Limit Screen Time

Have you noticed how much time your child’s eyes are glued to the TV, computer, tablet or smart phone? Maybe you’ve experienced calling them over and over until you eventually pry them away from 'the screen'. While these devices provide major benefits, too much or prolonged continuous use can be harmful.

In today’s digitally connected world, we can sometimes become so engrossed in using our devices that we don’t realise how much time has elapsed. Two consecutive hours of watching a screen can cause eyestrain and fatigue.

A recent study from South Korea identified a link between excessive smartphone use and becoming cross-eyed.

When watching a screen for a prolonged period or staring too close at a screen, we may experience:

  • dry eyes
  • blurry vision
  • trouble focusing
  • headaches
  • neck and back pain

Digital Eyestrain is the term used to describe these symptoms resulting from electronic device usage.

Our devices have become so convenient that it is now used in every aspect of our lives. From the minute we walk up till seconds before we fall asleep in the bedroom. The latter however, watching screens too much just before bedtime, has been proven to negatively affect our sleep. As screens emit blue light, which affects the sleep-inducing hormone, melatonin, it disrupts our circadian rhythms, which basically means, we don’t get a proper night’s sleep.

Chances are if you’re using a computer, smartphone or watching TV then you’re most likely in a sitting position. Sitting too much has been linked to increased risk of cardiovascular diseases, obesity and diabetes. It has been suggested, for every half hour of screen time or sitting take a ten minute break to walk, stretch and look at something far away. This helps the body by improving blood circulation, exercising the muscles and eyes thus encouraging good health.

Parents should discuss these issues with their kids to come up with ways that will promote healthy habits to reduce the risks of too much screen time.

Here are some suggestions that parents can use:

  1. Establish rules. Collaborate with your kids for when they can use the devices and for how long. 
  2. Every 20 minutes, take a 20-second break and look at something 20 feet away. This is called the “20-20-20 rule” by many eye care providers. It helps relax the muscles of the eyes.
  3. Turn off screens before bedtime. Let your kids avoid watching screens at least one hour before bedtime to help them feel fully rested.
  4. Make a tech-free area. Create a space in your home that is free from the distractions of a screen. For example, you can set the dining table to be tech-free during dinner.
  5. Set time for physical activities. Encourage your kids to play sports, ride bikes, draw, play board games or even tag and hide and seek.
  6. Take a 10 minutes break every 30 minutes of sitting. This helps your kids form healthy habits.

 

Set Rules & Expectations for use of the internet, mobile devices and social media sites

In a survey conducted during the period 2014 - 2015 of over 3000 students, over 50% of students surveyed indicated that they have no rules or guidelines about using the internet.

This could easily explain why we see so many kids getting in trouble with how they use the various social media platforms. 

Parents should not single out any one particular social media platform as being the troublesome one and block or ban kids from using it, but instead parents can outline some basic guidelines for using any of these apps.       

The end result here is to educate and foster a greater understanding of the pros and cons of being an active online citizen. Don't be too critical of your kids exploration of the internet. Remember it's natural for kids to be intrigued by off limit material. Try to use that as an opportunity to discuss the material with them and then re-enforce the rules about the same.

Here are some suggested guidelines that parents can discuss with their kids: 

  1. Set a technology or internet schedule which limits the time for use and access to internet connected devices
  2. Set up content filtering on your home WiFi network to block adult specific or restricted content
  3. Use Kiddle.co search engine to get Kid Friendly Safe Search Results 
  4. Tell your kids to never arrange to meet up a stranger they met and only know online
  5. Adhere to the age limits when signing up for various social media app
  6. Work with your kids to set up their privacy settings on the various apps
  7. Remind your kids to not give our personal or identifying information such as home address, school name, phone numbers, car numbers etc.
  8. Talk to you kids about posting and sharing inappropriate content
  9. Teach them about the STOP - BLOCK - TELL rule
  10. Let your kids know that they can report or tell you anything without fear of losing the laptop or internet access

 

Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter and pretty much all the other social media apps have a minimum age requirement for all users. 13 seems to be the luck number for most of these social apps although there are some variations.

These age requirements are generally found in their Terms of Service. Click on the app names below for details on the age resitrictions. 

There restrictions are more of a disclaimer type than a requirement as all of the apps don't do any real checking to verify the users age. Nor do they stop anyone from entereing a false age just to sign up. 

It is however, up to the parents to ensure that their kids are of the right age before signing up for these apps and that they understand the responsibilty they have when using them. 

Here is a quick reference sorted out by age for some of the more popular apps out there

 

AGE 13 14 16 17 18
  FaceBook LinkedIn (US, Canada, Germany, Spain, Australia, South Korea) LinkedIn (Netherlands) Vine2 LinkedIn (China)
  Flickr1 YouTube (Spain / South Korea) Whatsapp NetflixNC-17 NetflixTV-MA
  FourSquare NetflixTV-14 YouTube (Netherlands)    
  Google +        
  Instagram        
  Keek        
  Kik        
  LinkedIn        
  NetflixPG-13        
  Pinterest        
  Reddit        
  Snapchat        
  Tinder        
  Tumblr        
  YouTube4        

 

1 - Flickr suggests that if your are over 13 and under 18 that a parent should go over the terms of service with you before signing up
2 - Vine Kids is available from the App Store and is intended for use by kids under the age of 17.
3 - Netflix has a very detailed listing per country on their terms of use by age. Visit the site for complete details. There is also a kid friendly option.
4 - YouTube prompts and restricts users who are under 18 years on videos flagged for users 18 and over

This list was updated as of April 2016.

Phubbing 

Phubbing. The act of snubbing someone in a social setting by looking at your phone instead of paying attention to them.

If you have a smart phone, chances are you were guilty of the act already. It’s also possible you’re doing it now while reading this article but we’ll excuse you just this once. Phubbing has become so natural to us that we do it unconsciously. The problem has become so bad in Australia that the New South Wales Government is installing traffic lights in the pavement so that pedestrians would notice a traffic light signal even with their heads buried in their phones!

More critically, studies have shown that phubbing can damage personal relationships and not only adult relationships but parent child relationships as well. Spouses and children feel as if they are competing for attention with a cellphone. This leads to a drop in relationship satisfaction and in some cases depression.

 

How to tell if you’ve been phubbing people close to you and if it is a potential problem in your relationships.

  • During a typical mealtime, I pull out and check my cellphone.
  • I place my cellphone where I can always see it. 
  • I keep my cellphone in my hand when I’m together with someone. 
  • When my cellphone rings or beeps, I immediately check it even if I am in the middle of a conversation.
  • I always glance at my cellphone when in a conversation with someone else.
  • When spending alone or intimate time with someone, I use or keep my cellphone nearby.
  • If there is a lull in conversation, I will check my cellphone.

The more you answer “yes” to the statements, the more likely phubbing is a potential problem in your relationship.

The need to look at and be engrossed in one’s phone can also be a form of Internet Addiction. Another term that has been derived that relates to the constant need to be online and checking your phone for the next notification, email or message.

 

So how can you stop phubbing?

While phubbing is a technology related issue, the solutions to stop it may not be technical at all. It is a personal matter that only the people involved can work towards solving. Here are some tips and tricks you can use to start the healing process.

  1. Manage your notifications. Review the notification settings for the apps that you used most on your phone and limit or turn them off. Some phones even have a ‘Do Not Disturb’ feature that turns off all notifications and even phone calls during pre-set periods.
  2. Set rules on where and when to use mobile devices. Phone use should not be allowed at the meal tables or when going out to a restaurant or even driving in the car, instead use it as a time to catch up on and improve your conversation techniques.
  3. When out with friends, put your phones face down on the table and the first to pick up their phone pays the bill.
  4. Avoid looking at your phone first thing when you get up.
  5. Don’t let your phone screen be the last thing you see before you sleep.

In the end, it’s all about moderation and a some digital detox. For a lighter side to the phubbing issue, check out the Stop Phubbing website http://stopphubbing.com/. It may help you or a friend in need.

The first step in creating a safe online world for children is simply having a conversation.

Most parents do a good job talking to their children about “saying no” to smoking, drinking alcohol, and using drugs, but starting a conversation about cyber safety can be harder or in some cases not even think it's needed. However, we're seeing kids today get into trouble by improper use of social media and therefore these conversations are needed.

As a parent you do not need to know much or more about technology than your kids to talk about their concerns. As with any other parent to kid discussion, be open, caring yet direct about your online safety concerns. Let them know of the dangers of posting improper images, uploading suggestive videos or the use of rude or abusive language.

This is an on-going conversation that requires parents to engage with their children.  Not all kids may speak to their parents about cyber bullying so the more you talk to your kids about what they do and experience on the internet the easier it may be for them to open up to you about something that made them feel uncomfortable. 

This on-going conversation is an invitation for the child to confide in their parent, and to ask for help and support if they are exposed to threats or inappropriate content online.