Experts offer tips to help parents manage kids’ technology use this summer

A young woman watches streaming television on her tablet. Courtesy Comcast

For some parents, technology is both a blessing and a curse. Technology offers the potential for entertainment, learning, and creativity. It offers a window to the world, and a chance to explore. However, too many children spend most of their summer days on the couch immersed in games or Youtube, and some are even engaging in adult content or public social media platforms.

Finding a balance is key, experts say. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that parents and caregivers develop a family media plan that takes into account the health, education and entertainment needs of each child.

“Families should proactively think about their children’s media use and talk with children about it, because too much media use can mean that children don’t have enough time during the day to play, study, talk or sleep,” said Jenny Radesky, MD, Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics. “What’s most important is that parents be their child’s ‘media mentor.’ That means teaching them how to use it as a tool to create, connect and learn.”

Michelle Gilbert, Vice President of Public Relations at Comcast Cable Heartland Region, is the mother of a 14- and 10-year-old daughters. Like many parents, she has developed a plan on how to control kids’ technology and data usage. “I think technology can be a wonderful thing for kids, but there has to be rules,” Gilbert said.

The AAP recommends children younger than 18 months avoid use of screen media other than video chatting. Parents of children 18-24 months who want to introduce digital media should choose high-quality programming, and watch it with their children to help them understand what they’re seeing.

For children ages two to five years, limit screen use to one hour per day of high-quality programs. Parents should co-view media with children to help them understand what they are seeing and apply it to the world around them. Parents of children ages six and older should place consistent limits on time spent using media and the types of media. Also, make sure media does not take the place of adequate sleep, physical activity and other behaviors essential to health.

Some experts suggest parents play the games, visit the site, or use the app before giving the child permission. Don’t rely on online ratings, but rather learn for yourself. Keep a child’s social media account private.

It’s also important families have media-free times together, such as while in the car, or at the dinner table. “The Gilbert family, including the parents, got into a really bad habit of coming to the dinner table with our devices. My husband and I were checking our email and our kids were watching Youtube or playing games. I made everybody mad one night and I paused all our devices,” Gilbert said. “My kids know now that we don’t bring our devices to the table. I don’t have to pause the device for dinner time or any more.”

Gilbert said there are a number of apps and devices to help parents monitor and control WiFi access and usage. For example, Comcast’s xFi service lets parents schedule WiFi access times for individual devices.

In-app purchases can be dangerous for kids as well, as it’s easy for children to rack up a balance without realizing the charges are real versus “money” earned within the game. Manage in-app purchases through the device’s settings, making sure children don’t have the ability to spend actual dollars.

Streaming content on the go is costly, and most TV providers offer customers a free app that lets them take their shows on the go. Downloading OnDemand or DVR-recorded content to a mobile device is a good way to avoid racking up data charges.