by Susan Austin
Parents are often concerned with babyproofing before bringing home a newborn. But as children get older, you may worry less about locking cabinets and more about media consumption.
How Big of an Issue is Media Consumption for Children?
Young children often spend hours engaging with screen media each day. According to a 2017 report from Common Sense Media, kids ages eight and under spend an average of two hours and 19 minutes using screen media. Most of that time is with TV. Some kids are connecting online using laptops and other devices. But children are increasingly engaging with mobile devices, which could open them up to privacy concerns.
Like it or not, children today are growing up in an increasingly digital world, and it’s up to you to teach them how to engage with it in a healthy way, while also staying safe and private.
Set limits. Be clear about what children are and aren’t allowed to do while using media. For example, tell them how long they can use media, and which apps and tools they can and can’t use.
Have times and areas when media isn’t allowed. Media shouldn’t be a 24/7 free for all. There needs to be times when you know you can count on engaging with your child face to face. For example, during homework time, dinner, or in the morning before school.
Share screen time. Make sure screen time isn’t always alone time. Watch how your children are engaging with media so you can get an idea of what they’re exposed to — even if it’s from sources you assume you can trust.
Be aware of what they’re using. An app might look appropriate for children, but are you sure? Investigate each piece of media your child consumes so you’re sure whether it’s safe and educational or not.
Take advantage of safety settings. Before handing kids the remote or a digital device, make sure you know what they could get into. Typically, you’ll be able to turn on safe search settings, and may be able to password protect access to new downloads, restricted channels, or any other media you’d rather them not be able to use.
Avoid or limit digital media for babies and toddlers. Very young children may be entertained by digital media, but it’s best to avoid allowing them to engage more than a very limited amount. And if you do allow digital media engagement, it’s a good idea to watch and play alongside them.
Don’t let kids take media to bed. While it may be tempting to let kids put themselves to sleep with a familiar TV show, it’s more harmful than helpful. The bright screens and stimulation can make it difficult for kids to shut down and fall asleep at night.
Talk about privacy. Explain to children that it’s important to be careful about what they share online. Even something as simple as saying their age, gender, where they go to school, even the town they live in could open them up to danger from online predators. Explain that personal information is private and shouldn’t be shared with strangers online.
Digital media is exciting and can be educational and fun for kids to use. However, there are dangers that come with connecting, whether it’s with TV, online, games, and other media. Make sure kids have limits, know what they can and can’t do, and have protections in place that can catch them when they fall.
Susan Austin is a family research specialist with Family Living Today. A mother of three and small business owner in Texas, Austin spends her days juggling work and family life — sometimes expertly, sometimes not.