Written by Caroline Korr, Common Sense Media
If there’s one thing nearly every parent wants to get better at, it’s staying ahead of their kids when it comes to media and technology. From crazy YouTube videos to marathon Minecraft sessions to sexy selfies, kids are constantly testing the limits (and our patience) with new stuff they want to download, watch, and play. Even as we encourage our kids to use their devices for good (homework, making things, learning stuff), we still butt heads over safety, screen time, age-appropriate content, and the importance of making eye contact instead of staring at your screen when a human being is talking to you.
Well, 2018 can be the year you do things differently. Learning to live in harmony with media and tech — in a way that works for your family — is one of the most forward-thinking actions you can take as a parent raising kids in the digital age. Who knows? One of these may be the start of a new family tradition.
Commit to learning about one media item your kid is passionate about. If your mind tends to wander when your kid explains every detail of her latest Minecraft mod, catch yourself and tune back in. Whether it’s the latest YouTuber, a new app, a game, or a dank meme, it matters in their world. It’s a good sign if they’re sharing it with you because it means that they care about what you think. If you know a little something about the stuff your kid is into, it can spark conversations, lead to new media choices, and make it easier to manage (but you don’t need to tell your kid that).
Choose one night of the week to share YouTube videos with each other. More and more, kids are getting their entertainment, news, and pop culture infusion from YouTube. And half the posts that pop in our social media feeds have videos. Take a half hour to enjoy something silly, educational, or thought-provoking that caught your attention. (See our YouTube reviews for ideas.) YouTube has tons of great clips … and tons of iffy stuff. Watching your choices nudges your kids toward the types of videos you’d rather have them watch. And watching theirs clues you into their YouTube life.
Deal with the one thing that’s most frustrating about your kid’s media/tech. What didn’t work in 2017? Do you need better rules or limits? Do you need to make a space for charging phones outside the bedroom at night? Do you need to stop watching TV before school? Do you need your kid to be better about responding to your texts? Check out the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Family Media Use Plan worksheets to identify problem areas and solve them. Make a New Year’s resolution to fix a nagging issue that’s causing friction between you and your kid.
Lead by example by putting down your phone at a certain time every evening. Make an announcement when you shut down your devices. Your kids may roll their eyes, but it sends a strong message that you can set boundaries — and stick to them.
Put a new spin on the device-free dinner. If you’re already designating a night or nights as device-free, give yourself a pat on the back. How about taking it a step further and doing something that inspires closeness and conversation with kids? Some ideas: Pick a word of the day, play “two truths and a lie,” or talk about what you’d do if you won the lottery. Leave school, work, and chores to discuss after dinner.
Start a book club (with your kids). It’s so important to keep your kids reading. Strong readers do well in all school subjects. They also learn to focus for extended periods, a necessary skill in the world of bite-sized information. And reading together gives you a chance to discuss plot, characters, and themes that can apply to all aspects of life. There’s no shortage of book recommendations. You can get into a book series, whether you have little kids, tweens, or teens. Or you can introduce your kids to the great classics of English literature. Focus on one topic — for example, “What did you like best about the book?” Then use the conversation starters from our book reviews or look for discussion guides in the back of the book or online.
Common Sense Media is an independent nonprofit organization offering unbiased ratings and trusted advice to help families make smart media and technology choices. Check out our ratings and recommendations at www.commonsensemedia.org