 12. Also, some parental-control products, such as Circle by Disney, build in Fortnite-specific controls.

Help Tweens Use Their Phones Less With These Tools

From screen limits to break reminders to Do Not Disturb, OS and app settings may help us break unhealthy digital habits and tune into what’s really important.
By Caroline Knorr 
Use Your Phone Less (with Tools from Apple, Google, Snapchat and More)

The internet invasion started slowly. But then it came all at once. Suddenly, we’re checking email at 3 a.m., fighting with our kids to make them shut down their devices, and staring at screens instead of making eye contact. No one asked for this life, but here we are: wasting time online, getting distracted (even when our phones are off!), and playing catch-up on all the latest stuff our kids are doing on SnapchatInstagramYouTube, and who knows what else.

It doesn’t have to be this way. A new wave of so-called “digital wellness” features designed to prevent screen overload is taking hold in some of the most popular tech tools. From operating systems including Apple’s iOS 12 and Google’s upcoming Android Pie update to social media like Snapchat and Instagram, you can see exactly how much time you’re spending online, set limits for yourself and your kids, and reduce distractions and interruptions from notifications.

You have the right to remain skeptical. The idea of tech companies trying to help us stay off their products — after using every trick in the book to keep us hooked — is pretty ironic. And there’s no proof that digital wellness features work — much less help mental health issues associated with technology use, such as anxiety, depression, and addiction. But if you’re concerned about your tech use, as well as about your kid’s, they’re certainly worth trying. Whether they help depends a lot on your family’s needs, your kids’ willingness to be on board, and the kinds of conversations you have around self-regulation. Take a look at some of the most popular platforms’ efforts to protect your digital well-being.

iOS 12

Screenshot of iOS screentimeScreen TimeYou can enable Screen Time on your kid’s phone and password-protect the settings so they can’t change them. Or, you can also manage the settings remotely by setting up Family Sharing. We recommend using the features together with your kid. Work on using screens intentionally and mindfully, and help your kid learn to regulate their own use when you’re not around to do it for them. Key features:

  • Usage report. A daily and weekly readout of the time you’re spending on your device. You can see exactly how much attention you and your kids pay to app categories such as social networking versus, say, reading and reference.
  • Downtime. Turns the phone off during a specific period of time — for example, 9 p.m. to 8 a.m.
  • App Limits. Sets daily time limits for app categories such as games and entertainment as well as for individual apps.
  • Always Allowed. Lets you choose which apps (for example, music apps) that never turn off — even during downtime.
  • Content & Privacy Restrictions. Controls what your kids can see (such as mature content) and do (such as download and delete apps). Also puts limits on how much information third parties can access about your kid.

Android Pie (available now on Pixel devices; rolling out to other users)

Screenshot of Android's Digital Wellbeing toolsDigital WellbeingUnlike the Screen Time features in iOS 12, you can’t enable Digital Wellbeing settings on your kid’s phone and password-protect them. Instead, Digital Wellbeing is designed for individual users to customize their devices to their own needs. If you’re an Android family, you can discuss and try various features to make the phone work for you — instead of the other way around. (If you want to have more control over your kid’s Android phone, check out Google’s Family Link parental-control app, which allows remote monitoring.) Key features:

  • Dashboard. Graphs the time you’ve spent in individual apps and lets you set daily time limits for apps that keep you hooked longer than you’d like (for example, 15 minutes tops on Snapchat).
  • Do Not Disturb. Silences your device entirely or allows you to specify which alerts you want to see (or not).
  • Notifications. Personalizes your alerts, so you can snooze them and schedule them at a convenient time.
  • Wind Down. Automatically turns your phone grayscale and enables Do Not Disturb at a time you specify.

YouTube

Screenshot of YouTube's Time Watched featureAccount Settings. One of the most popular platforms for kids and adults, YouTube is easy to get lost in — or it used to be, anyway. Now you can see a full rundown of how much time you and your kids spend scrolling through videos, and if you think you’re overdoing it, you can enable settings to curb your use. You can’t password-protect the settings, though, so they’re mostly helpful for you if you let your kids use your phone or if you help your kid set them so they can regulate their own use. Key features:

  • Time Watched. Available only on the app, these stats show how much time you’ve spent watching videos for the present day, the day before, and the past week. Within this feature, you can also set a reminder to take a break after a certain amount of time and disable autoplay so you won’t get sucked in to watching endless videos.
  • Scheduled digest. Instead of random notifications about the latest video that distracts you at all hours, you can get all your alerts bundled together at one time.
  • Disable sounds & vibrations. If you can’t see or hear your alerts, you’ll stay blissfully engaged in important stuff (such as talking with your kids) until you check your phone.
  • Restricted Mode. Though it’s been around for a while, Restricted Mode can be a helpful additional setting to give you some peace of mind. It limits mature content from showing up in your kid’s feed (it’s not perfect, though).

