Working out and eating right are at the top of most people’s New Year’s resolutions. And as tough as those are, nothing compares with the challenge of a healthy media diet.
There are screen time limits to manage, new apps to investigate, and bizarre social media trends to make sense of (what’s with the mannequin challenge, anyway?) It’s like a 24-hour all-you-can-eat buffet when all you really want is a carrot stick.
But in a world where both parents and kids are racking up serious screen time, making a commitment to a healthy media environment is critical for family time, learning, relationships, and digital citizenship.
It won’t always be easy to make your changes stick. Especially because we parents tend to gobble up as much screen time as our kids. Unlike those midnight-snack runs after the kids go to bed, however, your media habits are being recorded by tiny ears and eyes.
But we’re all in this together: This fun, crazy, innovative, challenging media environment affects us all. Here are seven ways to help you be more mindful, focus on what’s most important, get the most out of media and technology, and raise good digital citizens.
1 | Have a device-free dinner
Piles of research show the benefits of family dinner. But the simple act of leaving your devices off the table – just a few times a week – allows you to model good digital habits (and actually talk to your kids). Try this one easy thing to improve your relationship with your kid.
2 | When it comes to media, think quality, not quantity.
Instead of counting up every minute your kid spends watching YouTube, strive for a balance of online and offline activities throughout the week. Help your kids find high-quality movies, TV shows, apps, games, and books so their screen time has some nutritional value.
3 | Use media for relationship strengthening.
While there are concerns that media isolates us, it can absolutely bring us together – if you take advantage of how it connects you. Try video chatting, scrolling through digital photo albums, playing video games, and even sharing music playlists to bond with your kids.
4 | Don’t ban; have a plan.
Keep an open mind about your kids’ media and tech, and accept the important – and often beneficial – role they play in your kids’ lives. When you have clear lines of communication, you can slip in your messages.
Create a family media plan to ensure that kids stick to limits. Encourage them to behave positively online and be upstanders. Talk to them about what they watch, play, create, and read.
5 | Seek out diverse characters.
Exposure to a variety of types of people increases tolerance and acceptance and dispels dangerous stereotypes. Being able to get along with all types of people is a skill that will help kids whether they’re interacting online or in the real world.
6 | Raise media-savvy kids.
If 2016 was the year fake news went viral, make 2017 the year your kids learn how to view all media (not just “news”) critically. Explain how to see through fake news, and teach kids media smarts during breaking news.
7 | Tighten your privacy.
Our increasingly connected world puts kids’ personal privacy and online data at risk. Just last year, several high-profile companies settled a suit alleging that they had violated the Children’s Online Privacy and Protection Act (COPPA) by allowing kids’ data to be tracked. The ability to share anything at any time can be especially dicey to tweens and teens who may not be able to think through all the ways their posts can be used by others.
Make sure kids use strict privacy settings on social media, apps, and other accounts, and make sure they know not to share any personal information (name, age, address, Social Security number) with people they meet online.