THE BLOG

When Is It OK To Ban My Child From Using A Smartphone?

31/01/2017 14:04

Last week, headteacher Julia Polley hit the headlines with her attempts at stopping her pupils from using social media in class. Such was her frustration at a group of Year 11 girls spending too much time posting and not enough time learning, she was prepared to go to extreme lengths and told parents of children at the North Yorkshire school that she'd be investing in software that could enforce a blanket block on 4G at the school.

Although her bid was unsuccessful - it is illegal to deliberately interfere with radio communications in Britain - it brings home the commonplace dilemma schools face in the digital age.

While some schools insist phones are handed in at the gates, others embrace the technology and build lessons around it. While most secondary schools find it tough to police phone usage, many primary schools lay down a zero tolerance policy.

An Internet Matters survey revealed how the most likely age to get a first smartphone is aged 10, and 23% of parents of eight to 11-year-olds let their children take their phone to school.

The issue continues beyond the school gates - at home, at clubs, at friends' houses. The words 'Is my child addicted to the internet' is now more commonly searched online than concerns over sugar, smoking or drug addictions.

So should we be worried about how much time our children are spending glued to their screens and when is it OK to say, enough is enough, and take them away?

One mum recently told how she was fed up with her 13-year-old son's obsessive use of Instagram via his iPhone, so banned him from using it for three months. While this proved to be a successful way forward for the family concerned, it is unrealistic to say it is a task that could work for all.

In fact in instances where a child has got into trouble online, we advise parents not to confiscate their technology or ban them from social media for they might be less likely to ask for help in the future worried they may have their devices taken away again.

The answer is surely about having frank conversations with your children and setting out clear boundaries over when it's suitable to use a phone as well as their behaviour and attitude online.

Should I set a limit on how long they can use their device?
Talk to your child about what they feel is an appropriate length of time to be on their device and put a family rule in place. Our research found that 26% of children aged ten to 13 spend three hours or more a day online. But by setting boundaries, it will not only help get them offline but it it will also teach your child about time management and how best to spend their free time.

But how can I always be sure they'll stick to the agreed limit?
We can't always be sure and eight out ten children admitted to going over the limit set by their parents so you might need to turn to technology for help. The iPad's Guided Access limits the time you can access any app, which is great for younger children. Or alternatively, find an app that celebrates a lack of screen time for example the Forest App - it's a great tool that allows your kids to grow a beautiful forest when they don't use their phone or a set amount of time.

How much is too much screen time?

It's not just the quantity of screen time that you should consider but also the quality. There are plenty of ways that you can use the internet to engage, socialise and be creative with your children. Playing games and looking up interesting facts about new places to visits are great ways to share together online in a positive way. By getting them to use their screen time creatively, they will spend less time isolating themselves.

If they don't want to interact with me online, how do I find out what they're up to?
Ask. The best way to talk to your child about what they get up to online is to chat to them. Whether it be chasing Pokemon or vlogging on YouTube, ask and let them teach you about the latest app. By keeping an open line of communication with your child on how they can best catch the latest Pokemon or by suggesting sensible ideas for their vlog, you are staying involved. Children will often find a way to get online even if they've been banned on their own device and if you've lost that honest exchange in the offline world, they may feel unable to come to you about their online world.

Should I stop using my phone when I'm around my kids?
Research has found that children whose parents read regularly are more likely to to pick up a book. The same principle can be applied to screen time. Limit your device usage and set an example to your child. If you're spending a lot of time on your device in their company, the likelihood is they'll follow suit. Make the most of their company and they'll make the most of yours - spend time together doing fun activities such as baking a cake or doing arts and crafts.

For more information and advice on how to keep your children safe online go to internetmatters.org

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