With more devices in everyone’s hands after the holidays, children are sure to take their cues from parents and older siblings. Ultimately children will become frequent users of online devices — playing games, watching videos, texting, listening to music, web surfing, etc. — just like their other family members — and they’ll imitate the behaviors they see at home.
McAfee suggests that, this year, parents take time to teach healthy online habits.
“What child doesn’t want to be just like Mom, Dad or an older sibling? Kids today see Mom spending lots of time on social networking sites, Dad taking calls or checks email during the dinner hour and older siblings texting friends and listening to music on their cell phones while doing homework,” says Stanley Holditch, online family safety advocate at McAfee. “Now is the time for parents to model good behavior and etiquette.”
McAfee recommends parents start the New Year off fresh with resolutions that address their own behavior so they can model best practices for kids and teens:
1. When I’m with my children, I pledge not to spend more than 10 percent of the time on my phone or computer.
Adults spend about 3.5 hours a day perusing the Internet or staring at their cell phone, according to estimates from eMarketer. This year, make a promise to give your full attention to your children and develop a plan to limit their use of electronic devices. For example, make rules against using cell phones during dinner and set a time that everyone turns their devices off.
A Kaiser Family Foundation study1 found that eight to 18-year-olds average over 7.5 hours per day to using entertainment media including cell phones and computers. Some of that time is spent multitasking, including doing homework. The study also found that only three in ten young people have rules about how much time they can spend watching television, playing video games or using the computer.
2. I will not communicate with my children via text when they are in the house.
One downside of technology is that fewer people actually speak to one another. The Kaiser study found that children in grades 7-12 spend an average 1.5 hours a day sending or receiving texts. A recent Nielsen study revealed that, on average, teenagers send more than 3,300 texts each month (girls send about 4,000 texts a month). Adults are texting more frequently, too, but haven’t quite caught up with the younger generation. The Pew Research Center found that adults send only about 10 texts per day.
3. I will not give my child access to an Internet browser on a smartphone or tablet that is not safe for them to use.
At age three, about one-quarter of children go online daily, and that number increases to about half by age five. By age eight, more than two-thirds use the Internet on any given weekday. In addition, 20 percent of children age 6-11 own cell phones with Internet capabilities, according to reports from Mediamark Research and Intelligence.
It’s important for parents to shield children from cyber-dangers by filtering explicit content on smartphones and tablets via applications such as Safe Eyes Mobile software. The software can prevent children from establishing or accessing social network accounts, limit Internet use, block inappropriate websites or messenger chats, or use other strategies to ensure youngsters are safe online.
4. I will be prepared to have a “texting intervention” if my teen’s thumbs begin to look like tiny body-builders.
Texting may be a quick and easy way to interact with others, but the impersonal nature of the communication and frequency of use can cause problems. Too much texting can lead to a variety of issues: poor study and sleeping habits, less face-to-face social interaction, and, for older teens, distracted driving.
Discuss appropriate behavior before problems arise and set boundaries. Most mobile device providers have ways to monitor and limit the number of text and picture messages youngsters can send and receive.
5. I will have “the” talk with my kids. Not “that” talk, but rather the one that discusses who they are connecting with and what they are doing online.
Children often lack an understanding of online dangers or they may lack the maturity to make appropriate decisions. A recent survey found that 96 percent of parents have offered guidance to their children about online behavior and the risks and benefits of being on the Internet.