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.

What to Ask When Your Kid Brings Home a School-Issued Laptop

There are no silly questions when it comes to the technology your kid will be learning on. By Caroline Knorr 
What to Ask When Your Kid Brings Home a School-Issued Laptop

Good news, folks: You can cross off pencils and paper from your back-to-school shopping list. School-issued laptops and tablets are steadily replacing workbooks and practice packets. Yes, it’s exciting: a shiny new device kids get all to themselves; software that adapts to their level; and a much-reduced chance of mysteriously missing homework. But you may have mixed feelings — and lots of questions — about managing the device in your home (which probably already has a bunch of screens).

Schools handing out devices will almost certainly send home an information package with rules (called an acceptable use policy, or AUP) for the device’s use, including what the device can be used for and the consequences for misuse. But it’s up to you to figure out how this new device is used at home. Teachers and even other parents can help you work out any challenges you may face. Here are some common questions parents have when kids bring a device home from school.

What will the school device be used for?
Schools have a number of online learning options. Those that implement a 1-to-1 program(meaning every student receives their own device) should have a well-thought-through plan for how these devices will be used in the classroom and for homework. They may assign a few apps or implement an entire curriculum. Depending on whether your school chooses a little or a lot of technology, your kid may be using the device only for lessons and practice work or following specifically sequenced modules for, say, an entire language arts or math class. Some schools simply use the devices to interact on a shared platform, such as Google Classroom (which you can read more about on our educator’s site), for group collaboration, and writing and turning in papers.

If you don’t understand what the devices are being used for in school or at home, make sure to bring these questions to back-to-school night or contact the teachers or administrators individually. If you don’t get satisfactory answers, bring your questions to the PTA or the wider community.

How much time should my kid be spending on the device for homework?
Are students expected to do all their homework on the device, do only some of their homework, or use only a few apps? The answer will give you a good idea of how much time your kid should be devoting to online and offline work. Just as in pre-device days, teachers generally use grade level as a guide for how much homework to assign. If you think your kid is spending too much time on the device for homework, check in with the teacher to better understand his or her expectations.

One of the advantages of online work is that it can track how a student is doing. Some apps time kid’s sessions, which gives teachers feedback on an individual student’s proficiency — even on individual problems. If you have that data, you can get a gauge of whether your kid is on track, stuck on something, or possibly dillydallying. If your kid is consistently taking more time than the teacher recommends, keep an eye on their progress to determine if it’s the homework itself or if they’re watching YouTube videos, playing Fortnite, or chatting in another browser window.

How much time will my kid be spending on the device at school?
When school-issued devices become a part of your kid’s life, it can add up to a lot of screen time. How teachers use the devices at school can be fairly individual. Find out if the teacher plans to have students using devices a little, a lot, or somewhere in between. If the 1-to-1 program is a school-wide initiative, students may use them more. If the devices are unique to your kid’s class or grade, they may be used for a more specific purpose. Some teachers use technology to supplement other work — so just a portion of a class is device-based. Some teachers take advantage of technology’s data processing and only use it for quizzes and tests. Knowing approximately how much time — and for what purpose — your kid is using a device during the day can help you better manage their overall screen time and make sure it’s balanced with physical activity, face-to-face conversations, and fresh air.

What apps is my kid using — and why?
It’s perfectly reasonable to ask what apps are on the device, how they were selected, and what the learning purpose is. There’s a huge range of educational appswebsites, and games available, and teachers may use a variety of ways to find the ones that will really benefit kids’ learning. Some teachers have a lot of latitude in choosing software. Some teachers must use a particular platform. Some teachers attend trainings to learn about new software or even how to implement programs in the classroom. Teachers also share tips and ideas about educational apps with each other online. During a discussion of the apps kids will be using is a good time to ask the teacher about his or her own philosophy about technology in learning.

Are there parental controls or filters on the laptop — or can I install them?
When kids use the school’s Wi-Fi during the school day, the network is filtered, meaning they can’t access inappropriate content such as pornography, information about illicit substances, and even games. But when they come home, unless you have filters on your home network, the gates to the internet are open. You probably won’t be able to download parental controls (or any other software) onto the device (administrators typically disable that capability).

Depending on your existing rules and systems around internet use, you may want to visually monitor what your kid is doing on the device, install filters on your home network, or step in only if you think there’s a problem. Your internet service provider may offer filters, as well as other features, either free or at an additional cost. There are also software programs, such as OpenDNS, that allow you to add filters to your home network. Before your kid begins using the school-issued device, you should review the school’s rules (often you both will need to sign a form saying you did this) and make sure your kid understands your expectations around safety, privacy, and responsible online behavior. Also, be aware that filters sometimes catch too much, preventing your kid from visiting legitimate research sites, and kids can also sometimes figure out ways to get around the filters.

