Parents learning how to talk to children about digital use, screen time

Experts help parents determine how much screen time is appropriate for children

By Meaghan St Pierre - Producer

CANTON TOWNSHIP, Mich. - It can be a constant struggle for parents to determine how much screen time is OK for their children, which apps to let them use and how to monitor them.

Katey McPherson speaks to parents, educating them on ways to talk to their children about their digital use and screen time.

"We're all in this device dance, and it's ruining relationships with our kids," McPherson said.

McPherson, an associate with Erca Group Inc., says it can be an us-versus-them battle with our children and their devices.

This is an example she gave during a recent presentation at Canton High School:

"Here's your phone, your 11th or 12th birthday.  Oh, you hit your sister, give me your phone.  Oh, I'm really tired after work, here's your phone back. Oh, you didn't do very well on your math paper, give me your phone. We've created this pawn in our parenting game, and we are exhausting ourselves," McPherson said.

McPherson said in the middle of that dance, we continue to lose the relationship with our children.

"When stakes are really high -- when someone asks them to vape in the bathroom, when someone asks them out on a date and tries something that your child is not ready for, when someone offers them drugs or alcohol -- they're not going to come to you, because they've been dancing with you for so long they don't trust you," McPherson said.

Her advice to parents is to have no surprises for your child. Set boundaries from the beginning and do it together.

"Sitting down and saying, 'What do you think the reasonable boundary around device use is? You're a really good kid, you play sports, you're moving your body, you're getting good grades, how many hours do you think you should have?" McPherson said.

Once you agree upon a time limit, use a timer to make sure everyone follows it.

Also, remember it's your device.

"I always advise not to surprise your kids that technically your kids are borrowing this phone. You’re paying for it; it's under your roof and your supervision," McPherson said. "I'm a huge fan of no surprise;, that this is a tandem effort and we're in this together."

When a child breaks a rule or crosses a boundary, have consequences.

Do research, know what apps are out there and check what they're doing and saying on those apps.

McPherson recommends the following free apps to help monitor a child's device:

McPherson said these apps will tell parents what they want to know. They can grant access, block access, let them read deleted texts, and give information on usage and how long a child is on the phone.

She says smartsocial.com is a good website that has tutorials to set up parental controls and explains popular platforms and apps, including YouTube and SnapChat, and why kids want to be on them.

Common Sense Media is also a good resource for parents on setting limits, reviews and safety.

McPherson also recommends no devices in bedroom at night when children should be sleeping.

She also says parents should spend time with children on technology.

"I think really joining your kids in whatever they are doing, whether it is an educational game, getting into the 'Fortnight' video game and really checking out what is so fascinating," McPherson said.  "Also looking for, again, 'How do we use it for your future? What are some things that you can start doing?  You can use Twitter and Instagram to really start building a strong presence online so when those colleges and employers look for you, not only do you have a presence but it's shiny and responsible.'"

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