Instagram (available soon)

Screenshot of Instagram's Digital Wellbeing toolsDigital WellbeingRunning neck and neck with Snapchat as the most popular social media app among teens, Instagram is a key social lifeline. Its parent company (Facebook) has made an effort to help users manage their time and reduce exposure to cyberbullying by adding settings such as Comment Controls, which allow you to micromanage your friends’ replies, and All Caught Up, which lets you know you’ve seen every post since the last time you scrolled through your feed. Digital Wellbeing, which will roll out soon, will add even more functionality. You can check back for updates after the new version is released. Key features:

  • Activity Dashboard. Displays a daily average of the time you’ve spent on the app for the week.
  • Daily Reminder. Allows you to set a time limit and receive a notification when you’ve hit your limit.
  • Mute Push Notifications. Silences push notifications (you can also turn them off entirely in the app’s settings or on your phone’s settings).

Snapchat

Screenshot of Snapchat's Do Not Disturb featureDo Not DisturbThe pioneer of the disappearing message, Snapchat is now a full-fledged portal to friends, videos from around the world, current events, and much more. Needless to say, it can take up a lot of time. But you can cut down on the noise — a little bit. Key features:

  • Do Not Disturb. Instead of disabling the phone or the app altogether, Snapchat lets you mute notifications from individual people. If you have a chronic oversharer on your friends list, you don’t have to block or remove them. Just “shush” them for a while and you won’t be alerted to their posts.
  • Mute story. Muting a story pushes the friend down your contacts list, effectively making their posts the last in line.

TikTok – Real Short Videos

Screenshot of TikTok's Digital Wellbeing featureDigital WellbeingTikTok serves up endlessly scrollable 15-second videos from people all over the world. Averaging 13 million video uploads per day, the app could certainly eat up a lot of your kid’s time. You can password-protect the Digital Wellbeing features on your kid’s phone so they can’t change them. Key features:

  • Screen Time Management. Sets a two-hour daily viewing time limit. (The time limit isn’t customizable.)
  • Restricted Mode. Filters out videos that may not be age-appropriate.

Facebook (currently in development)

Screenshot of Your Time on Facebook featureYour Time on Facebook. Though research shows teens prefer Snapchat and Instagram to Facebook, you’re probably on it more than you would like. The company is rumored to be creating some options to help you keep track of the time you spend on the platform, which in theory should help you cut down. You can check back for updates after the new version is released. Key features:

  • Time on Facebook. Displays a daily average of the time you’ve spent on the app for the week.
  • Manage Your Time. Allows you to set a time limit and receive a notification when you’ve hit your limit.
  • Mute Push Notifications. Silences push notifications (you can also turn them off entirely in the app’s settings or on your phone’s settings) or choose which alerts you want to get.

5 Strategies for Getting Kids off Devices

Ever try to pry a tablet from sticky fingers? Check out these tips to avoid the tantrum. By Christine Elgersma 
5 Strategies for Getting Kids off Devices

“Just a sec,” say nine out of 10 parents answering an email when their kid asks them for something. If it’s hard for us to jump out of the digital world, just imagine you’re 3 and the lines between fantasy and reality are already blurred — then throw in a super-engaging, colorful, fun, immersive experience. Or you’re 5 and each episode of Mutt &  Stuff on the Nick Jr. app is better than the last. Or you’re 8 and you’re almost finished building something amazing in Minecraft. Why would you ever want to stop?

This is why getting kids off their devices is so tough. And when threatening doesn’t work, and you discover the research that two-minute warnings aren’t the best option either, what can you do? Thankfully, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has some new guidelinesaround screen use that ease some parental guilt, but you still need to get your kid off the iPad at some point. Aside from being a strong role model, try these tips to minimize conflict and find the balance we’re all seeking.