Does the device track student data — at home?
You may have heard about schools keeping tabs on students at home, but that’s extremely rare. No one should be spying on your kid through the device. However, educational apps do track user data to tailor the learning experience to the individual user; anything more than that indicates a poor privacy policy. And teachers may have a dashboard that uses data to report how a student is performing. Also, aside from the apps your kid uses, the teacher may use social media to post photos and other class updates. If so, find out how student privacy will be protected. In all cases, any information that’s collected should be for educational purposes, and companies should not be able to use or make money from student data. (See our student privacy resources for teachers.)

Ask for information on the school’s student privacy policy, including whether they vet the privacy policies of the apps they assign to make sure they’re not over-collecting data. (Learn more about Common Sense’s student privacy initiative.)

Can my kid download anything on the device?
An administrator usually disables download capabilities so nothing can be installed except the learning tools. However, your kid may still be able to play games, chat, and use social media on the device’s web browser, since those services don’t require a download. The device is the school’s property, and anything you put on it — including photos — may violate the AUP, so check the rules. And if your kid has their own device at home, you may want to reserve the school device only for homework.

My kid never gets off his device, and when I ask him to, he says he’s doing homework. What can I do?
No matter what comes home from the school, your house equals your rules. That means you can still establish screen-free times and zones like dinnertime and the bedroom. You can make rules about when devices get shut down at night and where they’re charged (outside of kids’ bedrooms!). And if you think your kid is doing more than homework on his device, you can discuss the downsides of multitasking and your expectations around what the school device is being used for. If you’re still struggling, bring your concerns to the school — you can talk to individual teachers, administrators, or other parents to find solutions.

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.

Help Tweens and Teens Clean Up Their Feeds

Eliminate the posts that lead to negative emotions, and load up on stuff that feeds your soul. By Caroline Knorr 
Help Tweens and Teens Clean Up Their Feeds

You know that girl from TV — the one whose Instagram always looks perfect even with #nofilter? Or what about that amazing singer on musical.lywhom you can’t believe is only 14? And then there’s that kid whose Snapchat stories of Coachella got 500 views. Your kids may be following people like this right now. Obsessing. Over. Every. Detail. And starting to feel kind of crappy about it.

Keeping tabs on the rich, famous, and just-plain-cool is nothing new, of course. But social media can take that fixation to a pretty dark place. The feeling is common enough that some doctors are calling it social media anxiety disorder (SMAD) — although what most kids have is more like FOMO… on steroids. While it’s tough to see your kid in despair, there’s a good solution that doesn’t require an all-out social media ban: Just help your kid clean up their feed.

Self-comparison is a natural part of the tween and teen years. And for most kids, so is social media. While there are plenty of good things kids get out of their online connections, sometimes the combo can lead to a negative feedback loop that gnaws away at them. Depending on whom they’re following and what’s going on in their lives, their overall self-assessment can cycle from wistful (“I wish I was like that”) to highly critical (“What’s wrong with me that I can’t be like that?”). Even for kids who know when to close their laptops and move on, their self-esteem may take a hit. And for the more self-critical, anxiety and depression are real risks.

If your kid mostly enjoys social media but suffers the occasional bout of self-doubt, help them find a healthier balance. Ask if — or what — they’re already doing to take care of themselves. They may already be tweaking their social media feeds to limit posts that make them feel bad. Or they may be intentionally trying to curb the endless scrolling through the cool kid’s Insta. Work together to prune out the parts of their social media feeds that trap them into judgy comparisons, and encourage the stuff that bolsters positive social connections, supportive relationships, and validation of their inner qualities.

Encouraging your kids to see and appreciate their individual strengths has always been a part of parenting. And learning to stop comparing yourself to others is a part of growing up. By helping kids clean up their feeds, you’re bringing together two critical aspects of raising kids in the digital age. Try these tips:

Identify the triggers. Maybe it’s a certain couple who always look happy and in love, when your kid really wants a romantic relationship. Maybe it’s ads from a dog-toy delivery service that makes your kid miss your old mutt. Explore what’s behind their emotions. Sharing your own FOMO-induced feelings will likely get your kid to open up. Once they recognize the cause of their emotions, they can take steps to manage triggers.

