We know, we know – as if waning daylight hours and the encroaching chill weren’t enough to make you grumble, we have to go and add another harbinger of winter: with cold weather, comes more time indoors. And more indoor time often equates to more screen time for your kids.
Screen time can be a great thing. There are educational apps, eBooks, and of course, abundant entertainment options. Computers, tablets and smartphones are important technologies today, and knowing how to use and manipulate them will be essential life and job skills when our little ones grow up.
That said, putting connected screens in the hands of young family members requires a few precautions to keep them (and your information) safe:
1. Lock Up the Important Bits
Screens are expensive, so many families share tablets or laptops among several people. If adults and kids are sharing a device, be sure to lock away certain apps and info – payment information, passwords, telephone numbers, addresses, access to adults-only websites (including Facebook), etc.
2. Keep Screen Time Public
One of the best ways to keep an eye on what young kids (up to pre-teen) are doing online is to keep computers and devices in high-traffic areas of your home.
3. Establish Limits
Limits will depend on your kids’ ages and maturity, but most kids will benefit from some limitations, be it a time allowance or a list of off-limits sites. (You know your kids best, so you be the judge.) For the youngest set, you can use device restrictions to limit access to apps, websites, etc.; for older kids, talk about Internet/screen time rules, and your expectations for their online behavior.
4. Talk About Cyberbullying
Bullying is a problem today, and it’s no different online: cyberbullying, or Internet bullying, happens. Talk to your kids. Explain what cyberbullying is, and explain why its wrong. Why it hurts feelings and can have lasting consequences. Show them what to do if they observe it, or if it’s happening to them. Let them know they can always come to you with questions or concerns.
5. Talk Safety
Kids are smart, so don’t underestimate their understanding of online safety. Talk to them. Write a list of rules together, and populate it with items like never sharing passwords (not even with their friends), not posting photos online without permission, and not blindly trusting everything and everyone on the Internet.
6. Keep an Open Dialogue
The tough truth is that you can’t watch your kids every, single second they’re online. That’s why open communication is so important. Let your kids know that they can come to you anytime, about absolutely anything. If they’re unsure of something they saw, read or heard online, they can talk to you; you won’t get mad. It’s impossible to predict every online scenario, which is why it’s so important for kids to feel that they can ask questions without dire consequences, judgment or punishment.