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buying devices for kids

Everyone Else Has One! Making Decisions About New Apps and Devices

buying devices for kids

Maybe your child came home from the first day of 6th grade saying that everyone else has a phone, or your fourth grader had a sleep-over and claims that all of the other kids have better gaming systems, or your seventh grader is the last one not posting on Tik Tok. Is the “everyone else” factor ever important to consider? What if the “everyone else” factor is all about waiting until a certain age for access and your independent and responsible kid is ready now?

Our son has been asking for a new gaming device for a while and we are in discernment. We are letting him save up his allowance, but there are certain things we might not allow him to buy, even with his own money.

Does “Everyone Else” Really Have one?

In our case, we know our son is correct about “everyone else” because we checked.  A quick survey of his friends and their parents verified his contention that he has the oldest system in the bunch. He acknowledges that his system is still fun and that there are good games available on it that he enjoys.

So how important is it to “keep up” with neighbors and classmates in the ever-changing world of technology? Another parent in our community recently sent a group text verifying an “everyone else” contention about bedtime. In elementary school, this isn’t too embarrassing, but I’d caution parents about sending a similar group text if your child is older! There are ways of getting this information that will still inform your thinking, however.

In our case, we felt that our current gaming system is good enough for now, but that we are OK with him saving his allowance for a newer system. We reminded him that we have final veto power over the new system, but that we are open to at least some of the options he is interested in. We also reminded him of the advantages of the older system…games are available in his price range at Goodwill! We are excited to see him saving towards a larger goal. We also followed Ron Lieber’s advice in the Opposite of Spoiled not to fib and say we “can’t afford” a newer system. We were honest with our son that it just isn’t a priority for us, but we understand that it is for him. Therefore, we’ll help him identify some extra paid jobs above and beyond his typical obligations to allow him to work towards his goal.

Rather than simply a yes or no on  the device itself, you will want to consider the impact on your lives:

  • Where in your space will it live? Is it the first thing your child will see when she comes home? Is it near spaces where other children need to complete homework or nap?
  • If it is a mobile device (tablet, laptop, phone, music device, handheld gaming) Will it be allowed in their bedroom at all? Overnight?
  • How much external access will you allow…playing with friends? playing with strangers?
  • How compelling and frustrating are  the games (will you be likely to see big reactions/meltdowns?)
  • For new social apps: How well is your child doing with current social experiences/interactions. If texting has been a rough-go, it might be good to hold off on adding Snapchat, for example. Here is an article I wrote listing some signs your child is not ready for a phone. 

What about social isolation? Are there times where forbidding something does truly isolate your child? 

Having some knowledge of the contemporary culture that is important to kids can help kids with conversation topics. My parents got their books and records from the library and I didn’t know a lot about the mass culture around me. I survived, but I was definitely left out of a lot of conversations. That doesn’t mean you have to jump on the bandwagon with every popular game (Fortnite!)  or TV show, etc. Maybe it does mean letting your child know enough about a certain topic to participate in an event or talk to peers at lunch.

As much as possible, find out what they really want the device or app or game *for.* What do they want to do?  If your child wants Tik Tok because they love popular music and dancing, would a dance class with a performance at the end or an impromptu dance party scratch the itch? You can always dive in together, giving you a chance to learn the app too, and mentor along the way. I enjoyed this recent NY Times article about Moms on Tik Tok. 

But do I need to get my kids what everyone else has?

There are very few *musts* in this world,  as so much depends on what is right for your family. Kids who are struggling with social boundaries or over disclosing may benefit from a later initiation to social media. One app is certainly easier to mentor than five.

There are no hard and fast rules for what kids “need” by a certain age.   If the school needs them to have email, then they should provide it and (hopefully) mentor….but I’d reinforce appropriate use at home. In some communities and social groups, social media can also feel “essential”  and in others, it is less important.

The one skill that almost all kids will need is texting. Kids will need to text by high school or 8th grade in order to socialize independently and make plans. Many kids are texting far younger, and with good mentoring, this can work for some families! but it is fair to say a 9-year-old or 11 year old making social plans via parents is at less of a social disadvantage than a 14-year-old. Further, by high school, a fair number of teachers and coaches will use apps like Remind to text students with updates.

