School’s out for the summer! When I was a kid, this meant swimming, biking places to meet friends, staying outside (not being allowed inside) until dinner, the beach, and summer camps. Today, know what this means for kids? More screen time, more opportunities to chronicle every second of their summer break on Instagram or Snapchat it, and definitely more selfies. [Obligatory parent sigh] Kids these days.
The research really says it all; according to a study conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation, kids ages 8-18 years old spend an average of 7.5 hour A DAY on some sort of device. Shocked by this statistic? This statistic should become less shocking when you really think about it, and when you take into account that these devices are being handed out earlier and earlier in life, with some kindergarteners I’ve met having their very own smart phones or tablets.
Now, don’t get me wrong – as a parent and businesswoman (and closet online trashy celebrity news addict), I’m technology’s biggest advocate. However, I do wish that these devices would come with a big, old-fashioned manual for any parent even thinking about handing one over to their child. Technology is a lot like a car; wonderfully powerful (and convenient), but kids aren’t allowed to drive cars without driver’s ed, road tests, restrictions, societal laws, and parental rules. Smartphones, tablets, iPods and other Wi-Fi devices should be treated the exact same way. No child (and arguably some adults) should be given these privileges without a lot of conversation, pre-determined rules, and defined family expectations.
So, this is your lucky day! Because schools are just getting out for the summer, you have the advantage of setting the tone for the summer early; this way, you won’t look back on the summer and wonder why your kids have iPhone tan lines – bad look.
- Set Limitations
Like anything else in life, kids often get into trouble when there are no rules or restrictions. In my personal and professional experience, when it comes to technology, this is particularly true. For all of us, limitations on the amount of time we’re spending with our noses buried in our devices is crucial to a healthy experience with technology. I recently participated in a Twitter roundtable lead by CNN’s Kelly Wallace, in which a large part of the conversation was talking about a phenomenon amongst teens known as FOMO – or the “Fear of Missing Out.” While some are quick to dismiss it, trust me, it’s very real and relatively common. I’ve heard stories of teens and tweens not even wanting to go on vacation with their families, in fear that they’ll miss an Instagram post about them or about a gathering they missed out on. To prevent this, parents need to establish limits on the amount of time, and appropriate times of the day kids are allowed access to their devices. My Dad’s favorite saying when I was a kid, “nothing good happens after 9:00PM” holds true when it comes to cell phones and tablets; generally nothing good can become of your child alone in their bedroom, door closed, with their device, at 3AM.
Another really important part of all this is finding mandatory times to unplug – as a family, not just for your kids. This will make your kids (and you) less reliant and dependent on their devices, and families have reported longer, more meaningful, quality time together as a result.
- Have “The Talk”
My kids are 2 and 3 and we’ve already had “The Talk;” OK, not that talk, but the talk about technology. In fact, in our household, even though they don’t have their own devices, we have this conversation with our kids almost daily. “It’s not time for the iPad right now,” or “We don’t have our phones at the dinner table, so Daddy can call him back,” or “You may not use that on the iPad, that’s not for you.” At an early age, we’re able to establish these devices as privileges, and things that have boundaries.
If your kids are older, the talk should be more focused around healthy and responsible posting, a message that I think kids don’t get a lot, as the concept is fairly new to adults. “The talk” should include how technology really works. Be proud of what you post, always. Because at any given time, that picture/comment/post/text can be copied, pasted, reposted, shared, saved, or blown up on a billboard somewhere. Part of growing up is making mistakes, we all made them and our kids will too; the difference is, all our mistakes have been put through a shredder never to be seen again. Today, kids don’t have that luxury. With every single part of their lives being chronicled on various social networking sites, the good AND the bad are there forever, and hard to take down permanently once they’ve been sent/shared/posted. They should be proud of what they send, share, and save, and realize that no app (i.e. Snapchat) can really defy the screenshot/repost/share functions.
- Know Your Apps
When I speak with kids, my goal is not to strip them of their tech fun; rather, I aim to take what they’re using and make them safer, or find ways they can be smarter about using them. However, this summer, you should know of some apps that kids are DEFINITELY using, and shouldn’t be. No matter how hard I try to work with kids to find the benefits or positives in these apps – I just can’t. Until I do, I recommend these apps be banned this summer:
- Flinch/Omegle – These apps are live video chat apps – got that? Let me say it again. LIVE. VIDEO. CHAT. No bueno. To add to this, these apps are not like Skype or ooVoo, where the main purpose behind them is to video chat with your friends – no. These two apps are live video chat apps with strangers. In fact, if you just Google Omegle, its tag line is “Talk to Strangers!” I’ve personally used both so I could intelligently talk about them with kids and their parents, and was instantly connected with people doing things too graphic to mention. Kids see these apps as a source of entertainment, but at the end of the day: Gross. Unsafe. Not for kids. Ever.
- Ask.fm – This is an anonymous app, where you can ask whatever questions you’d like, and any member can answer them (open form). As far as cyberbullying goes, this is the most despicable app/site I’ve ever seen. Because users’ names are hidden, kids are flocking to Ask.fm and saying the most hurtful, hateful things, because they’re not held directly responsible under this cloak of anonymity. I tell the kids I speak with: If you’re using Ask.fm, you’re looking for trouble.
- Kik – Kik is a messaging app that functions the same exact way as our standard SMS apps, except you can connect with anyone else on the Kik network and you do not have to have a phone (just Wi-Fi) to use it. The problem with Kik is, it’s basically messaging with strangers – and kids fully agree. I’ve been talking to kids about Kik for a year now, and have not ONCE heard of any positive interactions or outcomes – but plenty of horror stories.
- Promote the Positives
The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge absolutely dominated last summer, and serves as one of the best examples to date of how technology and social media can be phenomenally powerful forces in all of our lives. A strong, personal desire to raise awareness for Lou Gehrig’s Disease, combined with the viral power of social media led to a campaign that not only changed the game for ALS patients and their families around the world, but also raised over $200 million dollars to combat it. These are the examples that we should be showing our kids this summer, as we not only steer them away from the bad, but lead them to all the good things technology and social media have to offer.