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Worried that Screens Will Eat Your Summer Vacation?

When we see our kids using screens more than we’d like, it’s easy to jump to conclusions or assume the worst. But these days, kids can use devices for almost everything, so what might look like mindless scrolling or binge-watching could actually be a Youtube video about pollinators, a group chat with their cousins planning to meet up, or designing a roller coaster track using basic physics.

As we put together our plans for summer screentime, let’s remember that not all screentime is created equal.

Connecting with friends and family

Our kids want and need to stay in touch with friends when school is out for the summer. Tech-based communication like Zoom, Google Meet, Facetime, and Whatsapp makes staying in touch with far flung family members easier, too.

Passive use vs. Interactive use

Is your kid interacting and engaging with apps and tools they use – building worlds, playing games, designing characters? Or is it passive – simply scrolling, “liking,” or watching?

Creating vs. Consuming

Is this screen time that encourages creation – editing videos, recording songs, writing a play, drawing a comic? Or are they just consuming other people’s content?

Learning new things

Sometimes passive consumption is educational – TikTok has become a surprisingly educational platform! If your kid is currently fascinated by a specific topic, screen time can be a great educational opportunity. Do check in with them about what they are learning and have them show you the videos and channels they are watching.

Reduce screen use conflict by scheduling “Pro-tech Days”

Our kids are less likely to argue about screen use if they know what to expect.

If they know they’ve got a week of less-restricted screen use coming at the end of the month, they probably won’t spend quite as much time begging to turn on the video game console at the beginning of the month.

So take out the calendar and look at the rest of the summer. Are there any sections of time that really lend themselves to unrestricted or less restricted screen use?

If you’re working from home this summer, is there a week when you’ll need uninterrupted time for a big project? Giving your child more screen time that week will make things much easier for you. Or maybe your family has a show that you love that you’ll miss when you travel and you can plan to watch all your missed episodes the weekend after you get back. Promising not to watch a shared show while your child is in overnight camp will also earn you some goodwill.

Or after a few weeks of outdoor-only, screen-free day camp, your kid may enjoy some less-restricted access to a day of Roblox.

Once you’ve identified some days that make sense, schedule these “Pro-tech Days” and make sure your kid knows when they are. Keeping your kids involved and informed will dramatically cut down on the conflict.

Schedule in “Unplugged Days” too

When you’re consulting your calendar for those “Pro-tech Days,” schedule in some Unplugged Days, too. We can all make these screen-free days more appealing to our kids by planning some truly enjoyable unplugged activities and involving them in that planning process.

Maybe don’t expect your teenage son to spend one of his Unplugged Days staring at impressionist landscape paintings at the museum with you. Unless you know that’s his jam. If you are in Chicago, maybe this cool Nick Cave show at the MCA. would be fun. Or some live music in the park. Or a trip to a beach with the super soakers and some friends.

Alongside your kid, brainstorm ways to spend these Unplugged Days that won’t feel deprivational or boring. 1000 Hours Outside is one of my favorite resources for screen-free ideas.

Download apps that encourage more creative screen time

Counterintuitive as it sounds, we can encourage more creative screen use by downloading more apps. If your kid is mostly using screens for passive consumption, think about their hobbies and interests and try to help them find interactive, creative apps that support those interests.

Apps, games, and software for kids who are interested in music
TuneTrain
GarageBand
Virtual Drumming

Apps, games, and software for kids who are interested in science
Nasa App
Sky View App
Weather App

Apps, games, and software for kids who are interested in art and design
Drawing Pad
Fashion Design Sketches
Skyscraper App

You can also work on taking things in the the other direction–moving from on screen to off. If your tween or teen is watching cooking shows, they can make brunch and snacks! Or dinner every Thursday.

If your kid is watching home organizing TikTok videos (why, oh why won’t my kid watch those?) Encourage them to organize the bathroom. Or pick a project they are excited about. They can always make a stop motion animation or take before and after pictures if that makes it more fun!