  • Have another activity lined up (bonus points for making it seem fun). For the youngest device users, transitions are hard — period.  Even if the next “to do” is a “must do” (such as eating lunch), tell your kid what’s coming next. You can rehearse the process: “When I say stop, it’s time for the iPad to go night-night. Let’s see how fast you can flip it shut! As soon as it’s asleep, we can sneak into the other room and paint.”
  • Use visual and sound cues to help kids keep track of time limits. For kids who don’t yet know how to tell time, try a timer that can help put them in charge of the process: “When the time is up, it’ll look and sound like this.”
  • Find apps with built-in timers. Video streamers like Cakey and Huvi throw parents a bone and have internal timers so the app stops on its own. Then it’s up to the parent to make sure kiddo doesn’t just jump into another app.
  • Tell kids to stop at a natural break, such as the end of an episode, level, or activity. It’s hard for kids (and adults!) to stop in the middle of something. Before your kid gets on a device, talk about what they want to do or play, what will be a good place to stop, and how long they think it’ll take. Set the limit together and hold to it, though a little wiggle room (a couple of minutes so they can finish) is fine.
  • Discuss consequences and follow through when kids test the limits. When all else fails, it’s important to have discussed consequences for when your kid won’t give it up. For little kids, the line can be something like, “If it’s too hard to turn off, the tablet has to go away for a whole day.” For older kids it’s more about keeping devices in a public space, setting expectations, and enforcing them. If they show you they can be partners in moderating and regulating themselves, there can be more flexibility.

It’s Not Cyberbullying, But…

Though someone’s mean online behavior might not fit the definition, it can still hurt. By Christine Elgersma 
It's Not Cyberbullying, But ...

 

A student sees a group of girls coming toward her in the hallway. One has been her best friend since second grade, but she doesn’t know the others very well. She says hi to them as they pass. They all ignore her or roll their eyes, including her friend. A few lockers down, they whisper to each other while they stare at her and laugh behind their hands.

While we can all agree the girls in this situation are being mean, can we call this bullying?

These “IRL” (in real life) scenarios happen all the time, and they often carry over into the online world. And though insults, exclusion, and even all-out aggression don’t always meet the technical definition of cyberbullying — ongoing, targeted harassment via digital communication tools over a period of time — they still hurt.

The best remedy for all these issues is prevention and education: Teaching kids what it means to be kind and respectful and a responsible digital citizen can nip lots of trouble in the bud. But when and if problems start, it’s good for parents to understand what’s happening — and how to help.

So, other than straight-up cyberbullying, what are some other reasons our kids might be bummed by others’ online behavior?

Ghosting. When friends cut off online contact and stop responding, they’re ghosting. Refusing to answer someone’s texts or Snaps is actually a way of communicating during a shift or upheaval among a group of friends. Often, instead of ever addressing the issue head-on, kids will just ignore the targeted person.

  • How to handle it. Being ignored is tough. Instead of relying on the old parent standby, “If they’re ignoring you, they’re obviously not your real friends,” try to empathize and validate your kid’s feelings. If they’re willing, encourage them to try a face-to-face conversation with the ghosters. If that feels too hard, suggest your kid stop trying to get replies; the ghosters may come around, but if not, your kid is free to move on.

Subtweeting. When you tweet or post something about a specific person but don’t mention them by name or tag them, you’re subtweeting. Usually, subtweets are critical or downright mean. Since the target isn’t tagged or even named in most cases, they might not know it’s happening until someone clues them in.

  • How to handle it. If your kid finds out someone is subtweeting them, they have a few options depending on the perpetrator. If it’s a friend who’s suddenly turned on them, it’s a good time to address it face-to-face. If it’s someone they don’t know well or have a conflict with, it’s best to ignore it. Engaging in a Twitter war (or conflict on any other platform) usually escalates the problem.

Fake accounts. Sometimes kids will create fake accounts in someone else’s name and use that account to stir up trouble or hurt that person. In most cases, there’s no way to trace who created the account, and even if it’s shut down, the person can just create another one.

  • How to handle it. Dealing with fake accounts can feel like a game of whack-a-mole. But a kid who’s targeted should actively defend themselves by blocking and reporting it. Kids should also let friends know what’s happening to set the record straight — and take some of the fun out of it for the person creating the accounts.

Sharing embarrassing posts and pics. Taking selfies and group pics are a normal part of tween and teen life. But sometimes kids take pictures of each other that, while fun in the moment, are potentially embarrassing if widely shared or cruelly captioned. Often this is done by someone who thinks they’re being funny or assumes everyone will get the joke. But pictures or compromising posts can make the rounds in a hot minute, so no matter the intentions, the shame can stick.

  • How to handle it. It’s best if kids get in the habit of asking each other for permission to share photos. But that won’t always happen. Remind kids to think about the impact the photo will have on others before they post it. Kids can also ask their friends to take down embarrassing pictures as soon as they know they’re public. If the image has already made the rounds, they may not be able to chase down every copy. But you can reassure kids that everyone will likely move on to the next piece of news and forget about it soon.

