Your Kids First Solo Steps Online

Your child will rejoice in self-selecting their own videos on YouTube or Netflix, or they love it when you let them play games on their iPad or on your phone. You may be right there co-viewing with them, but eventually, they will engage in some activities solo. You are not alone if you are wondering when you should let this happen, and how often.

Cyberbullying Risk

Kids at this age aren’t socializing very much online, so there is very little cyberbullying. One exception is for younger kids (often boys) who are playing online games and interacting with people of all ages, which might increase their risk for exposure to mysogenistic, racist, or homophobic language.

It is important to remind your child that although there is a screen between you and these people, language like this is not appropriate and is never condoned online or offline.

There is no right age. You know your child and yourself best, and this will help guide you in determining when it’s time to let your child have a bit more freedom online. For some, where technology is prominent in the family home, it will happen gradually, and as your child’s literacy improves, they will naturally begin to explore. For others, especially if technology is not prominent in your home, their interest may start later and more suddenly.

There is no right way to introduce a child to the Internet, although your presence and dialogue around it is important. Ideally, you will educate yourself in the kinds of videos, websites, and games that your child may be interested in. Being informed will not only let your child know that you are interested in what they are doing, but it will provide opportunities to have early conversations with them about the Internet, and will set the stage for future conversations when they may be more vulnerable to risk (e.g., cyberbullying).

The American Academy of Pediatrics released new recommendations for children’s media use in 2016. For school age children, they did not provide a recommended amount of time per day. Instead, they encourage parents to focus on how media is used, and to build limits and boundaries around this. It is strongly recommended that media use should not displace other activities such exercise, sleep, and quality time with their families. Families should aim for balance in determining how much time kids can spend online. Also, the limits that are put in place should be adhered to as much as possible. For example, if the family rule is no screen times on school nights, and this is hard and fast, kids will accept it and complaints about it will cease.

The AAP has developed a tool for creating a personalized Family Media Plan that may be helpful in developing a family contract about how technology is used in the home by every family member.

Sticking to well-established limits and boundaries is a great first step. However, for many children, transitioning away from screen time to another activity can be very difficult. One effective strategy to avoid this meltdown is to help your child develop a transition plan near the end of their screen time. To do this, set the timer for five minutes before the end of screen time. When it goes off, get your child to pause what they are doing and let them know that they have five minutes left. Remind them that it is often very difficult for them to put the screen down and work with them to come up with an activity that they are going to do next. Ideally, it is something that they enjoy doing.  Make sure there are no distractions for you and your child when you have this conversation. You should be looking him or her in the eye and in the same room as them.
For younger kids, basic conversations about safety online, including why you shouldn’t share personal information are important. This is essentially the extension of the ‘don’t talk to strangers’ dialogue. If your child is starting to use games or websites that require a profile, show them how to use a proper password that can safely protect their information, and explain to them the importance of online privacy.

For older children, a conversation about how the reward structures associated with games and social media (tokens and likes) are psychologically designed to keep us engaged. That the more we engage, the more money corporations make. It also helps kids understand that there isn’t something wrong with them – they aren’t addicted to technology. Technology is designed to make us addicted, and we are all susceptible. This might be something you can look up together online.