Teaching Your Kids Online Safety & Screen-Time Rules

Most parents feel vague anxiety when they think about their kid’s online activity. It’s difficult to monitor, and horror stories of bad cyberspace outcomes are never very hard to find. What’s worse is that you can’t exactly ban keep technology out of your children’s hands. Your local school system is probably the one that put it there in the first place.

Teaching Your Kids Online Safety

What you can do is teach online safety, and establish ground rules that will keep your kids out of bad situations. In this article, we take a look at how you can teach your kids online safety and screen time rules.

What Does Online Safety Mean in 2022?

Fifteen years ago, online safety meant avoiding internet strangers. Certainly, this is still a reasonable expectation for children, but with more caveats than used to exist. Children, for better or for worse, interact with strangers online routinely. 

Through video games, social media, and even school-based activities, kids have more potential chances to interact with strangers online than ever before. 

Parents can mitigate this risk by setting clear rules and having a keen awareness of what their kids are up to online. But what of the other risks of digital activity? Obesity. Depression, anxiety, insomnia, addiction. It’s a long list, and it’s easy to feel helpless from these hazards when your child is logging several hours of screen time a day at school alone. 

Below, we analyze what it means to be safe online in 2022, and provide practical tips to help parents who are struggling.

What the Experts Say

Most experts agree that children should have no more than two hours of screen time a day. Staggeringly different than the eight hours of average screen time children are currently getting. Unfortunately, carving those numbers down to the expert-recommended ideal might not be possible. 

For one thing, children have unsupervised access to screen time for seven hours a day. Teachers and protective software are there to make sure that the technology isn’t abused, but things happen. Even when they don’t — even when the school-issued tablet is being used for online learning the way it is supposed to, the numbers can easily exceed two hours just from school alone.

Well, ok. But that’s schoolwork. Schoolwork is dangerous now?

Your kids didn’t ask us to write this, but actually: yes. Even when screen time is being used productively it comes with risks.

Poor Comprehension

Information that has been read from a screen is usually not comprehended or retained as well as it would have been on paper. Experts still don’t entirely understand why this is, but they think it owes to the nature of most online activity. 

So much of what we do on the internet is silly. Goofy articles about the next Marvel movie. Social media. Reddit. Things that can easily be skimmed while you wait in line.

Because the majority of online activity is frivolous, experts believe that our brains put all information learned from a screen at a lower priority. Basically, when there is a glowing screen in front of our faces, we go into skim mode. 

Might this risk diminish as people begin associating screens with school and work? It’s certainly possible. However, for the time being, research remains fairly consistent that screen-based learning isn’t as effective. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible to get good work done with technology. It does mean there are unique challenges.

The Risk of Addiction is Real

Even school-related tablet or laptop use can result in technology addiction. If my son got addicted to doing homework, it wouldn’t be the worst thing that ever happened.

That’s not quite what we mean. Online and smartphone addiction doesn’t necessarily refer to a specific activity. More the impulse to have a screen in front of you at all times. 

Most people have online habits that flirt with addictive tendencies. Maybe you can’t stand in line at the grocery store without checking your email. Maybe it’s your habit to update Facebook before going to bed every night. 

In a well-adjusted adult, digital compulsions may be manageable. In children, the consequences are often more severe. Depression. Anxiety. Insomnia. The risks are very real.

It All Happens Before 4 PM

The difficult thing about school-related screen time is that it all takes place before your kids have even gotten home. There’s a good chance that by 4 PM they will have exceeded their daily recommended limit. Then they will do their homework (another hour or two in front of a screen) and settle in for the night with (according to statistical averages) more screen time. 

Before you start typing up an angry email to the school board, understand that we aren’t exactly saying schools need to rethink their relationship with technology. Tech comprehension is and will continue to be an important component of career readiness. Kids should be able to leave school knowing how to use it effectively. 

However, with screen time numbers being what they are, vigilance and parental intervention are more important now than ever before. 

Provide Screen-time Alternatives

In addition to mental health concerns, there are also physical consequences to excessive screen time. You don’t have to be a Harvard math professor to figure this one out. Your kids spend eight hours sleeping. Seven hours at school. A couple of hours go to miscellaneous things (driving, chores, dinner, etc.). And then an average of eight hours of screen time. 

With these numbers, they barely have time to go to the bathroom, let alone get the doctor-recommended hour of daily exercise. 

Make it easier for them by arranging physical activities every day to replace screen time. Family walks. A sport. A hike. A bike ride. The activity itself isn’t important. Just get them up and moving.

Monitor the Signs

Digital technology addiction is the easiest to fight back against if it is caught early. Signs include excessive screen time, anxiety when separated from phone or tablet, poor sleeping habits, and depression.

 If your child is displaying any of these signs, consider having them speak with a professional right away. Mitigating screen time will still be important, but at this stage, professional intervention is important to avoid escalation. 

Set Up Parental Controls

Tech got us into this mess. It can help get us out. Most tablets, phones, and computers allow parents to control and monitor their children’s online activity with relative ease. Depending on the program, you may be able to block certain sites, limit total screen time numbers, and monitor exactly what your kids are doing online. 

You can bolster the efficacy of parental controls by setting up clear household rules for technology use. Consider designating certain rooms as screen zones. It’s easier for kids to get into trouble online when they are alone in their rooms than it would be in the kitchen. 

These recommendations may feel invasive, or decidedly uncool. And maybe they are. But when it comes to screen time, the stakes are much higher than most people realize. Remember, it’s not about controlling your child. It’s about ingraining healthy habits that they can carry into adulthood. 

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