Rumors. Social media is a perfect venue for the rumor mill, so lies can go far and wide before the target even knows what’s happening. And once the fake news is out there, it’s pretty impossible to reel it back in.

  • How to handle it. Your kid’s response depends on the type of rumor. If it’s something that involves other people — like a rumor that your kid stole someone’s significant other and that has led to threats — you may need to get the school involved. If the rumor is embarrassing or hurtful but isn’t likely to cause a fight, it’s fine for your kid to post a response. Coach them to respond just once and ignore the comments. Otherwise, they can refute the rumor in person when it comes up and wait for everyone to move on.

Exclusion. A kid may be scrolling through their feed and stop cold at a picture of all their friends together — without them. Usually, these kinds of photos aren’t intentional slights. But sometimes they are. And if the person who posted the picture knows your kid follows them, there’s — at the very least — a lapse in judgment.

  • How to handle it. Responding online probably won’t get the best results. Encourage your kid to approach the original poster face-to-face and explain that the photos hurt their feelings. It’s best if your kid can use “I” statements, like “I felt really hurt when I saw that picture … ” (not “I think you’re a jerk”). If your kid can express their emotions honestly, they’ll probably discover it was just a careless oversight. If it was a deliberate jab, then your kid should probably unfriend the OP (original poster).

Griefing. Remember those kids on the playground who always whipped the ball at other kids and called them names? Those kids play multiplayer video games, too. But instead of whipping a ball, they kill your character on purpose, steal your game loot, and harass you in chat. Online, that behavior is called “griefing.” If your kid plays multiplayer games with chat, they’re bound to run into it at some point.

  • How to handle it. Before your kid starts playing a game with anonymous strangers, make sure they know how to report and block players who are being cruel on purpose. Tell your kid not to get into an argument over chat, since it probably won’t resolve anything and could escalate the aggression. Certain games tend to have more toxic behavior than others, so encourage your kid to try a different game where the community is known to be respectful and the moderators don’t tolerate trash-talking.

Hate speech. Teens encounter hate speech even more than cyberbullying. This kind of language is similar to cyberbullying, but it’s targeted to hurt someone based on personal traits such as race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, or belief system. And unlike the persistent cruelty of cyberbullying, it can be a one-time thing. Even if your kid isn’t the object of the posts or comments, they may feel the impact if they’re a part of the targeted group.

  • How to handle it. If your kid encounters hate speech online, it’s OK for them to post a matter-of-fact, one-time response refuting it. But they shouldn’t get involved in a flame war. Check in with your kid about the kinds of attitudes they see expressed online. If they’re seeing a lot of hurtful language, encourage them to seek out alternative feeds — especially ones from supportive online communities. And if it’s something really painful or that makes your kid feel humiliated, offer strong counter-messages. If your kid knows the person who posted hate speech — such as another student at school — you can gauge whether to get others (administrators and other parents) involved. Hate speech can have very real consequences in the real world, depending on the context and whether threats are involved.

Kids’ Brainpower Tied to Exercise, Sleep and Limited Screen Time

The New York Times

At least 60 minutes of physical activity a day, nine to 11 hours of sleep a night, and no more than two hours a day of recreational screen time were tied to higher mental test scores.

Researchers tied three behaviors to higher scores on tests of mental ability in children: at least 60 minutes of physical activity a day, nine to 11 hours of sleep a night, and no more than two hours a day of recreational screen time.

The new study, in Lancet Child & Adolescent Health, included 4,524 children ages 8 to 11 who were assessed with six standard tests that measure language skills, memory, planning ability, and speed at completing mental tasks.

Compared with those who met none of the three behavioral criteria, those who met all of them scored about 4 percent higher on the combined tests. Meeting the requirements for both screen time and sleep was associated with a 5.1 percent increase in scores compared with those who met neither. Only 5 percent of the children met all three criteria, and nearly 30 percent met none.

“It may be that screen time is affecting sleep,” said the lead author, Jeremy J. Walsh, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of British Columbia. “Sleep is a critical behavior for shaping our brains. Kids need to be sleeping nine to 11 hours a night for their cognitive development to be optimal.”

Social Media, Social Life: Teens Reveal Their Experiences (2018)

Common Sense Media

VR 101

Social media platforms are central to every aspect of teens’ lives, from how they stay in touch with friends to how they engage with politics. And constantly refreshing their social feeds can feel simultaneously positive and negative: Teens say social media strengthens their relationships but also distracts them from in-person connection.

