Managing Our Children’s Online Activities And Screen Time (Part I)

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AJ doing programming with Rasberry Pi

AJ is growing up in an environment surrounded with electronic gadgets like smartphones, tablets, laptops and Rasberry Pi. My husband works in the IT industry and I am a gadget junkie as well, so, it is not surprising that AJ is more Internet savvy than most of his peers. Having said that, he didn’t have his own smartphone and tablet until he was 9, and that was handed down from me. We are all very aware of gadget addiction, but at the same, we are also aware that our children are growing up in the digital age. We should not shield them totally from Internet exposure – there must be a balance, but that is hard to maintain if parents are not monitoring their children’s online activities. Parents have to grapple with 2 main challenges: managing their children’s online activities and managing screen time.

I have read reports that say children these days spend more time on the Internet than watching television because they have access to it outside the home, such as in school, on the bus/train, or when ‘out and about’. I’m not surprised, because I think adults are doing that too.

As parents however, we should play the role of mentor to our children when it comes to such an important growing-up issue. So as parents of an IT-savvy child in this digital world, here is what we are doing:

(1)  Set time limit 
On school days we set surfing curfews of 30mins for AJ to use his smartphone or tablet. He can use this time to chat with his friends, check emails, watch YouTube videos, record his own videos, etc. (he doesn’t play online games). On non-school days, the time is more flexible, it can be up to an hour. All this is only permitted in a presence of at least one adult. So if there is no adult around, there is no access to these gadgets.


AJ watching youtube video

(2) Place laptop/desktop monitor in the living room
Pornography or sexual predators from any undesirable sites would inevitably creep up onto your child’s screen, but if you place the laptop or desktop monitor in the living room with the screen facing outward, there is a higher chance you could stop this in time before disaster strikes. 


AJ doing C-programming

(3) Keep distraction physically at bay
We know the notification sound of an email or a WhatsApp message coming in can be quite exciting to a child, so we have requested him to set all notifications to be on silent. When he is doing his work, he should place the phone or tablet far away so that the temptation to check on it is minimised. He is also not allowed to bring his phone or tablet into the bedroom when he sleeps. In so doing, we are managing his data access.

(4) Build mutual trust
If your child has Facebook, Instagram and twitter accounts, let him or her know you would like to follow him/her or be friends with him/her. Let the child know you do that not to stalk him/her (though we would like to :p), but, more so to coach him/her along the way because life case studies are far more valuable. Should there be any potential dangers arising, it would be easier for parents to step in to help.


Google hangout chat with friends

I have also set up AJ’s email accounts on my phone, with his permission. That way, I get to screen all the emails and Google Hangouts chat messages of his. He is fine with me doing so, because of the many case studies I get to share with him on how to handle cyberspace issues wisely, thanks to this arrangement. To some adults, it may seem like an infringement of privacy. I beg to differ. There is no infringement when permission is granted. In these vital years of development, we have to teach them to communicate effectively online, to exercise self-control and to be a responsible online user. One of the best ways I can teach him is to shadow him online.

We constantly discuss issues happening in the digital world, I believe such discussion will build his awareness of its inherent dangers and be a wiser user over time.

(5) Aid from third party applications and services
As a StarHub user, I was recently alerted to their service known as JuniorProtect Plus. It is a value-added service for all StarHub mobile and broadband subscribers. With this service, parents can manage the mobile data usage of their children, block undesirable sites, get reports on their web activities, trail their locations, and many more. This StarHub service is especially useful because we cannot be with our children 24x7 so controls like this will give us an added peace of mind.

Without hesitation, I got AJ's SIM card activated with this. In this age of constant Internet threats, we recognise such a service provides a much needed assurance and cyber protection. I will be sharing more with you about its benefits and our experience as end users in my next blog post. Meanwhile, to find out more about StarHub's JuniorProtect Plus, please click here.

There is a lot more we can do or not do, when it comes to the freedom we allow for our children. It is often a dilemma for parents how much they want to let go so that their children can grow, and how much to control so that their children won’t have to face a major disaster. It is like flying a kite, it is a dynamic issue – when to pull, and when to let go. Let us all learn from each other and from the professionals, so that together, we can better help our children.


Some useful websites
http://www.medialiteracycouncil.sg/Pages/default.aspx
https://www.facebook.com/safety/parents
http://www.adweek.com/digital/social-media-minimum-age/
http://www.starhub.com/personal/mobile/mobile-phones-plans/value-added-services/junior-protect.html


Comments

  1. My eldest has not reached an ownership with gadget yet, this shall be my guide! Love that you mentioned, privacy is not infringement when permission is sought. There's mutual agreement! This shall be our first deal if they decide to ask for a phone.

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    1. Yup, got to teach them that before peers brainwashed them!

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  2. I have the same guide in my house rules at home too. Totally agree on the part where we are the role of mentor to our children. Is hard to prevent them from staying away from all these tech stuffs, we can only embrace and teach them the correct way of using it.

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  3. My 3yo is also asking for our phones to watch videos, and it's all part of the exposure and our lifestyle, i guess. And I agree that establishing guides is important, and having fellow adults such as grandparents *ahem* practice the same would make it a consistent arrangement! ;)

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    1. Haha .. the 'other adults' part is kinda difficult, I understand

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  4. My kids play with my spare phones. They don't have their own. I have tried quite a number of third party apps that limit and monitor their usage. Somehow my 4 years old has always managed to find a go around and hack it, making them useless! I need to try this Starhub one too when she is older.

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    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  5. I super like your 4th point! Yes, mutual trust is most important so that our kids don't think that the parents are being nosey about their online activity. I don't know about StarHub's JuniorProtectPlus service but we have been using QuStodio to monitor the devices.

    - Mary

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  6. Good tips and good points shared! I cannot emphasise enough the need to train kids to be responsible. Therefore these points that aim to build trust, ownership and responsibility are key to self-discipline in this area. Thanks for sharing.

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  7. I loved these tips...I am trying to follow some of them for my kids. Cyber Bullying is one thing that I find pretty disturbing. Educating my girl about it already...Thanks for sharing about JuniorProtect Plus. Hope Singtel has or will start this soon.

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  8. Good tips! We set guidelines too as it's just so easy to just forget the time when you're on the devices..

    Ai @ Sakura Haruka

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