Texting is a crucial skill that almost all kids will need to learn.  And yes, there will be stumbles. I’ve written about  When Texting Goes Wrong and what to do when they have a conflict with a friend that plays out over text messages.  Teaching our kids to text and how to repair mistakes will set them up to handle their own social lives in a world where texting is essential and ubiquitous. We often get so focused on social media that we forget to teach this basic skill.

There is no question that dealing with “everyone else” can be a challenge, but you can use these conversations to talk about the unique things your family values and enjoys. For us, the conversation about the gaming system was a great chance to observe that we appreciate our child’s growing independence and we’re ready to support that, but that there are other family priorities like traveling and our next home that are very important, too.

 

 

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What Kids are Really Watching on YouTube (and how parents can deal with it)

“What are they doing on YouTube anyway?”

Your kid has been staring at his tablet for hours. When you ask what he’s watching, he answers “YouTube.” When he first logged on, you saw him watching another kid unwrapping some brand new toys on YouTube. Thirty minutes later, you hear your child laughing hysterically. You wonder, “What is he watching now? Is that toy video really that hilarious?” Just like we find ourselves browsing the internet or working away only to realize we have 14 open browser tabs, the same happens to our kids.

 

How can I deal with YouTube? Or what are the parental controls for YouTube? Or…How can I get my kid off YouTube? These are among the most common questions I hear from parents when I speak in communities. You check back in after an hour, and wonder, “Why are you watching that?”  Even YouTube Kids has been criticized for inappropriate content such as recommending disturbing videos and pornography. Ugh!  Recently the Google-owned app has released parental controls that let parents select trusted channels and topics for your child to access such as “learning,” or, “education.” Parents can even set a maximum number of channels to help customize a kid’s YouTube experience and keep them from falling down a rabbit hole of video content. But before you start setting up controls, you want to understand what your child is interested in some of the challenges they might run into. And if they want to start their own channel…that is another big conversation (or two or three.)

 

You might be wondering what they’re watching on there. Here are a few popular channels and YouTubers your  kids might be into:         

          

(sourced from my local parent community) 

  • Dude Perfect
  • Khan Academy
  • PewDiePie   
  • Britain’s Got Talent
  • The Miles Chronicles (LGBTQ+)
  • LadyLike (makeup, fashion, and product tests)
  • Troom Troom (pranks and crafts)
  • Liza Koshy
  • Roblox videos
  • Game Theory
  • James Charles (makeup)
  • FUNnel Vision
  • Casey Neistat
  • FGTeeV
  • David Dobrik
  • Cody Ko

 

Parents have a love-hate relationship with YouTube

YouTube is a fantastic learning tool. Whether you’re looking up how to tie a Windsor knot, how to remove ants, or how to make the perfect souffle, you can find a video for just about anything you’re seeking to learn. One mom, Charlotte says, “I Love YouTube! It’s the new Encyclopedia Britannica! Unfortunately, you can also see disturbing things as well, so I have to monitor and prepare the kids not to believe everything they see and hear. I’d definitely let them create a YouTube channel if it was for something good.”

On the other hand, we’ve all had experiences with how disturbing some of the content can be. Some sick people are clearly attempting to get young children to view pornography by using characters that kids would like, with content that is not for kids. Kate says, “I had to ban YouTube for my 4-year-old daughter right about the time I found the ‘Spiderman Effs Elsa’ and ‘Spiderman Pees on Elsa’ channels playing while she looked on, confused. Sick people out there and it’s not worth having YouTube if there is even a chance for her to come across the Elsa rape scene again. I was SICKENED.”

Other parents have mentioned Pokemon and other anime channels that appear to be OK but when they dig further, parents describe it as ”basically softcore cartoon porn.” Parents are worried, because one wrong click and your child has seen things they can’t unsee.

Another parent, Nina, didn’t like all the materialism for young kids. She said, “My daughter is way too into toy videos. She’s only four and has been begging to make toy videos and put them on YouTube. Part of me is considering letting her do it, but I also don’t want her getting deeper into that nonsense. For older kids, I think having a YouTube channel is fine, as long as the parent helps manage it.”

A few parents have mentioned new behaviors elicited from their kids that they didn’t particularly like that seem to be inspired by YouTube. For instance, Celi said, “My almost 7-year-old was loving YouTube Kids way too much! She was mostly watching commercials about Shopkins, and then Surprise Dolls became an obsession. She talked about how rare some were and actually stole one from another kid at school! That was all it took for us to ban YouTube kids in our home. Maybe when she’s older and better able to manage, but for now I’d rather have her doing more and watching less.” 