Fine-tune levels of engagement. All social media offers ways to see and hear less from your contacts — without totally unfriending them. Check out settings such as these from popular platforms like Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, and Twitter: unfollow (you’re still friends, but their posts won’t show up in your feed); hide post (see fewer posts from someone); snooze (temporarily stop seeing posts); mute (turn them off for a while); and do not disturb (temporarily block the person).

Turn off notifications. Most social media apps send updates — and none of them are life-and-death. To prevent your kid from interruptions — especially ones that might trigger negative thoughts — you can encourage your kid to check their social media once or twice at a certain time of day — say, 4 p.m. That might be a stretch, but you can still encourage them to turn off notifications either in the app itself or on their phone.

Follow people who nourish your soul. Kim Kardashian may be all over social media, but there are lots of folks who post uplifting, life-affirming, thoughtful, inspiring things that get kids thinking — and maybe even behaving — in ways that make them feel good about themselves. Follow these kinds of people.

Suggest apps to help with focus. Just as you can use technology to excess, you can use it to rein yourself in. These productivity apps help keep kids on task, boost concentration, and remind you to stop doing stuff that’s not good for you.

Talking to Kids About Sexual Harassment … Before They Even Know About Sex

Five tips for discussing mature current events with little kids.
By Caroline Knorr
Talking to Kids About Sexual Harassment ... Before They Even Know About Sex

“Mommy, what’s sexual harassment?” You were hoping that the daily news reports of famous and powerful men being accused of sexual misconduct would fly right past your kid’s radar. But like other unfortunate events you’ve had to explain far before your kid was ready, the news — especially bad news — has a way of seeping into their world. And now you’re stuck: How do you talk about sexual harassment if you haven’t even talked about sex?

Take one topic at a time. Try tackling the news and the sex angles separately. Young children have a hard time understanding abstract concepts. But you can begin to teach them about the news, and that what they see and hear on the radio, TV, and other devices is information about what happened in the world. Learn more about how to teach media-literacy skills to preschoolers.

There’s no reason to talk specifically about sexual harassment with very young kids unless they ask about it. If they bring it up, be prepared. These tips can help you talk about sexual harassment with kids from preschool into early elementary:

Ask open-ended, nonjudgmental questions. This buys some time and lets you know what information you need to correct, what you can skip, and what you need to focus on. Ask questions such as: “Where did you learn that phrase?,” “What else did you hear?,” “What do you think it is?,” “Why do you think that?,” and “How did it make you feel to hear that?”

Remain neutral and reassuring. When young kids sense that the important adults in their lives are angry or upset, they can sometimes feel like it’s their fault. It may seem obvious to you, but it’s worth telling your kids that you’re not mad at them. Say things like: “It’s always OK to tell me something even if you think it’s something bad.” “This is a tough topic, but I’m glad you asked me about it.”

Be truthful but don’t over-explain. You don’t have to offer kids anything more than what they need to know to satisfy their curiosity. Use terms they’ll understand — for example, “bully,” “private,” “private parts,” and even “making babies” if your family uses that phrase. Say:“Harassment means bullying. Sexual harassment is when someone talks about their own or someone else’s body or private parts — but not when it’s appropriate, like at the doctor. Sometimes a sexual harasser will touch or hug the other person without asking permission.”

Explain why it’s on the news. Even with small children who don’t have a grasp on the concept of the 24-hour news cycle, it helps to put matters in context. Otherwise, the constant news coverage can make them feel overwhelmed and confused. If you can, keep the news turned off when young kids are listening or watching. Seek out age-appropriate news sources instead. Say: “Sexual harassment is against the law — just like taking something that doesn’t belong to you. The people in the news may have broken the law.”

Help them protect themselves and others. Take the opportunity to reinforce lessons around bullies and boundaries. Remind them their bodies are their own and no one has the right to talk about them or touch them in any way that makes them uncomfortable. If your child’s preschool or elementary school has a policy about students not touching other students, you can talk about why that’s important and what happens to other students who can’t follow this rule. Explain that they also must respect other people’s right to keep their bodies private. Say: “If someone says something about your body or touches you or if you see someone bullying someone else, you should tell them to stop and tell the adult in charge.” If necessary, explain that your kid wouldn’t get in trouble for telling, even though bullies say they shouldn’t tell.

7 Media Resolutions Every Family Should Make in 2017

Start the New Year on the right foot with tips for being an awesome digital role model. By Caroline Knorr
7 Media Resolutions Every Family Should Make in 2017

Working out and eating right are at the top of most people’s New Year’s resolutions. But as tough as those are, nothing compares with the challenge of a healthy media diet. There are screen-time limits to manage, new apps to investigate, bizarre social media trends to make sense of (what’s with the mannequin challenge, anyway?), and, don’t forget, plenty more Pokémon to catch. It’s like a 24-hour all-you-can-eat buffet when all you really want is a carrot stick. But in a world where both parents and kids are racking up serious screen time, making a commitment to a healthy media environment is critical for family time, learning, relationships, and digital citizenship.