“What are the fun summer things we need to make sure we do this year?”

Include kids in the planning process:

In general: plan and be intentional – it’ll take a bit of effort, but it’ll make summer more fun for EVERYONE.

Is there a place you’ve heard about that you want to visit?

Are there friends you want to go camping with?

Do you want to learn a new skill?

 Do you want to try a first sleepover with friends or grandparents without the pressures of the school year?

Can teens with a learner’s permit or a new license help with driving on a family road trip?

Find ways to access “novelty” outside of your phone

Finally, we can look for way to find novely offline. For the last 2.5 years, most of us have found novelty almost exclusively through our screens – new Netflix shows, new phone games, new TikTok accounts to follow. And for many of us, the sense of novelty has kept us going through this long, monotonous pandemic.

But as things open back up and we start to rebalance our lives and venture into the world, we can find novelty in a new playground, a new ice-cream flavor, or a new skill. I just took a rowing class. In a real boat. Rowing is hard. It turns out, there is a LOT of upper body strength involved…starting with carrying the boat down to the river. But it was new and exciting, and even though I am still sore…I also feel rejuvenated by having tried something new. If you try something new this summer, I’d love to hear how it goes.

Photo credit: pexels-jessica-lewis-creative-4200824 

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What Kids are Really Watching on YouTube (and how parents can deal with it)

“What are they doing on YouTube anyway?”

Your kid has been staring at his tablet for hours. When you ask what he’s watching, he answers “YouTube.” When he first logged on, you saw him watching another kid unwrapping some brand new toys on YouTube. Thirty minutes later, you hear your child laughing hysterically. You wonder, “What is he watching now? Is that toy video really that hilarious?” Just like we find ourselves browsing the internet or working away only to realize we have 14 open browser tabs, the same happens to our kids.

 

How can I deal with YouTube? Or what are the parental controls for YouTube? Or…How can I get my kid off YouTube? These are among the most common questions I hear from parents when I speak in communities. You check back in after an hour, and wonder, “Why are you watching that?”  Even YouTube Kids has been criticized for inappropriate content such as recommending disturbing videos and pornography. Ugh!  Recently the Google-owned app has released parental controls that let parents select trusted channels and topics for your child to access such as “learning,” or, “education.” Parents can even set a maximum number of channels to help customize a kid’s YouTube experience and keep them from falling down a rabbit hole of video content. But before you start setting up controls, you want to understand what your child is interested in some of the challenges they might run into. And if they want to start their own channel…that is another big conversation (or two or three.)

 

You might be wondering what they’re watching on there. Here are a few popular channels and YouTubers your  kids might be into:         

          

(sourced from my local parent community) 

  • Dude Perfect
  • Khan Academy
  • PewDiePie   
  • Britain’s Got Talent
  • The Miles Chronicles (LGBTQ+)
  • LadyLike (makeup, fashion, and product tests)
  • Troom Troom (pranks and crafts)
  • Liza Koshy
  • Roblox videos
  • Game Theory
  • James Charles (makeup)
  • FUNnel Vision
  • Casey Neistat
  • FGTeeV
  • David Dobrik
  • Cody Ko

 

Parents have a love-hate relationship with YouTube

YouTube is a fantastic learning tool. Whether you’re looking up how to tie a Windsor knot, how to remove ants, or how to make the perfect souffle, you can find a video for just about anything you’re seeking to learn. One mom, Charlotte says, “I Love YouTube! It’s the new Encyclopedia Britannica! Unfortunately, you can also see disturbing things as well, so I have to monitor and prepare the kids not to believe everything they see and hear. I’d definitely let them create a YouTube channel if it was for something good.”

On the other hand, we’ve all had experiences with how disturbing some of the content can be. Some sick people are clearly attempting to get young children to view pornography by using characters that kids would like, with content that is not for kids. Kate says, “I had to ban YouTube for my 4-year-old daughter right about the time I found the ‘Spiderman Effs Elsa’ and ‘Spiderman Pees on Elsa’ channels playing while she looked on, confused. Sick people out there and it’s not worth having YouTube if there is even a chance for her to come across the Elsa rape scene again. I was SICKENED.”

