Monitoring Your Child’s Use of Electronic Media

Electronic media seems to be everywhere, and many kids these days are savvy users of media devices ranging from cell phones to iPads to laptop computers. Some kids may seem to be overly tuned in to electronic media and parents worry about the effects. How can you keep tabs on your child’s use of electronic communications?

Start by finding out what you’re up against.

Did you know that in the past five years, the rate of electronic media use by young people between the ages of eight and 18 increased from 6.5 to 7.5 hours each day? Recent studies also found:

  • 59 percent of children below age 2 watch TV for over two hours on a typical day
  • Kids under age 6 are exposed to about 2 hours of daily screen media—mainly DVDs and TV shows
  • 12 percent of 2- to 4-year-olds use computers every day
  • Half of children under age 8 have access to a mobile device

These findings by the Kaiser Family Foundation and Common Sense Media are only the tip of the iceberg. Research also reveals that most kids age eight and older use two or more media devices together!

Is using e-media helpful or harmful for kids?

Many parents wonder about the effects of all this media exposure. Most want their kids to understand how to search the internet and use educational computer games. At the same time, they don’t want their children to spend so much time with electronic media that it may have negative effects.

Some studies suggest that overuse of media may affect a child’s attention span, contribute to behavioral issues, and add to sleep problems or eating disorders. Online media and even cell phones can also serve as platforms for risky behaviors.

On the other hand, other studies reveal that reasonable or moderate use of electronic media may support effective learning. Public Broadcasting’s “Ready to Learn” initiative is one of many examples of media that supports learning. When TV programs and electronic resources include effective reading instruction, they can serve as positive and powerful tools for education.

How much e-time is too much?

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) offers recommendations in its updated policy statement (2011) on kids and their use of electronic media:

  • AAP suggests that parents discourage media use for children who are younger than 2 years
  • Limit media use to about 2 hours a day for kids older than 2 years (“high-quality content” is preferred)
  • Allow only 1 hour daily for kids ages 2+ that have behavioral, physical, or psychological issues

Establish "screen-free" areas in your home. This means rooms where there are no computers, TVs, or video games. It is best to keep electronics out of kid’s bedrooms. In addition, set a “house rule” that there will be no TV-watching at dinnertime. Finally, the AAP emphasizes how important it is for kids to play outdoors, read, enjoy hobbies and use their imaginations!

What do you know about your child’s media use?

Are you in the loop on what media your youngster is connecting with most of the time? Talk with your kids about it—keep your discussions upbeat and positive.

For instance, youth of all ages enjoy discussion forums. These are places online where they post their comments or read conversations about practically anything—from art to health to zebras.

Check that the forum your child is using is appropriate for his or her age group. (Even teens get miffed when younger kids get onto a teen-oriented forum and post immature or inappropriate discussions.) Examples of popular (and safe) forums include:

  • Kidzworld.com (a monitored social forum for age 5+)
  • School & Homework Connection (Golivewire.com/forums for age 13+)
  • TheTeenCentre.com (answers questions about music, movies, games, health for teenagers)
  • SimplyCharlotteMason.com (Designed for parents who home-school children of all ages)

Check your kids’ electronic media choices

Here are ways to stay on top of your child’s choices of video games, movies, or TV shows:

  • Review the set ratings system for the degree of violence, sexual content and even tobacco/alcohol or drug use shown
  • Initiate a discussion with your child—questioning content and talking about advertisements for certain media; having this conversation will help you guide your child toward making informed choices
  • Be sure your child is staying within the set time limits for healthy "screen time"

Put safeguards on kids’ e-media use

Want to be even more diligent about restricting your child's access to media? Most versions of Windows Vista have their own free parental control programs for the internet. The Mac OS X also comes with software that offers such control. For either Mac or PC, you will need to create an account for yourself and one for your child. After registering, you can start limiting access to specific software, websites, email, and more.

Other parental control tools include NetNanny, WebWatcher, iNet Protector, or McAfee Safe Eyes. By using these or the software built into your Mac or PC, you can:

  • Restrict access at certain times or on-demand
  • Allow or block sites
  • Limit programs kids can access on the internet (e.g., through password-protect internet connection or automatically disabling access after a certain amount of time)

Parental involvement is crucial

The child-parent connection is the key to monitoring media use effectively. Establishing reasonable limits and choosing the right content can make all the difference:

  • Set specific time frames for using video games or watching TV shows—and stick to them
  • Keep track of your child's use of the Internet and restrict access to certain sites, as needed (consider a simple parent-child agreement in writing)
  • Suggest other activities (non-electronic communication forms, such as paperback books or board games)

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