Too Much Screentime?

Too much screentime? A montage of cartoon like kids on screens. From commonsensemedia.
Too much Screentime? Image: Commonsensemedia.org

Dear Ms. Smartphone: My daughter, age seven, watches way too much screentime since the pandemic and I want to undo this. What’s the best way to get us back to normal? Going cold turkey seems impossible? Marney, New York

Dear Marney,  It’s a timely question- there is a new phrase called “collaboration equity” to describe how offices, and perhaps schools, will emerge from the pandemic. Those who are remote must be able to participate on equal footing with those physically present. Hopefully this is not an issue for younger people, and New York schools will reopen this Fall. However, there’s a long and daunting summer ahead, and too much screentime?

In a recent column I overviewed some vital steps that parents can take but I will add to them here. There is not a single work-around, a magic wand, that will transport families back to simpler days before the pandemic.  But, I do have three fixes. 

A Lean Screen

First, if you want your daughter to reduce her screentime then it’s up to parents to be the screen mentor. This is going to be a challenge if you are still working from home full or part time. But, if your child sees you ‘working’ on a laptop or phone, they can’t differentiate whether you are in a meeting, ordering groceries, or chatting with girlfriends. Screentime is screentime and children will mimic habits of their elders. So, if you want your child to cut back on screentime, you will have to do so together.

Nix the MIX

Another way to reduce screen time is to nix using the smartphone phone as a multi-task accessory. Phones can be  substitutes for flashlights, microscopes (with attachments), cameras, alarm clocks, timers, address books, calendars, and of course, games. Instead of using these, introduce the seven year old to some replays! Replace games with a deck of cards and a cardboard puzzle,  build an A-Z index card file instead of using the online address book, and use a plug in clock instead of the digital wake-up. Photos and photo storage may be the hardest function to give up, but since you are trying this out for a few months,  get an old fashioned Polaroid type camera and see what develops!

A New Norm..Away

Finally, one of the best ways to do a reset is to change the environment and hence, the daily habits that go along with it. In some deeper, older behavioral studies, psychologists found that they could affect the behavior of young mothers (I believe it was towards diaper use), if they changed the Mom’s physical environment. In a new setting, the Moms were more open to doing things differently and trying out a different norm.

Changing up the environment has a lot of merit this coming summer for kids and  families, coming out of the  lock down. Getting outdoors and going to the park is one thing, but taking a six week visit  to summer camp or to the grandparents is an order of magnitude better. Getting away would be a great way to undo those sticky screen habits. That said, you need to find a summer camp that has strict controls on screen time, and does the equivalent of putting phones in Yondr bags when the kids check in. Likewise, time with Grandma is not going to change screen habits if she is glued to watching TV shows for several hours a day, or, if a more contemporary grandma, she swaps out TV viewing time for the Internet. You need grandparents that read books aloud, take your daughter to the library, and even encourage her to compose stories on her own (perhaps describing those Polaroid pictures!)

You are not alone trying to figure out how kids will adjust to these post-pandemic times. Cut yourself some slack as you try out new activities and behaviors. There are really two layers of change going on- change that comes from staying indoors and out of school during the pandemic, and change that occurs because a six or seven year old is growing up, getting social, and leaving behind early childhood.

Privacy & Teen Drivers

Data logger could expose teen’s bad driving behavior…or coach her to driver safer. What about her data privacy?

Data loggers capture the speed at which a vehicle travels and more. This shows the setup between hardware, car, and computer.
csselectronics.com

Dear Ms. Smartphone: A reader asked about installing a data logger to lower car insurance rates. I looked into it and like the idea but am worried about my teen. (read: Telematics and Teens). My daughter is not a good driver. She has had several near-misses and was once pulled over with friends for a DUI (she was not the driver). But, she is only 16. I worry that if we get this data-logger her bad driving behavior will be permanent on her record. Tony, Cambridge

Dear Tony: This is indeed a dilemma. Loggers are good things because they can coach road users to drive safely: they record events like excess speeding, stop sign violations, and jerky stops and starts. They can also ‘gamify’ driving and be a fun way to help your daughter become a better driver.

On the other hand, the privacy issues you raise are real. One state, California, has initiated a massive consumer privacy rights bill for 2020. In the past, it was illegal to sell information for children 12 and under without explicit consent. Now the age increases to 16. In principle and in most states, you can opt out of the data collection when you download an app. Do data loggers count? By definition, they record data!

Reputation- Digital

What are the reputation repercussions if your daughter is pulled over for a DUI, or a random check finds that she is underage and smoking marijuana? I really don’t know. We are supposed to protect our kids online. Teens are vulnerable when they engage in risky behaviors, and they cannot anticipate that their digital record could follow them permanently. 

2020 is said to be the year of privacy, and we can hope that issues like this get sorted out. However, Facebook has said that it does not need to make changes to its web-tracking services to comply with the new California legislation. Likewise, what happens if the data-logging firm that reports your daughter’s driving behavior is sold, or their privacy policy changes?

Protection First

These are challenging issues to sort out. As a parent, you must protect your daughter’s (digital) reputation.  So, begin at home – well actually in the car. Your daughter is at risk as a driver. Either take back the keys or begin anew with one-on-one driver training.

Phones and Handsfree

This is an image of a road as seen through a smartphone being held in a hand. It is somewhat artistic.
Flip Car/Flip Phone? Soure: Pexels

Dear Ms. Smartphone: I had a near-miss when texting. I will no longer be driving this way! It turns out that the lease on my car is about to expire so what would be a better choice when I go car-shopping? Quentin, Sausalito

Dear Quentin: I don’t do vehicle research, but I can guide you through the issue. First, when you buy a car, make sure that you put the car first, and the infotainment system second. Then, have a look at this recent posting from the AAA Foundation. Researchers from the University of Utah compared CarPlay, Android Auto, and native infotainment systems. The Utah team have been railing for years about distracted driving and smartphones so their software tests are informed and useful. BTW, they say that texting and setting a navigation system are the most cognitively demanding tasks.