Summer is here! That means time outside (by participating in your favorite kids triathlon, of course), bug spray, bathing suits, and digital screens—yes, we said digital screens. Summer means your kids may have more time on their hands to stay glued to their phone, computer, or TV.
If it seems like your child already spends a lot of the day in front of a screen, research says you’re right. According to a study by Common Sense Media, kids age 8 and younger spend an average of 2 hours and 19 minutes watching media. Of that time, 72 percent of it is spent watching TV and videos.
As you might expect, as kids get to their tween years it gets even worse. Children between 8-12 years old spend an average of 4 hours and 36 minutes watching screens—not including listening to music which tacks on another few hours.
The good news is, these numbers are relatively unchanged from 2011 when Common Sense Media started measuring. The bad news is, that’s still a big chunk of time that kids spend consuming media (often on a device that’s in their hand and out of your view) and being inactive.
The trick for parents is figuring out how to monitor—and maybe even exert a little bit of control—what your child is watching, while also maybe making it easier to peel them away from their tech and shoo them outside. To help, we reached out to the tech experts at TDS for some ideas and added a few of our own:
- Control binge-watching. Your kids love to binge watch as much as you do, but you might not be comfortable knowing your 8-year-old is catching up on “The Walking Dead” or “True Blood.” If you’d like to narrow the range of show/movie choices your kids are presented with on their screens—including your TVs—you do have options:
- Netflix lets youmanage settings for each profile.
- Hulu offers Hulu Kidsfor subscribers, and lets you restrict mature content based on profile
- Amazon Video offers parental controls.
- Don’t forget about your gaming consoles likeXbox One, PS4, Wii U, and Switch. Note: Hulu says the service defaults to the settings on your Xbox and Wii U if that’s how your kids access, so it’s another good reason to set up controls.
- Here locally, TDS TV subscribers can lock content based on the program rating automatically, while still making it easy for parents to watch when they want to. Here are instructions.
“I’m a mom, TDS employee, and a customer and I can tell you this feature takes away a lot of worry,” says Missy Kellor. “In real life, you just can’t be there every moment—especially with tweens. With TDS TV’s Parental Controls, you can step away confidently, knowing your kids won’t end up watching Cartoon Network’s ‘Adult Swim’ when ‘The Amazing World of Gumball’ ends.”
- Stay in the loop on app downloads.Don’t be in the dark about what apps your kids are downloading on their phones or tablets. Instead, turn on “gatekeeper”-type options in your Google Play or Apple accounts so you’ll know what you child wants to play or use before the app is even installed. On Apple you can set up “Ask to Buy” (which also works on free apps, by the way), and on Android this feature is called Authentication. You’ll get notifications when your kids want to download something and can approve their selections…or not.
- Monitor your kids online the easy way. Knowing what your kids are doing online really is possible—and won’t take much effort on your part. All it takes is a parental control router—a tip TDS has suggested before. These devices have been described as “forcefield around your house” offering you the ability to block content, filter sites, set time limits and bedtimes (and even pause the internet), track online activity, etc. – all using a single device and usually an app.
One TDS parent we spoke with has one of these routers and said, “As you might imagine, our kids aren’t always fans of the limits, but in our opinion it has been well worth the money to have a better handle on when, what, and how our kids are using the internet.”
4. Make them earn their internet. If a parental-control router doesn’t seem like your style but you want to limit your kids’ time spent online, consider this old-school approach: changing the WiFi password and have your kids earn it through activities or chores. If you don’t know how, do a little Googling for your router brand and model and you’ll be sure to find instructions.
- Tell your kids not to geotag. Regular tag is an awesome game for all ages, but geotagging is something you should consider carefully. If your kids are “checking in” at a certain location or sharing photos on social media when their geotagging is enabled on their phones, they’re telling the world where to find them. Conversely, they’re also telling the universe where they’re not—possibly advertising a home is sitting empty and unwatched (in other words, “rob my house!”). This poses both a security and privacy risk, so tell them to take a photo and share it later. For good measure, turning off any geo-tracking tools in apps isn’t a bad idea either (and could help extend your phone/tablet’s battery life).
- Handle YouTube with care. For kids, YouTube is what TV used to be for you—the go-to media when they’re bored…only YouTube doesn’t have any kind of real content oversight. As such, a little caution with YouTube is appropriate, and fortunately you have some options to make it easier:
- YouTube Kids. The just-for-kids app uses filters to “provide a safer version of YouTube.” Be warned that it’s not perfect, but it’s certainly a big improvement. The added bonus is that you get parental controls. You can set a timer on the app, turn off search, and clear the search and watch history.
- Turn on regular YouTube’s “Restricted Mode.” It’s not 100%, but it does do a decent job at limiting the amount of inappropriate content they may stumble upon. There are good directions here for turning on this setting (which are different for mobile and desktop versions).
- Combine old-school fun with new-school tech. Combine your kids’ love of technology with some real-world fun by going geocaching or letterboxing with them. It’s like going treasure hunting using GPS-enabled devices. You have to navigate to particular coordinates and find a container hidden there. If geocaching doesn’t appeal, check out this this blog with other outdoor games that use GPS.
We hope you’ll be able to keep your kids safe and active this summer, and you can ask our TDS experts about any questions at this Saturday’s kids triathlon in Sun Prairie!