In 1970, the average American child began to watch television regularly at age four, and today, children begin interacting with digital media at the age of four months. More than half of U.S. children now have a smartphone by age 11.
With the shift to remote learning during the pandemic, technology use by the young has only increased. Remote learning nearly doubled demand for Chromebooks, and put millions of children in front of computer screens for their classes, homework assignments and after-school free time.
Parents of kids today are facing an unprecedented challenge of keeping their children safe online while helping them navigate the technology they’ll need for their education, future careers and more.
Sean Clifford, the founder and CEO of the digital parenting company Canopy (canopy.us) and a father of four, is on a mission to create a world of healthy tech users— starting by helping parents block pornography on their children’s devices. The underlying technology was developed in Israel and already protects more than two million devices worldwide.
“Technology can be a good, wonderful thing,” Clifford said. “But parents have to be proactive and involved to ensure their children stay safe and healthy online.”
With the right guidance, every child can develop healthy tech habits to last a lifetime. Here are Clifford’s four tips for parents worried about how their kids are using technology this year:
1) Protect them— Putting a filter on your child’s device doesn’t mean you don’t trust your child. “You don’t leave guns on the kitchen table, so why take a chance that your kids will be exposed to something harmful online?” said Clifford.
Too many kids today are exposed to pornography unintentionally. Seventy percent of children seven to 18 years old have accidentally encountered online pornography, often while doing homework. Give them the space to be kids and learn to navigate the digital experience positively by using a filter to protect them from explicit images and videos.
2) Be honest with them— Tell them about how their digital experiences have been designed to manipulate them. Companies are battling for their attention, leveraging every trick in the book. “It is your child versus a team of neuroscientists and behavioral psychologists,” Clifford says. “Parents— not advertisers or Big Tech— should decide what their kids see online. And they need to be open to having conversations with their kids about the addictive realities of online use.”
Screentime, pornography and sexting have all been linked with mental health ramifications in kids. Talking through the consequences, especially as children get older, can be particularly helpful. If they don’t perceive any negative effects, they won’t understand why they can be dangerous and may think that there’s no reason to be cautious or concerned.
3) Let them know it’s OK to be different— Kids want to fit in and be liked. They want to use social media and online video games because their friends are using them. But when it comes to issues like smoking, drugs, pornography and sexting, parents especially need to emphasize to their kids that “doing what seems normal” can really hurt them both now and in the long run.
Have discussions about how to say no to requests for photos, and know that installing a filter may be just the “excuse” they need. It’s difficult to respond to unexpected and inappropriate questions, and so teenagers may need coaching on what to do and say more than you think.
Lastly, brainstorm alternative ways for them to be with their friends without going online. Support their efforts to be with their peers, in-person when you can and create spaces where they want to spend time with others.
4) Be an example— As with most things in life, parents need to lead by example. Show your kids that devices have a place in their lives, and that place has limits. Don’t always be on your phone. Put it away for mealtimes, and don’t keep your phone in your room at night. Find other parents who adopt similar safeguards with their kids, and begin discussions about how you can work together.
Technology can bring parents and children closer together by encouraging trust and transparency. By helping your children overcome the challenges of the digital world, you can build healthier relationships with them and healthier futures for them.