It won’t always be easy to make your media resolutions stick. Especially because we parents tend to gobble up as much screen time as our kids. Unlike those midnight-snack runs after the kids go to bed, however, your media habits are being recorded by tiny ears and eyes. But we’re all in this together: This fun, crazy, innovative, challenging media environment affects us all. So whether you’re turning over a new leaf or trying to stay the course, our 2017 media resolutions can help you be more mindful, focus on what’s most important, get the most out of media and technology, and raise good digital citizens.

Have a device-free dinner. Piles of research show the benefits of family dinner. But the simple act of leaving your devices off the table — just a few times a week — allows you to role-model good digital habits (and actually talk to your kids).

When it comes to media, think quality, not quantity. Instead of counting up every minute your kid spends watching YouTube, strive for a balance of online and offline activities throughout the week.

Use media for relationship strengthening. While there are concerns that media isolates us, it can absolutely bring us together — if you take advantage of how it connects you.

  • Try video-chatting, scrolling through digital photo albums, playing video games, and even sharing music playlists to bond with your kids.

Don’t ban; have a plan. Keep an open mind about your kids’ media and tech, and accept the important — and often beneficial — role they play in your kids’ lives.  When you have clear lines of communication, you can slip in your messages.

  • Create a family media plan to ensure that kids stick to limits. Encourage them to behave positively online and be upstanders. Talk to them about what they watch, play, create, and read.

Seek out diverse characters. Exposure to a variety of types of people increases tolerance and acceptance and dispels dangerous stereotypes. Being able to get along with all types of people is a skill that will help kids whether they’re interacting online or in the real world.

Raise media-savvy kids. If 2016 was the year fake news went viral, make 2017 the year your kids learn how to view all media (not just “news”) critically.

Tighten your privacy. Our increasingly connected world puts kids’ personal privacy and online data at risk. Just last year, several high-profile companies settled a suit alleging that they had violated the Children’s Online Privacy and Protection Act (COPPA) by allowing kids’ data to be tracked. The ability to share anything at any time can be especially dicey to tweens and teens who may not be able to think through all the ways their posts can be used by others.

  • Make sure kids use strict privacy settings on social media, apps, and other accounts, and make sure they know not to share any personal information (name, age, address, Social Security number) with people they meet online.

Explaining The News to Our Kids

Common Sense Media

Explaining the News to Our Kids

Kids get their news from many sources, which are not always correct. Here are tips on how to talk about the news — and listen, too.

Caroline Knorr Senior Parenting Editor | Mom of oneCategories: Screen Time, Violence in the Media

Senior Parenting Editor | Mom of one

Shootings, terrorist attacks, natural disasters, end-of-the-world predictions — even local news reports of missing kids and area shootings all can be upsetting news for adults, not to mention kids. In our 24/7 news world, it’s become nearly impossible to shield kids from distressing current events.

Today, kids get news from everywhere. This constant stream of information shows up in shareable videos, posts, blogs, feeds, and alerts. And since much of this content comes from sites that are designed for adult audiences, what your kids see, hear, or read might not always be age-appropriate. Making things even more challenging is the fact that many kids are getting this information directly on their phones and laptops. Often parents aren’t around to immediately help their kids make sense of horrendous situations.

The bottom line is that young kids simply don’t have the ability to understand news events in context, much less know whether or not a source of information is credible. And though older teens are better able to understand current events, even they face challenges when it comes to sifting fact from opinion — or misinformation.

No matter how old your kids are, threatening or upsetting news can affect them emotionally. Many can feel worried, frightened, angry, or even guilty. And these anxious feelings can last long after the news event is over. So what can you do as a parent to help your kids deal with all this information?

Tips for all kids

Consider your own reactions. Your kids will look to the way you handle the news to determine their own approach. If you stay calm and rational, they will, too.

Tips for kids under 7

Keep the news away. Turn off the TV and radio news at the top of the hour and half hour. Read the newspaper out of range of young eyes that can be frightened by the pictures (kids may respond strongly to pictures of other kids in jeopardy). Preschool kids don’t need to see or hear about something that will only scare them silly, especially because they can easily confuse facts with fantasies or fears.

