The battle began almost as soon as our daughters got home from school.
“Daddy?” asked Madeline, our 8-year-old second-grader. “Could I use an ‘I’ with a ‘Pad’ to watch ‘Bunk’d’ on Netflix?” Within minutes, she and her 6-year-old sister, Lily, were arguing over whose turn it was to choose a show.
Having been parents for nearly a decade, my wife and I have what seem like a a million toys, a bazillion crayons and other coloring tools, and a Library of Congress-level of books around our Oakland home.
Yet nothing, and I mean nothing, grabs their attention and pulls them in like a screen.Our daughters know how to use the Comcast Xfinity voice commands to pull up Netflix without having to switch to our Apple TV. They know how to bring up iPad apps from Hulu, Nickelodeon and Disney just as easily as I knew how to get up and walk the exhausting 10 feet or so from our sofa to turn the knob on our 19-inch Sony Trinitron TV back in the day.
But, back then, the only screen in the house was the TV, and it had just 13 channels when we first got cable. All of that sounds quaint compared to the hundreds of channels available now on the three TVs we have in our home.
Then there are the other screens. Tablets, smartphones and actual computers. There is no end to what our kids can watch, and how they can watch it, whether we want them to or not.
And all one has to do is speak with other parents to see that the methods of addressing the role of technology in children’s lives are not cut and dried. Here’s a rundown of how several Bay Area parents handle their children’s use of streaming TV and movies, smartphones and tablets, and whether they use content controls and allow access to social media.
I will admit it: My wife and I need screens. Sometimes, the TV or the iPad is the only way we can keep our daughters preoccupied enough so that we can make dinner, clean up and do what is necessary to keep our home from falling down around us.
But we try to not let those devices rule us. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends placing “consistent limits on the time spent using media, and the types of media.” It’s a standard that places responsibility on parents to set the guidelines for their children.
“I have a hard and fast rule: no screens of any sort until your responsibilities are done,” said self-described “tech curmudgeon” Rachel Estrella, of Oakland, mother of son Kai, 12, and 8-year-old daughter Bailey.
Shauna Finian, a stay-at-home mom and clinical social worker, said her children, Charlotte, 11, and Jack, 7, normally aren’t allowed any screen time during the school week. However, Finian said that there are exceptions to the family’s rules.
“Charlotte sometimes needs to do homework on the computer, whether it’s writing a paper or doing research,” Finian said. “We occasionally make exceptions for A’s and Warriors games or a nature program.”
When To Get A Phone (Or A Tablet)
My 8-year-old is already asking when she can have her own cellphone. My wife and I are holding out on getting her one out of fear that once she has a cellphone, it will be game over for interacting with her parents.
But, cellphones today are necessary parts of life. That means parents have to decide when and how to let their children use a device that is a portal for information and communication, which requires some responsibility.
“When you’re talking about an 8-year-old, I would be careful,” said Larry Magid, chief executive of ConnectSafely.org, a Palo Alto-based nonprofit organization that provides educational information about safety and security online. “But, get to around 11 or 12, things change and a phone may depend on the maturity of their child.”
“I knew he would need one (a smartphone) once he got to middle school because it’s a whole different context,” Estrella said about her son. “He would actually need to call me using a cellphone and would find himself unsupervised in ways that he simply wasn’t during elementary school.”
To Block, Or Not To Block?
When it comes to television, cable and satellite TV operators offer many options for parents to limit where their kids can go online, and what they can see on television.
Comcast, the nation’s largest cable TV company, which also provides many subscribers with internet access, has a slate of controls that parents can use on their TVs, computers and mobile device apps to set which sites and programs their children can see.
And as anyone who has used a smartphone or tablet knows, you can set those up with passwords and identification options such as fingerprints so that your kids can’t even get past the device’s home screen.
But, when implementing access limits, many parents seem to lean toward having their kids prove they are responsible enough to earn the freedom to use technological gadgets.
“Last year, my son was at work with me, and I had to go to a meeting,” said textile designer Lubica Hanacek about her 9-year-old son, Mirek. “I left him at my desk looking for pictures of “Minecraft” on the internet. When I came back, I saw on my screen images of naked women made out of blocks. He was so embarrassed and shocked. He said that he was searching for “Minecraft” and the search engine found Minecraft porn. The experience definitely left a lasting impression, because we talked about it for weeks.”
How Much Socializing Is OK?
The pitfalls of social media — from simply spending too much time on a site, to the spreading of lies about someone, or outright bullying — can give parents pause about whether to allow their children to have such a public presence online.
“What I get most concerned about with technology is the ways in which social media can cause harm,” Estrella said. “It can do a world of good, but I think that kids really need to have some rules around it particularly because things can get out of control fast.”
Mavis Scanlon, of Oakland, said she doesn’t let her 8-year-old daughter, Dakota, have Facebook or other social media accounts. “I’ll hold out for social media accounts for as long as possible, while we continue to try and teach her about being safe online,” she said.
As for my own kids, for now, Facebook is out, Twitter is also a no-go, and I don’t even know what to do with Snapchat, so I just avoid that one entirely. They’re going to have to wait a few more years for their own phones, too. And by that time, who knows? Virtual reality goggles are coming around. By then, maybe the smartphone will be as obsolete as turning the channel knob on that old 19-inch Sony Trinitron in my parents’ living room.
Published at Sat, 03 Jun 2017 15:00:28 +0000