Out of School but Not Out of Sight: How to Keep Kids Safe Online

Tips for setting ground rules before the long holiday break hits.

By Jason Moriber on December 10, 2014

If your kids are awake, they are more likely to be online than not. And that’s a lot of responsibility for a parent. Are you prepared?

The Kaiser Family Foundation reported kids ages 8 to 18 spend more than seven hours a day online and engaged with media via mobile devices. Yet, parents are often in the dark when it comes to their kids’ usage, such as what social media sites they use, how often and what information they are sharing. This means that as we gear up for the holiday break from school and we prepare to unwrap the season’s latest gadgets, parents need to set expectations and be plugged into the risks – and not just from the privacy perspective we typically think of.

Research featured in Psychology Today found kids’ online usage is tied to their emotional and intellectual well-being, including development of regions of the brain involving decision making, attention and cognitive control.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) cautions that excessive media use is associated with obesity, lack of sleep, school problems, aggression and other behavior issues. Additionally, the AAP recently released updated guidelines calling once again for families to discourage any screen use for those under the age of two.

What can you do?

A lot, actually – starting with you. A 2014 study in the journal Pediatrics found that children constantly seeing their parents playing with smartphones at the dinner table can feel neglected, insecure or not worth your time – spurring them to act out.

But if you’re already modeling the healthy behavior you want to encourage, use these tips to avoid scream time over screen time.

  • Encourage educational online behavior. Take time to explore safe and educational games and sites to help enhance your child’s learning out of the classroom.
  • Ensure they know the importance of a good password and how to avoid clicking on unknown links. They need to be just as cautious as you. It's also important that they know if they can talk to you when they make an online mistake, like falling for a scamware alert and downloading something dangerous to the computer.
  • Set a time limit. The AAP recommends no more than one to two hours a day for children and teens to engage with entertainment media, such as social media, games and apps.
  • Create “screen-free” zones at home. Clear out televisions, computers and video games in children's bedrooms.
  • Power down devices during family meals. Take a break to engage and fully listen.
  • Take the pledge. You can sign up for the Family Time Media Pledge, using it as a starting point for discussions to incorporate technology while maintaining a healthy balance of online and off-line time.

Learn more with the following resources:

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This piece is part of Verizon Wireless' #PowerfulTech series. Share your thought, tips and comments on Twitter using the hashtag #PowerfulTech. 

Check out the previous story from earlier in the series:

Tags: Psychology Today, The Kaiser Family Foundation, Family Time Media Pledge, The American Academy of Pediatrics, Parenting, Kids online