Modern smart phones and the culture surrounding small device use is a wonderfully complex topic. While these devices have given parents security in being able to track and communicate with their children as well as giving people of all ages the ability to maintain long-distance relationships better, they also have been linked to attention problems, anxiety, and depression, as well as created a culture where in-person human interaction can be limited. Jeremy Sinclair, a counselor at SJCOE’s Venture Academy Family of Schools, weighs in on how parents can create healthy relationships with screens, and enforce rules about their usage.
Consider the phone’s purpose
Navigating cell phone usage at home is complicated, and it’s different for each household as well as each age group. A child at five years old, for example, is likely going to have different phone rules and limits than a 16-year-old. Jeremy says parents should consider why the phone was purchased in the first place. “If it’s for safety, how do we keep the use true to the positive purpose?” Jeremy asks. “The same can apply if the purpose expands to music, games, schoolwork, and communication.”
Technology exists to help parents with this task. Apps like ScreenTime and Zift give parents control over how much time is spent on phones as well as in specific apps. Parental controls can also help parents monitor their child’s device activity. Other devices such as the Kidibuzz phone by Vtech or smart watches can give kids limited access including pre-approved contact lists, age-appropriate games, built in screen time controls, and more.
The rules of social media
Social media is its own beast. In many ways social media helps us stay connected and can improve human interaction. Many accounts cater to specific interests, bring meaningful information to users, or empower others. However, social media can also play negativelyinto the delicate psyches of young children, creating unrealistic expectations as well as lending to insecurity or even bullying.
“Youth and children engaging with social media encounter many socially complex situations before having the tools to see warning signs or to navigate misunderstandings and mistakes,” Jeremy says. “The most serious concerns can jeopardize their safety but much more commonly social media can be an unmonitored space for young people to engage with others that add complications to their relationships in the world.”
Keep social media safe by encouraging age appropriate use, and by being an active participant yourself. Many parents insist kids can have social media only if they agree to follow their parents and let their parents follow them. This helps kids act responsibly online, and gives parents a view into kids’ online world.
Set limits to show you care
When parents set limits on screens or social media, kids often rebel. Sometimes, Jeremy says, these rules come across as “I don’t trust you.” Help kids understand the rules exist to help form healthy habits. When kids know that our limits exist because we care they are more likely to respect, and accept, the rules.
Look for warning signs
As with many habits or hobbies, parents should look for sudden changes in behavior or mood, obsessions with topics that are not age-appropriate, or being extremely secretive. Any of these could indicate a problem.