Sometimes you just need a break. That’s why – like many parents – I’ve come to rely on our tablet or a mobile phone to help keep my children entertained and grab a few minutes of “me” time. And I don’t feel guilty at all.
I’ve not abandoned the outdoors for apps or stopped reading bedtime stories in favour of screen time, but I no longer worry that I’m a bad mother when I let my children use technology. On average, my children use the tablet twice a day for about half an hour but I concentrate much more on the things they’re doing than the amount of time they spend. What really matters is making sure that what they play, watch and do on the tablet is positive and age-appropriate.
Here are a few more tips and tricks I've learned about getting the balance right and keeping your kids safe when it comes to screen time:
- Talk to other mums
Be honest about how your kids use the internet – they’ll be so grateful, trust me! You’re not a bad parent if your kids use the tablet while you give yourself 10 minutes to grab a cup of tea. Chat with other mums, they’re doing the same. Finding the right balance between recreational time spent offline and online is really challenging but nothing in excess is generally a good rule.
- Choose a few apps you trust
There are too many apps out there – I just don’t have time to make sure I’m comfortable with them all. Is there something inappropriate on the next level of that game, are they going to spend real money on gems or coins? We’ve chosen a limited number of apps that we trust and we always look for services that refresh their games and videos so the kids don’t get bored.
- Talk about how much is too much
When we first got a tablet, we sat down with our kids and talked about how much time they thought they should spend online. We agreed that they can’t use the tablet for more than an hour per day. And because we agreed it together, my daughter is always telling me off for spending too much time on my phone! There are lots of time management apps that help as well. TeenLimit is a great example, which lets you set daily and weekly time limits for your device.
- Lock your device to a single app
Especially for our youngest, Guided Access (available on iPhones and iPads) or ‘app pinning’ on Android have been real saviours. They let you “lock” children in a single app, which they can’t exit until you enter your PIN code. You don’t have to worry they’ll end up somewhere they shouldn’t and focusing on a single video or game isn’t bad for improving attention spans either!
- Explore the internet together
It’s easy to forget just how amazing the internet is, so have fun together and make going online a positive experience. Introduce your children to things you think they’ll like and you know are safe. It’s obvious, I know, but you can’t beat talking. That’s why I make a real effort to ask my kids what they think is good and bad about a particular app or website – they’re natives in this world and will get it much more quickly than you think.
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- Explain the importance of personal information
We all know sharing online can be dangerous. Kids need to understand that when something leaves their inbox they don’t own it anymore. I use examples in our daily life to explain personal information: for example, a school uniform is personal information - it tells where you go to school.
** If you are still worried, there is lots of advice around. Take a look at Search It Up, Azoomee’s free online safety section. This has 18 short animated cartoons that deal with all the major online safety issues - such as sharing personal information, screen-time, cyber bullying and how long things stay online – in a fun and engaging way.