Other parents have mentioned Pokemon and other anime channels that appear to be OK but when they dig further, parents describe it as ”basically softcore cartoon porn.” Parents are worried, because one wrong click and your child has seen things they can’t unsee.

Another parent, Nina, didn’t like all the materialism for young kids. She said, “My daughter is way too into toy videos. She’s only four and has been begging to make toy videos and put them on YouTube. Part of me is considering letting her do it, but I also don’t want her getting deeper into that nonsense. For older kids, I think having a YouTube channel is fine, as long as the parent helps manage it.”

A few parents have mentioned new behaviors elicited from their kids that they didn’t particularly like that seem to be inspired by YouTube. For instance, Celi said, “My almost 7-year-old was loving YouTube Kids way too much! She was mostly watching commercials about Shopkins, and then Surprise Dolls became an obsession. She talked about how rare some were and actually stole one from another kid at school! That was all it took for us to ban YouTube kids in our home. Maybe when she’s older and better able to manage, but for now I’d rather have her doing more and watching less.” 

 

Conversation starters with kids

As your kids are getting started with finding videos they enjoy on YouTube, set up some ground-rules early on. You might want to consider allowing just a few channels to start. These will be channels that you’ve personally watched together with your kids to make sure they’re age-appropriate and suitable for your child. If your child has been watching YouTube for a while and you’re just getting the conversation started now, here are some ideas to get your kids to engage in a valuable discussion:

  • Tell me about what you’re watching on there. What do you like about it?
  • Why do you think he/she likes making these videos?
  • Have you seen any videos you didn’t like? What didn’t you like about them?

Remember to ask questions in a non-confrontational way and to make sure you’re not ready to judge them to help create a safe space for your children to share.

 

More YouTube Parent Strategies

One mom said her 10-year-old son mostly watches video gamers and subscribes to channels under her account, so she sees exactly what he’s doing because the updates wind up in her email. Other parents pre select a bunch of youtube videos with or their kids or on their own and then give their kids the choice to just watch those. Some parents make playlists with prescreened, approved videos. You may want to check out these YouTube reviews by Common Sense. Some parents only let kids explore on YouTube when they can be with them, or at least in the same room…and others may even restrict YouTube so that kids can only use it with adult supervision. If you choose to do this, it is no substitute for mentoring. Look for interesting channels and individuals to follow with your kids. Talk with them about the “suggestions” they see and why they should pursue a more intentional set of choices, and not let an algorithm choose their next view. 

Whether or note you choose parental controls, you’ll still need to talk with your child about how to use YouTube appropriately on other devices and in other settings, and offer guidance on navigating the waters of YouTube when you are together! 

You found your child watching inappropriate content—now what?

This rule applies to more than just offensive YouTube content and is an excellent rule for all of the tricky parenting moments—don’t freak out. Freaking out is always a terrible idea, and in the case of kids accidentally (or even intentionally) landing on naughty or just plain weird YouTube content that’s not appropriate could lead to confusion down the road. Approach these situations with curiosity and ask how they ended up watching the video. Talk about how the video(s) made them feel, and if something isn’t appropriate for their eyes, calmly explain why and let them know how to handle it if they land on it again.

Use the opportunity to listen and learn from your child It may have been recommended as a video to watch next, and naturally, they clicked on it and started watching, maybe even unsure what they were looking at. It’s in these parenting moments, you might identify areas where you want to rethink where they watch videos (or with whom.) You may also want to start viewing content with them and discuss what they like and what they don’t about the channels they’re watching.

YouTube can be both inspiring and educational for all of us. It can teach us how to make a new recipe, or how to build a treehouse. Approaching it with curiosity and a healthy dose of  mindful attention can help your children learn to do the same. 

 

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