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Screen Time – 4 Tips for Keeping Your Kids Safe

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While many aspects of life have returned to normal for kids post-pandemic, the rise in screen time that accompanied lockdowns and school closures may be here to stay, with lasting consequences for kids. 

Recreational screen time (excluding school and homework) rose 17% among tweens and teens during the pandemic, according to research released by Common Sense Media in March 2022.

Even more concerning is the number of 8-12 year olds, who are technically too young to join most platforms, who claim to be using social media. The same survey found that usage has jumped from 31% to 38% in this age group since 2019. 

So, how do you ensure that all this screen time isn’t opening your children up to a host of new security and safety vulnerabilities? The following tips can help you make sure that your kids stay safe online:

Stay educated about the apps your children use.

Kids are constantly hearing about a hot new app or game from their friends that they have to get, but before you say yes, you should do a little homework. Many apps, like the ubiquitous TikTok, have raised some serious security and privacy concerns that parents should be aware of. Before allowing your children to download a new app, educate yourself about any potential dangers by taking the following steps:

• Read their privacy policy to see what information they gather and how it is used. A common theme with many apps is that they require you to agree to release your personal information to them. The video, text, and images that you share now become their property to do with whatever they wish. 

• Search and read reviews, news articles, and any security or privacy warnings from the government. Check to see if any issues raised have been addressed by the app company. 

• Only use a new app right away if the device you are using does not contain private information or you are on your home network.

Make sure you always have the current password for your child’s device, and do random checks. 

Phones and tablets are powerful tools. If your child is old enough to be a regular user of an app or device, they should understand digital permanence, the idea that once something is on the web, it is there forever. Similarly, once a text, post, image, or video is shared online or with a friend, your child no longer controls how that data will be used. Parents need to teach children about the impact of their digital choices. When you first hand your child a phone or tablet, make sure you lay out the rules for how the device can and can not be used. Good rules of thumb include:

• Have the password or pin to access their devices at any time. You pay for the device and they are not yet adults, so you own the data and the devices. The safety of your child is more important than privacy. 

• Set rules for which apps can be used and when they are allowed. 

• Do random tech checks of the apps they use, what they are sharing, and what is being shared with them. 

• Be open and honest with your child (in an age-appropriate manner), so they understand the risks and why your rules are in place.

• Open your kid’s apps, even photo apps, once in a while. Some kids will use “ghost” apps to hide forbidden apps. They look like one app, but they are password-protected and reveal another app underneath. 

Use technology as an ally.

In a recent survey, 50% of U.S. parents indicated that they use parental control apps to monitor their child’s digital behavior, and 49% claim to check their child’s browsing history regularly. Loading a parental control app on a child’s device to restrict the apps allowed, screen time, and age content level settings can offer visibility and peace of mind to parents worried about internet safety. There are various options from companies like Net Nanny, Circle Home Plus, Bark, Qustodio, Life360, Norton Family, Screen Time, Locategy family, and Mobicip. Your mobile carrier may also offer some controls you can utilize.  Reach out to them to find out what is available. 

Educate your child to be a responsible digital citizen.

There are some great online resources for teaching your child digital safety and citizenship. Common Sense Media offers a range of lessons tailored to specific age groups. 

Do make sure the lessons you teach are developmentally appropriate. In Fay’s Lower School, for example, students in grades three through six take Digital Literacy as part of their regular schedule. In this course, students learn and practice all the technology skills that they need to be successful in their current and future classes, as well as learning how to be safe and responsible users of technology. Peter Fearey, Fay’s Director of Technology, explains, “Our goal is to empower students to leverage technology to achieve their goals and enhance their work. We want them to become responsible digital citizens who use technology in a safe and ethical manner.”

Interested in learning more about digital safety?

Join us on Thursday, February 2 for a special presentation entitled “How do we keep our kids safe in this technology-driven world?” Katie Greer, an internet safety and technology expert, will be joining us and she will help you navigate the digital waters and let you know what’s new and what’s next when it comes to your children and technology. She will also provide parents with proactive ways to keep kids safe.
Learn More and RSVP >> 

Daintry Zaterka works at Fay School in Southborough, MA as a Communications Associate and Content Creator. 

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