Stress that your family is safe. At this age, kids are most concerned with your safety and separation from you. Try not to minimize or discount their concerns and fears, but reassure them by explaining all the protective measures that exist to keep them safe. If the news event happened far away, you can use the distance to reassure kids. For kids who live in areas where crime and violence is a very real threat, any news account of violence may trigger extra fear. If that happens, share a few age-appropriate tips for staying and feeling safe (being with an adult, keeping away from any police activity).

Be together. Though it’s important to listen and not belittle their fears, distraction and physical comfort can go a long way. Snuggling up and watching something cheery or doing something fun together may be more effective than logical explanations about probabilities.

Tips for kids 8–12

Carefully consider your child’s maturity and temperament. Many kids can handle a discussion of threatening events, but if your kids tend toward the sensitive side, be sure to keep them away from the TV news; repetitive images and stories can make dangers appear greater, more prevalent, and closer to home.

Be available for questions and conversation. At this age, many kids will see the morality of events in stark black-and-white terms and are in the process of developing their moral beliefs. You may have to explain the basics of prejudice, bias, and civil and religious strife. But be careful about making generalizations, since kids will take what you say to the bank. This is a good time to ask them what they know, since they’ll probably have gotten their information from friends, and you may have to correct facts.

Talk about — and filter — news coverage. You might explain that even news programs compete for viewers, which sometimes affects content decisions. If you let your kids use the Internet, go online with them. Some of the pictures posted are simply grisly. Monitor where your kids are going, and set your URLs to open to non-news-based portals.

Tips for teens

Check in. Since, in many instances, teens will have absorbed the news independently of you, talking with them can offer great insights into their developing politics and their senses of justice and morality. It will also give you the opportunity to throw your own insights into the mix (just don’t dismiss theirs, since that will shut down the conversation immediately).

Let teens express themselves. Many teens will feel passionately about events and may even personalize them if someone they know has been directly affected. They’ll also probably be aware that their own lives could be affected by violence. Try to address their concerns without dismissing or minimizing them. If you disagree with media portrayals, explain why so your teens can separate the mediums through which they absorb news from the messages conveyed.

Additional resources

For more information on how to talk to your kids about a recent tragedy, please visit the National Association of School Psychologists or the American Psychological Association.

Marie-Louise Mares, Associate Professor in the Department of Communication Arts at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, contributed to this article.

3 Kinds of Apps That Stir Up Drama in Schools

As kids head back to school this fall, beware of social networking apps that appeal to negative impulses.

Caroline Knorr Parenting Editor | Mom of one 

If your kid is among the 73% of teens who have access to a smartphone, you’re well aware of the app obsession that can take over a brain and body in seconds. Multiply that by the average student population at your middle or high school, and you see the problem many schools are facing this back-to-school season. For teens, smartphones + apps = social networking. And where there’s social networking, there’s sure to be drama.

While a lot of social networking is harmless — and even beneficial — some apps are specifically designed to appeal to users’ darker impulses. Confessionals, anonymous comments, incriminating photos, rumor-mongering — that sort of thing. Worse, some apps apply location services to this already combustible mix, connecting everyone in a school and magnifying problems like cyberbullying, gossip, and physical threats.

Keep these apps on your radar, and talk to your kids about responsible social networking:

  • Yik Yak. This “location aware” social networking app lets users post “anything and everything” anonymously. The brief, Twitter-like comments and photos are distributed to any 500 people using Yik Yak closest to you geographically. Anonymous threats against schools and individual students have prompted many schools to ban the app, using the company’s“geo fencing” guidelines to restrict communications in a certain area. Also watch out for:Streetchat – Image Board for Schools and Colleges, Burnbook, and After School – Funny Anonymous School News for Confessions & Compliments.
  • Ask.FM. This question-and-answer app lets kids pose queries and answer questions from other users. With questions like “am I pretty or ugly?,” the confessional nature makes kids vulnerable to negative feedback. Bullying is a major concern, and Ask.FM has been cited as a factor in stories of teen suicide. In response to these problems, the company changed management and launched a robust safety center. Still, you have to wonder about an app that has a whole section just for law enforcement investigating criminal activity. Also watch out for: Whisper.
  • Snapchat. For seemingly consequence-free communication, you can’t do better than the self-destructing messaging app Snapchat. The app has gained a reputation as a “sexting” app because outgoing (and incoming) pictures, videos, and texts aren’t permanently stored on devices. Still, many third-party developers have created apps that let recipients save snaps from unsuspecting senders. One of the biggest problems with Snapchat is its popularity: Oneteacher complained of massive class disruption when the app released an upgrade during the school day. Also watch out for: BurnNote, Slingshot.