Tips for Online Safety and Screen Time
The reality of school, work, and homelife has changed drastically in the last month. While once separate entities in our busy lives, all three have now intersected in one place. Our home is our office is our classroom is our home. While parents are benefiting from more quality time with their children and a pause from shuffling from one activity to the next, they are also dealing with unprecedented times and expectations. Parents working from home are now faced with facilitating online/distance learning, monitoring screen time, keeping their children happy and engaged, all while many work remotely.
In addition to facilitating online time safely, parents are also tasked with monitoring the amount of daily screen time (a task that was already daunting before at home learning). How can parents navigate this new world of constant glowing devices? With the help of Evan and Kate Gilbert (parents and business owners) of Code Wiz Jersey City, I’ve created a list of helpful tips and suggestions to help make this new phase of life more manageable. If you want to hear more about what Kate and Evan have to say, check out their livestream with Everything Jersey City in which they discuss this topic in depth with our community!
Your biggest priority, as it is with everything, is to keep your children safe. We all know there is no homework assignment, online game event with friends, or Tik Tok video worth the safety of our children. The good news is, however, there are things you can do to facilitate a healthier and safer online experience for your family!
Evan says that a lot of the online safety concerns will stem from the times when kids are unsupervised, the use of unregulated apps like YouTube or playing games such as Roblox online with strangers from all over the world. Evan cautions that the online world is not always going to be one hundred percent safe, but there are ways to boost the safety of the experience.
“One great way to prevent that is to either do something like a private server or some sort of signed in account that your child has so that you can limit the age, you can limit the privacy settings, and you can create kind of a closed environment for them to engage in the activity that they’re doing,” he says.
Additionally, Kate also encourages parents to be very involved in teaching your children, when they’re younger, how to use technology and the Internet so that you can establish rules and best practice from the beginning.
Another new trend in the online world right now are apps and games such as Tik Tok, Roblox, and Fortnight which create opportunities for children and teens to be exposed to strangers within the online community. These platforms have parents all over the world quite concerned and feeling vulnerable.
Evan suggests for apps such as Tik Tok, that any child under the age of 11, who doesn’t have fully developed self-awareness and self-regulation, not participate by themselves or at all.
“I would try to monitor the time or keep them off of it. If you are going to let them use Tik Tok or apps like that, make it creative. Have them create their own videos on an account that’s locked up or private and have them engage in the app that way as opposed to consuming random videos.”
For Fortnight and Roblox gaming platforms, Kate and Evan suggest editing privacy settings such as disabling the chat features, setting up private games on a server with just your child’s friends, or finding secured/supervised server time through places such as Code Wiz.
The word on everyone’s tongue these days is Zoom. Parents are working through Zoom, students are learning through Zoom, and families are connecting through Zoom. But is it safe?
Kate says, “The way to make sure is to set up the settings in the host account properly. Settings that we use here at Code Wiz (for their virtual classes): we don’t allow the children/the participants to share their own screens. We also limit the live chat. We enable passwords for every meeting. If you’re being invited to a Zoom meeting that doesn’t have a password, you should be skeptical.”
At the end of the day, one of the most profound things you can do, Kate encourages, is to teach your children that just like you don’t talk to a stranger on the street, you don’t engage with strangers online. Your kids should know that if they come across something or someone inappropriate or they don’t know, they should notify their adults immediately.
Be in the Know
One of the most important things to understand is that you are not alone in this. Almost every single parent across the United States and in many other countries is juggling all of these things as we speak! This gives you a robust community to reach to for more information AND support. Social media is filled to brim with parents sharing advice, tips, stories, and funny anecdotes about supporting their children online. Reach out to your community to see what trends and common successes and failures are out there!
Additionally, there are a multitude of online articles, blogs, and published research on these topics. If you have a question or concern about something, see what resources are available for you. The good news is, if you’re present on social media and have many parents in your network, the latest information about children and online safety concerns and screen time, tends to circulate frequently.
Finally, reach out to your local experts. Does your school have an education technology coordinator? A technology teacher? Perhaps your school librarian or classroom teacher has great insight and useful information. Also, check with your experts in the community. Local parent organizations and blogs such as JCFamilies, Jersey City Mamas, and Jersey City Moms Network might have helpful information. Additionally, experts such as Kate and Evan from Code Wiz are in the business of students being online, gaming, programming, etc. They are always open and willing to help!
Make Off-Screen Time Engaging
Instead of focusing on the quantity of off-screen time versus on-screen time, focus on the quality! Together as a family, come up with a bucket list of ideas you can do when work and school tasks are not needing your undivided attention or you are able to take a break. If possible, I suggest setting a timer for your kids and YOU. This will keep you conscious about how much time you are actually staring at a screen. Kate suggests using the built in screen time app for iphone/apple users. Android users can download a similar third party app to their device. Kate suggests looking at the children’s programming index for how much screen time per age group. For example, shows online for toddlers are about 20 minutes long, whereas shows for teens are up to an hour. When possible, Kate and Evan also suggest coordinating on and off screen time as a family so that you can take a break together.
Don’t stress yourself out trying to cram in as many walks, crafts, music, board games, etc. as possible. Pick a few things each day to focus on and really be present in those moments. On some days, it may be as simple (but meaningful) conversations over lunch and dinner. Regardless of the what it’s the who and the how that make it important.
If you’re in the market for fun and creative things to do during those off screen times, I suggest looking to our local businesses. Many, such as Luna de Papel, Qua’s Creative Art Center, and Tiny Artisan are doing things such as delivering craft kits to homes. Not only does this help families with filling off-screen activity time, it benefits one of our great Jersey City businesses.
Be Okay With What It Is
The bottom line is, we are all in a situation we have never faced before. While we certainly want remote learning and working to go on for as long as necessary in order to help flatten the curve, we also hope that this time at home is as temporary as possible. While we may not know exactly how long this will all last, we do know that it won’t last forever. We also have to acknowledge that parents, teachers, students, and companies were (mostly) not prepared for such a shift. With that being said, the most important thing you can do is show yourself some grace. It’s completely okay if your children are online more than they should be right now.
It’s understandable if you cannot help them with every assignment for school. You can forgive yourself for turning on a movie because you have an important work conference. Try to put the bigger picture in perspective. While your children might be online a lot more than usual, they are also getting to spend way more quality time with you than ever! In the long-run the positivity of these lasting memories and fun-filled moments at home will far outweigh those blue screens!
In these strange times we are all definitely facing new challenges and concerns we have yet to experience in our work, school, and home life! While there are ways we can help make our family’s experience safer and more balanced, the reality of online time is an unavoidable necessity right now. Make it priority to focus on mental and physical health, quality time, and engaging offscreen time. Most importantly, focus on all the positives of how the online experience has helped us stay connected with others and brought us learning experiences we may have not had access to before.