Getting the Best from Media and Tech
All screen time is not the same. Especially now – when time with tech is hard to limit – focus your attention on the quality of content and online activities.
Make a call or send an audio note instead of texting. Technology can help us connect to family and friends while we are most craving social interaction, but texts are impersonal and easy to misinterpret. Recording a quick voice message is often faster, and easier for young kids, than typing out each letter.
Very young children learn best through two-way communication. Engaging in back-and-forth "talk time" is critical for language development. Video chat conversations with people outside the home can be valuable face-to-face time. Research has shown that it's that "back-and-forth conversation" that improves language skills—much more so than "passive" listening or one-way interaction with a screen.
Use this break from normal life to set a new habit of choosing video chats, phone calls, and voice messages over text.
“Educational” apps for kids – do your homework. Or better yet, let an organization like Common Sense Media do it for you. More than 80,000 apps are labeled as educational, but little research has demonstrated their actual quality. Look to organizations like Common Sense Media for reviews about age-appropriate apps, games and programs to guide you in making the best choices for your children.
Watch things together. You have our permission to turn off the news, snuggle up with your children, stream a show or play a game together, and pat yourself on the back for good parenting. It’s actually a great way to pass on your values and help them develop a healthy critical lens for absorbing media. If you’re worried that your kids are getting bad messages from the media, point out when something isn’t right. Call out screenwriters who present a female character that only seems to care about boys, or how she looks - or only appears as an object to prop up a male character’s storyline. Provide context if you are seeing unhealthy relationships (including friendships) or unrealistic beauty standards. Besides reinforcing your values, this will teach your kids to watch television and movies actively, not passively, which is good for their self-esteem. Do this during commercials, too!
And, yes, you can play a video game with your kids, too. It's a fun and easy way to demonstrate good sportsmanship and gaming etiquette. It’s also a really great way to teach them media literacy and point out imbalances in representation and unrealistic portrayals of individuals. If it’s a game you love and there is an unnecessary amount of violence, share that view. In other words, don't just monitor children online, interact with them - you can understand what they are doing and be a part of it. And, you can guide them about healthy media consumption.
Warn children about the importance of privacy and the dangers of predators and sexting. Teens need to know that once content is shared with others, they will not be able to delete it, or remove it completely. Clarify the importance of privacy settings, and make them aware that sex offenders often use social networking, chat rooms, e-mail, and online gaming to contact and exploit children.
Set age-appropriate limits and controls on your children’s devices, so they are not stumbling onto violent, sexual, or frightening content. It shouldn’t be so hard to set up safeguards to keep kids from the harmful sides of media and tech. So remember to let the manufacturers or creators of this media know when they are wrongly exposing your kids to dangerous media. Until tech platforms and content providers take responsibility for their products, it’s on us to fight the tide of toxic media and technology one wave at a time. Common Sense Media has compiled a guide to all the ways you can protect kids from harmful content. Common Sense Media: Parents’ Ultimate Guide to Taking Control. And we have been breaking their advice down into easy-to-follow (promise!) steps. It will only take a minute for you to get these safeguards in place!