Social Media, Social Life: Teens Reveal Their Experiences sheds light on teens’ changing social media habits and why some kids are more deeply affected by — and connected to — their digital worlds. The report is a nationally representative survey of more than 1,000 kids age 13 to 17. And because it tracks changes from 2012 to today, we can see how teens’ social media use continues to evolve. Read the full report

Apps Stirring Up Trouble in Schools

This year’s hottest social media can fill the school day with drama and distraction. 
By Caroline Knorr 
Apps Stirring Up Trouble in Schools

Ask any middle or high school teacher what their biggest classroom challenge is, and it’s pretty much guaranteed they’ll say “cellphones.” Makes sense. Today, 95 percent of teens have access to a cellphone, and nearly half say they’re on them “constantly.” Putting aside for a moment the need to find solutions to this problem, inquiring minds want to know: What the heck is on kids’ phones that they can’t go an entire class without them?

Two words: killer apps. Specifically, the ones that play into the tween and teen brain’s need for stimulation and peer approval and its weakness for thinking through consequences — in other words, stuff that lets them gossip, socialize, play games, and — if they’re so inclined — not work too hard. These apps are designed to capture kids’ attention and hold it for as long as possible. (Learn about the tricks social media designers use to keep kids hooked.) And once an app gains critical mass (like, when every kid in school is on it), your social life takes a major hit if you don’t, for example, play Fortnite, keep up a Snapstreak, or stalk your crush on Find My Friends. And, honestly, it takes a pretty steadfast kid to resist tapping into the internet hive mind for answers to tough homework questions (especially when everyone else seems to be doing it).

No wonder teachers have such an uphill battle keeping tweens and teens focused in class. But you can help your student by discussing this issue at home. In fact, by simply being aware of some of the key apps that tend to stir up trouble in schools, whether due to social drama, distraction, or something worse — like cheating — you can start a conversation with your kid that could save them and the teacher a lot of headaches. And while you don’t have to know every single detail of all the popular apps, it helps to have an awareness of when, why, and how they’re being used and to help your kid manage their own use and that of their friends. Most teachers would probably agree that the internet has been a mostly positive aspect of the middle and high school years. But students, with the support of parents, need to use it responsibly. (Learn more ways to help kids manage their app use and stay focused in school.)

Check out some of the apps that can potentially stir up drama in schools this year:

Snapchat. The original disappearing-message app has metamorphosed into a megaportal for chatting, finding your friends on a map, sharing images, reading the news, watching videos, and much, much more. As one of the most important apps for teens, it takes up a significant portion of their day. One of those time-consuming activities that occupy students during the school day is Snapstreaks, which require users to trade snaps within a 24-hour period. The longest streaks number in the thousands of days — and some kids maintain streaks with multiple people.

Tik Tok – including musical.ly. What started as a lip-synching app is now a hugely popular, full-fledged video-sharing service. The ability to “go live” at any time — meaning to stream yourself live (yes, on the internet) — has added a whole ‘nother level to the time tweens and teens can spend dancing, singing, pranking, and performing skits to music or other recorded sounds. While much of the content is fine, a lot of it is extremely iffy for kids, and when you watch it, you can see plenty recorded during the school day.

Games such as Fortnite and HQ Live Trivia Game Show (HQ for short). Fortnite has all the hallmarks of being a teacher’s worst nightmare: It’s easy to play, highly social, and super compelling. The hugely popular survival game is played in short bursts (until you die — which is often), so it’s tailor-made for students trying to get a bit of fun in between lunch and algebra class. Some schools are banning the game, leading to knockoff versions that get around the school network’s blacklist. HQis the smash-hit trivia game that’s played for real prize money. Each 12-minute game is hosted live as hundreds of thousands of players log in to answer 12 multiple-choice questions on a wide variety of trivia topics. Games usually take place twice on weekdays and once on weekends (the company experiments with different airtimes to keep players on their toes). Sponsors including Nike and Warner Bros., and big jackpots timed with massive events such as the NBA finals, show that HQ is actively cultivating a young audience.

Homework helpers such as PhotomathSlader, and, of course, Google. What do you do if you’ve been goofing off all day, or just feverishly multitasking, and can’t finish your geometry problems? Look ’em up. Apps that supply all the answers are only a few taps away. And don’t even get us started on home assistants like Siri, Alexa, and Google Home, all of which can be programmed to provide tutor-like assistance.

People finders such as Find My Friends and Mappen. Kids love being in touch with their friends 24/7/365, and location apps make it easy to arrange get-togethers and make plans with your posse. But these apps have a dark side, too. Kids feel pressured to be “on” all the time, partly because of friends’ expectations that one should always be available. Stalking — either of your kid or by your kid — can be a major issue. And, riskiest of all, some location-aware apps encourage face-to-face meet-ups with strangers.