Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

On a daily basis, I listen to parents complain about how much time their kids spend on some kind of electronic device. At the same time, I recognize there are wonderful things electronics can provide for our kids, with links to educational applications, encyclopedias at their fingertips, games with awesome graphics, beautiful photographs of animals and nature, the ability to keep in touch with their friends, check their grades and keep up with assignments, etc. Spending long lengths of time sitting still and doing any one thing does usually require moderation by parents, but time on devices isn’t the only thing to be concerned about.

When a device has the capability for online access, well just imagine: that access instantly puts a child in a room where every book, magazine, photograph, movie and video ever written, taken or made is in there with him. He can browse at will in whatever direction his curiosity takes him. Also imagine there are strangers or bullies who know he is in the room and may be waiting to prey on a child they find alone. Sounds pretty scary doesn’t it? Not only that, but with the ability to patch into wireless connections everywhere, controlling unsupervised online access for kids can be very difficult. Here are some tips to supervising your kids online so they get the cool stuff and not the scary stuff:

 For younger kids

  1. When kids are very young, say up through elementary school, they should not be left alone with Internet access. They can be over-exposed with the swipe of a finger.
  2. Use any parent controls and safe guards on your devices.
  3. Make sure a passcode is needed to turn on your device so you have to be the one to unlock it.
  4. Don’t give your kids the password to purchase apps.
  5. Make it a rule to keep computers, laptops, iPads, etc… out in family areas.
  6. Watch a couple of episodes of the shows you allow your kids to view and make sure they are appropriate.
  7. Think twice before allowing your young kids to own cell phones. If you do, you may want to consider disabling or blocking the Internet connection. Verizon and some other carriers offer ways to filter content. You can also turn off internet access on a phone, but remember most kids and their friends are pretty tech savvy, so that’s no guarantee.
  8. It’s so easy to give our kids our iPad or phone to keep them occupied while we get things done and not putting them at risk boils down to common sense: supervision, paying attention to what our kids are doing and taking a zero-tolerance attitude when it comes to exposing our children to extremely inappropriate content.

For tweens and teens

  1. Limit time spent surfing.
  2. Teach that online communication etiquette should be the same as communicating in person.
  3. Educate them about safe ways to chat with their friends through social media, and the dangers of meeting strangers online; never agree to meet someone you have met online.
  4. Educate that any personal information, photos or videos shared on a device are now free to be shared with everyone.
  5. Encourage them not to cyber bully others and to report any bullying they see, so parents can be alerted.
  6. Some parents have their teens turn all their electronics over to them before going to their rooms at night, so there is no temptation to get online, or lose precious sleep communicating with friends through the night.
  7. Again, think about keeping computers and laptops in the family room.
  8. Consider carefully if your child is mature enough to own a cell phone and consider if letting them take a cell phone to school poses more of a benefit or risk.
  9. Please comment and share any ideas you have on protecting our children from over-exposure through electronic devices

Stay healthy and Informed, Dr. Patricia Hess – Board Certified Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist