Our daily lives are now so entwined with digital media that for many people communication via computer or cell phone has become more commonplace than face-to-face conversation. And it’s not limited to adults. According to a 2016 article by the American Academy of Pediatrics, 75 percent of teenagers have a smartphone and 25 percent of teens describe themselves as “constantly connected” to the internet.
Digital technology has provided are many obvious benefits for families. Apps such as Life360 make it easier to know where your family members are when they are not at home. Google has simplified research for school projects making information almost instantly accessible. However, with the good comes some bad. The American Academy of Pediatrics states that overuse of digital media can lead to problems such as obesity, risky behaviors, cyber bullying, sleep issues, and when kids spend most of their free time online, they may show less interest in offline or “real-life” relationships.
If you are looking for ways to make sure your family facetime at the dinner table is not via Skype or want to connect with your teen without needing Wi-Fi or data, there are lots of apps out there to help. Moment Family is an iOS app that tracks the amount of time each member in your family is spending on his or her device. OurPact allows parents to block access to certain apps or set daily screen time limits on iPhones. Parents can also preset times that their kids are allowed to use social media apps. The Freedom app helps you to manage your child’s access to certain websites and apps across their desktops, laptops, tablets and smartphones.
Many service providers also offer parental controls. Verizon Wireless Family Safeguards and Controls gives parents the option of limiting texting to certain hours, blocking apps and setting content filters, whether on Wi-Fi or data. Comcast recently launched Xfinity xFi, allowing parents to personalize, monitor, and control their home Wi-Fi, including the ability to instantly pause Wi-Fi connectivity by user or device. Comcast said in a press release that the “pause device” feature is now the most popular xFi function, with users tapping “pause” about five million times since launch, most often between the hours of 6 and 9 p.m.
If you are looking for guidance about how to set up limits, the American Academy of Pediatrics offers an online resource to create your own Family Media Use Plan at healthychildren.org, helping parents set up screen-free times, such as dinner and bedtime, device curfews and screen-free zones.