What to Expect: The Major Inflection Points

Inflection Points

One thing’s for sure about screen time is that it’s not going away.  Be prepared to revisit the topic again and again, as your child cycles through the various life stages, from learning to read to learning to drive.

With the benefit of hindsight and after many conversations with parents, we can now look back and see a fairly predictable pattern that we want to share with Our Friends (seasoned parents may find this validating!). Knowing these typical inflection points, can help you prepare for what’s ahead, and zero in on what you can do before screen time becomes a major problem in your household. 

Here’s what to expect…

Babies and Toddlers

The magnetic pull of screens is hard for young ones to resist, and inevitably, your child will make a grab for your phone. You may be surprised to learn that all Apple iOS devices are sold with settings defaulted to allow explicit content, so best to change these from the get go. 

 The American Academy of Pediatrics Guidelines:

For children younger than 18 months, limit screen use to video-chatting. For 18 to 24 months, parents should choose high-quality programming if they choose to introduce screens and are encouraged to watch with their children. 

Guided Access is a great way to keep your child contained to an age-appropriate app of your choosing (See Tech Tip #4). Also, familiarize yourself with the content and privacy settings built-in to your phone and iPad before any mishaps. On our Screen Time roadmap, we’ll take you through the specific how-tos in Our Complete Guide to Apple’s Parental Controls iOS 12.   

Preschoolers

Children’s fascination with devices continues, sometimes with mesmerizing effect, and so begins the challenges of ‘Parenting Technology.’ At this stage, preschoolers are often sharing devices with other family members, both parents and kids, so setting content restrictions can be tricky.

The American Academy of Pediatrics Guidelines:

Limit screen time to one hour of quality programming. Parents should co-view media with children to help them understand what they are seeing and apply it to the world around them.

At the most basic level of parental controls, Apple offers Guided Access. It enables a parent to lock any iDevice to just one app and set time limits.  It helps your child to start developing healthy digital habits because they learn quickly that technology has an OFF switch. The best news is, it takes less than 5 minutes to set up!  See Tech Tip #4.

Be sure to block explicit content on any device your child has access to. In our screen time roadmap, Trip #3 , we’ll take you through specific how-tos in Our Guide to Apple’s Parental Controls (iOS 11 and 12). 

Far be it from us to challenge the American Academy of Pediatrics, but when we were raising pre-schoolers, I will flat out tell you that I would have considered co-viewing completely unrealistic. I was frazzled, had a newborn, was trying to prepare dinner–you know the juggling act.  What I could endorse as a happy medium is having your child watch while you’re within earshot and sticking to certifiably quality programming.

Early Elementary

Get ready to start playing Chief Technology Officer for your household! Often when children enter kindergarten, they’re introduced to iPads and apps in the classroom. Many elementary schools integrate online reading and math programs into their curriculum, regularly assigning homework. The push toward technology begins, with many schools oblivious to the impact it has at home and the pressure it puts on parents.

Not only will you need to have a strategy for keeping track of all of those passwords, but you’ll want to consider the degree of web-access you give your child, whether you restrict your child to specific websites, or allow more freedom to explore.

Many parents are attuned to the needs of their emerging reader, wanting to encourage them and provide ready access to a trove of books. When trips to the library are still not frequent enough to keep apace with your little bookworm, digital readers can be a good solution.

The American Academy of Pediatrics Guidelines

Starting at age 6, screen time guidelines are more open-ended, encouraging families to set limits and to make sure that children get enough sleep, physical activity and time for “other behaviors that promote health.”  The AAP strongly encourages unstructured play time and face-to-face interaction.

Many parents were relieved that the American Academy of Pediatrics relaxed their guidelines which previously stipulated precise time limits for older children. This move toward encouraging parents to strike a healthy balance acknowledges that not all screen time is created equal and can serve both educational and creative purposes. It also removes some of the value -laden judgments that one can ascribe to non-adherents to their recommendations. However, the openendedness does leave many parents grappling to find the sweet spot.

We recommend:

  • Setting expectations for appropriate device use and completing a Family Agreement 
  • Know how to set parental controls on the devices your child accesses:
    • On your child’s devices and computer
    • For the major content providers (e.g. YouTube and Netflix)
    • Kindle
      • All Kindles have access to the Internet
      • Know the major differences between the models. The Kindle Fire has much of the same functionality as an iPad

Our Screen Time Roadmap, Trip #3 will guide you through .

