We chat to Tamara Clarke, author of The Super Surfer, a book dedicated to internet safety for kids, who discusses the issue of regulating screen time for children as well as suggestions for parents to do so.
At the end of 2018, Norton Security explored the challenges the first generation of ‘digital first’ parents face, surveying over 7,000 parents across Europe and the Middle East, with children between the ages of five and 16.
Given that these children have never known a world without smartphones or tablets, parents face the question of the right age at which their children should be exposed to screen time or have their own device while trying to be aware of how their own habits could influence and affect their children.
The My First Device report found that children in the UAE desire mobile screen time more than sweets. They also spend more time in front of a mobile screen than playing outdoors, with more than one quarter of parents saying their child or children spend more time online than their parents.
According to the report, the rapid development of the digital world has parents feeling at a loss, with 48% saying they want to set limits and parental influence on the use of connected devices, but they don’t know how to do so, while 64% want more advice and support to help them protect their children online. A further one in 10 parents don’t set any rules at all for device usage, saying their children are so tech savvy they would be able to get around the rules.
Technology writer and author Tamara agrees that the major issue parents need to address is controlling the information that their child can reach online. “This is, after all, the world wide web so they really have a world of information at their fingertips and we have to help them filter what they actually see.”
She says the first step to do this is to use the parental controls on the devices as much as possible, as well as using certain apps for parents. Google Family is available and works very well across Android devices. For example, YouTube Kids is not available in this region and Google Family will not allow the YouTube app to be installed on a device that is being managed by a child’s account.
Kaspersky Safe Kids works across Android and iOS platforms and helps to manage content as well as enforce time management. “It will give me a weekly report — I can also look at it whenever I want to – that tells me everything my child attempted to download, everything my approval code was entered for so that he could download it, and it gives me metrics like how much screen time he had that week. It gives me data that I can use to make better parental decisions,” says Tamara.
She adds that while leveraging parental controls is certainly helpful, parents shouldn’t rely on them exclusively. According to Tamara, these controls work best when they go hand in hand with certain ground rules at home about how much children can use the devices as well as keeping them visible while they do so.
“I wouldn’t suggest allowing children to use their devices exclusively in their own rooms or areas. Make them use those devices in the common areas of the house, so that you can be alerted to anything out of the ordinary. There are times when I can hear something being said in a video that my child is watching that will alert me to check out what they’re looking at, and maybe veto it,” she says.
Tamara has two boys, two years apart, who are both under the age of 10. As far as she is concerned the gap is negligible and the same rules apply to each of them; her older son does nothing her younger son isn’t allowed to do.
“I think they will stay neck and neck, as far as the rules are concerned. I think by the time the older one has to go online for school work, the younger one will be there right on his heels,” she says.
TAMARA CLARKE HAS A FOUR-PRONGED PROCESS FOR MANAGING HER KIDS’ SCREEN TIME:
- Set ground rules If you simply hand your child a device and you don’t give them any guidelines upfront, everybody will be out of synch. But if you take the time to plan it and you tell them what the rules are then they can work within those perimeters. For example, I might tell them, “No gaming during the school week; you can only use your device for gaming over the weekend.” Because that’s an expectation I’ve already set, we don’t have problems during the week.
- Use the timer on the device Every phone, every iPad, and every tablet has a timer which is not subtle — it’s quite a jolt when it goes off — a clear indicator when your time is up. I can hear it when it goes off, my child can hear it when it goes off. It eliminates them saying, “I accidentally got engrossed in something and went over my time.” There is no room for debate.
- Find balance You won’t have a hard time, or rather you’ll have less of a struggle, keeping your kids off their devices when they have good alternative things to do. Make sure that they’re being active every day, make sure they have sports, and physical board games. You can play many board games on your phone now, just like you can read books on your phone and these are things that have physical components to them — keep them physical. Keep them reading physical books and playing Monopoly on a board on their bedroom floor so they have alternatives to the device.
- Make the screen time constructive For example, if you tell them, “No games; you need to open your maths app,” they will put the device down when they get tired of doing that.