It’s the first few days of summer, and already the tug of war over screen time is beginning. This has always been a struggle, but with the cancellation of camps and other youth activities, the screen time battle may be at a new level this year. How much is too much? How can I get any work done without camps or screen time? Am I being a bad parent by letting them use the iPad?
The first step is to accept that technology will play a larger role this summer, says Janell Burley Hofmann, founder of The Slow Tech Movement & iRules Academy.
“Once there is acceptance,” Hofman says, “we can start to educate, communicate, and set some working boundaries – or iRules.”
Have some ground rules around acceptable technology time.
For many middle schoolers, their devices are a lifeline to their friends, fulfilling an important social connection need. But that doesn’t mean they need to be online all day. Decide which times are acceptable for them to communicate with friends – and when that ends.
Hofmann suggests a time frame that includes:
- Rules around a device-free meal time
- Guidelines for taking breaks, moving their body, and giving the screen a rest
- A curfew at the end of the day
Monitor their usage – but communication is just as important.
There are many parental controls for monitoring or restricting your child’s activities online. Hofmann encourages parents to evaluate the options and apply to their own family situation. Some children may need more automated restrictions than others.
But Hofmann cautions against leaning too heavily on the parental control applications because nothing can replace open communications with your child. Use some basic questions to serve as both a way to subtly monitor their content and also connect in a positive way with your child.
Hofmann shared her quick list of easy questions as conversation starters:
- What games did you play today? Who was online? Did you play well?
- Have you seen or heard any news stories today?
- Have you talked to <specific friend> today? How are they doing? How is their family?
- Can you show me how to do that TikTok dance?
- Can I see your favorite YouTuber? What was the name of that channel?
Position yourself as an “Askable Adult” in case they encounter questionable situations.
Middle school is by nature a time when our kids are spending more and more time in peer groups as their primary social relationships. As their fledgling relationships grow, they still need their parents as mentors and guides – especially when they inevitably stumble across inappropriate material or behavior.
“The discussion isn’t just about ‘what if’ and more about ‘when’” they will be exposed to content or communications that can spell trouble, says Hofmann. She recommends becoming an “Askable Adult” that your child can view as a trusted resource.
Hofmann offers four key components to becoming the “Askable Adult”:
- Show me. Tell me. Teach me.
- Even if I don’t like it, I can handle it.
- I understand. I can relate. I have felt that way too.
- You are not alone.
It’s important for the child to feel that the Askable Adult will listen and not shame or scold the child. Instead, take the opportunity to teach your middle schooler how to navigate difficult social situations, how to react to inappropriate content, and handle other inevitable online pitfalls.
Want to learn more? Check out Common Sense Media for recommendations on media content (including mobile apps), and Janell Burley Hofmann’s website www.janellburleyhofmann.com, where you can sign up for her parenting & technology newsletter. In addition to her website, Hofmann is also the author of iRules and offers comprehensive programming to schools as well as private coaching.