Further Thoughts:

A Kindle Unlimited subscription can be a good option for early readers, providing easy access to a trove of books. Your child can download up to 10 books at any one time, and you can search for books by your child’s age as well as their reading level (available through Amazon for $9.99/month). The Kindle app can also be used on any iPad and Guided Access can be used to set time limits if you don’t want to purchase a digital reader. We did find, however, that the Kindle Paperwhite just made reading easier at this age, rather than having to fumble with iPad settings.  Plus, a child has so many other associations with an iPad. 

Tweens

At this point, tweens typically start getting chatty with friends over iMessages. Group texting can take on a life if it’s own, introducing the unfortunate potential for kids to feel left out, or even bullied.

If you haven’t already, you’ll likely want to set up an individual Apple ID for your child so that you can keep text messages and apps separate from your account. Predictably, your tweens will start telling you that everyone else has a phone (the actual average age when kids get a smartphone is 10.3 years).

Parents begin to feel the effects of this reality, regardless of whether their child is any early adopter. At this stage, you’ll readily realize the degree to which parenting philosophies differ when it comes to screen time and how it can create conflict. The potential for judgment is no less vast than how you should discipline your children and what you should feed them.

Whenever you decide is the right time to introduce a smartphone,knowing how to set guidelines and controls is the first step. In our experience, we’ve found there are major advantages to a stair-step approach–granting access in stages as compared to turning on the firehose all at once.  We have also found that imposed separation, limiting iPhones to communication and iPads to entertainment particularly helpful in setting boundaries and making it easier for kids to take a break from their devices.

  • Consider setting parameters around group texting and potentially putting it on hold until your child and their peers have more experience with online communication
  • Set expectations for the degree to which you’ll be monitoring your child’s online activity. See  our Family Agreement
  • Know how to set parental controls: 
  • Encourage your school to survey student’s technology use, so parents can have insight into the technology habits of their child’s peers. 

Early Teens

At this stage, many teens are interested in social media; in fact, 80% of teenagers use it. YouTube, Snapchat, and Instagram are the most popular platforms and present many challenges for parents, starting with direct messaging, the potential for distraction, and exposure to inappropriate content.  Sexting is also a pervasive concern with 1 in 4 teens reporting they’ve received a sext message

While you may not like the idea of your teen being on Snapchat, peer pressure can become a major factor. Teens report Snapchat groups start forming when everyone finds out where they’re going to high school, instigating concern over being left out.

Homework is routinely completed online, creating all kinds of issues around distraction–is your teen watching Netflix or tuning into ESPN? Teens are often instructed to watch YouTube videos as part of their assignment, so it’s impractical for parents to block access. And developing research skills is a major part of learning, so the ability to explore the internet is a requirement.

  •   Parents are best-advised to:
    • Familiarize yourself with the functionality of the major social media platforms well before your child expresses an interest      
    • Limit your child to 1-2 platforms and a total of approximately 30 minutes on each
    • Consider a social media monitoring tool, such as Bark 
    • Consider setting app limits and restrictions during homework time to minimize distractions. 

See Our Roadmaps for Social Media and managing Screen Time

Older Teens

At this stage, you’re readying to turn over the reins and put your teen on the path to digital independence. Given that 1 in 2 teens report feeling addicted to their phones, parents want their teens to learn how to self-regulate. During this transitional period, some parents move from enforcing strict time limits, to encouraging their teens to be mindful of how much time they’re spending online.  Apple’s Screen Time offers good insight to help them monitor their activity, and Our TimeWise Calculator can serve up some perspective.  

When teens get their driver’s license, texting and driving becomes a major concern — nearly 40% of teens report texting while driving. With teens frequently on-the-go, some parents feel more assured knowing their teens whereabouts and rely on advanced GPS to track current and historical locations.  

While technology can make collaboration easy, experienced parents have also shared that the temptation to cheat can run fairly strong. 

  • Use ‘Do Not Disturb While Driving’ to block texting while driving, and of course, be sure to set a good example yourself
  • Encourage your teen to be aware of how much time he or she is spending online by using the Screen Time features
  • Know how to use Find My iPhone to track your child’s phone if you want to see your teen’s whereabouts
  • Use Our Family Agreement to set expectations around appropriate device use, especially when completing assignments, engaging in social media, and sharing photos 
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