You know those people who give their toddlers devices at dinner to carve out a little bit of peace and quiet? A decade from now, when those kids turn into teenagers, their parents will be sorry. I know. I’m one of them.
I blame my mother. Or rather, as part of the first generation struggling to raise a digital native, I blame the utter lack of learned wisdom available to be passed down through the ages. Screens-as-babysitter have been around since screens, but this particular form of screen-dependent parenting is unprecedented. Even our doctors are stymied. Internet addiction is not yet formally classified as a disorder, but you don’t need longitudinal evidence to know it exists.
There is proof that screen time is deleterious to brain cells, at least in mice. One study conducted by the Center for Integrative Brain Research at Seattle Children’s Hospital looked at the effect of rapidly switching screens on the brains of young mice. Turns out mice exposed to the stimuli had fewer nerve cells in the part of the brain that directs learning and memory. Worse yet, those lost cells never returned.
But my generation still clings to the myth that Mozart makes your baby smarter. And we find it adorable that the little ones know how to pinch and zoom before they’ve mastered full sentences.
Scroll forward 10 years later, when those same kids we made sure were wired for screens acquire language and ask for a smartphone: We just hand one over. Heaven forbid we send our progeny out into the playgrounds of the world as little, unwired pariahs.
It seems normal to give our teens and tweens frictionless access to the internet via palm-sized pipelines, but in doing so we should remember we are connecting them to hordes of friends and strangers on social networks (pdf), violent gaming worlds rendered in 3D, and porn on demand.
And while not every child will end up cyber-bullied or cross paths with a predator, I’d put money down that at best, every household with a child and a smartphone has spent time fighting about oversharing, overstimulation, lack of focus, and hours lost IRL.
Let’s be honest: As adults, we have trouble wrangling own our online habits. How do we model self-regulation? We rush though Goodnight Moon so we can binge on Game of Thrones.
Some parents cope by creating contracts. Many, too busy sustaining an income, don’t have time to police their kids’ screen use. Others, fumbling with the technology themselves, have thrown up their hands.
Though it’s tempting, we can’t lock up our kids until their brains develop executive function. We can, however, lock up their iPhones.
Setting up parental controls
First, set up parental controls on your child’s phone. To do this, you need a four-digit PIN that acts as a lock. Do not lose or forget this PIN. It will cause all sorts of headaches down the road.
Now, you can create all kinds of guardrails for your kids.
Turning off app downloads
- Settings > General > Restrictions > Installing Apps
- Toggle installing apps to the off position
Restricting app downloads
- Settings > General > Restrictions > Allowed Content > Apps > 4+ or 9+
- Note: If you choose 12+, you allow Instagram and Snapchat
Restricting specific apps
- Settings > General > Restrictions > Allow
- Toggle specific app to the off position
Turning off the camera
- Settings > General > Restrictions > Camera
- Toggle the off position
And if all else fails? Just confiscate the device. It works wonders. For a while.