 

Conversation starters with kids

As your kids are getting started with finding videos they enjoy on YouTube, set up some ground-rules early on. You might want to consider allowing just a few channels to start. These will be channels that you’ve personally watched together with your kids to make sure they’re age-appropriate and suitable for your child. If your child has been watching YouTube for a while and you’re just getting the conversation started now, here are some ideas to get your kids to engage in a valuable discussion:

  • Tell me about what you’re watching on there. What do you like about it?
  • Why do you think he/she likes making these videos?
  • Have you seen any videos you didn’t like? What didn’t you like about them?

Remember to ask questions in a non-confrontational way and to make sure you’re not ready to judge them to help create a safe space for your children to share.

 

More YouTube Parent Strategies

One mom said her 10-year-old son mostly watches video gamers and subscribes to channels under her account, so she sees exactly what he’s doing because the updates wind up in her email. Other parents pre select a bunch of youtube videos with or their kids or on their own and then give their kids the choice to just watch those. Some parents make playlists with prescreened, approved videos. You may want to check out these YouTube reviews by Common Sense. Some parents only let kids explore on YouTube when they can be with them, or at least in the same room…and others may even restrict YouTube so that kids can only use it with adult supervision. If you choose to do this, it is no substitute for mentoring. Look for interesting channels and individuals to follow with your kids. Talk with them about the “suggestions” they see and why they should pursue a more intentional set of choices, and not let an algorithm choose their next view. 

Whether or note you choose parental controls, you’ll still need to talk with your child about how to use YouTube appropriately on other devices and in other settings, and offer guidance on navigating the waters of YouTube when you are together! 

You found your child watching inappropriate content—now what?

This rule applies to more than just offensive YouTube content and is an excellent rule for all of the tricky parenting moments—don’t freak out. Freaking out is always a terrible idea, and in the case of kids accidentally (or even intentionally) landing on naughty or just plain weird YouTube content that’s not appropriate could lead to confusion down the road. Approach these situations with curiosity and ask how they ended up watching the video. Talk about how the video(s) made them feel, and if something isn’t appropriate for their eyes, calmly explain why and let them know how to handle it if they land on it again.

Use the opportunity to listen and learn from your child It may have been recommended as a video to watch next, and naturally, they clicked on it and started watching, maybe even unsure what they were looking at. It’s in these parenting moments, you might identify areas where you want to rethink where they watch videos (or with whom.) You may also want to start viewing content with them and discuss what they like and what they don’t about the channels they’re watching.

YouTube can be both inspiring and educational for all of us. It can teach us how to make a new recipe, or how to build a treehouse. Approaching it with curiosity and a healthy dose of  mindful attention can help your children learn to do the same. 

 

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Social media comes in a variety of forms, but the goal is the largely the same for kids. It serves as a “third space” for teens and tweens—an additional place outside of home and school. It’s a place where young people can “hang out,” even when they are not with their friends.

Most grownups think of social media as Facebook and Twitter. While those are the most popular ones worldwide, they may not be the ones that your kids favor. For instance, Facebook has fallen out of favor with many (though not all) younger kids because to them, it’s “for old people.” Think back to when you were a kid. You didn’t want to hang out where your parents hung out—it wasn’t cool.

There are literally hundreds of different social media platforms, and the goal is usually one of three things: To chat, share, or play. Some platforms do more than one thing. Here are some of the most popular examples:

  1. Chat/Messaging: Snapchat, Whatsapp, Kik
  2. Share pictures/videos: Snapchat, Instagram, YouTube
  3. Play: Minecraft, Fortnite, Roblox

How can you keep up with all of them? Well, you don’t really have to—you just need to know which apps/site(s) your child is using. Then you can learn a little bit about the platform, how your child is using it, and with whom they are connecting.

In my experience working with parents, this is a big worry for them. They fear that kids will be talking to strangers, making themselves vulnerable to predators. The reality is that while kids may use services such as Whisper to talk to strangers, most kids interested in interacting with peers they already know. To them, social media feels like a peer space. They don’t want to be talking to adults—they want to extend and enhance the time they spend with the friends they already have.

Even though they are communicating mostly with their peers, kids can sometimes lack a full understanding of the scope of their social sphere. They sometimes share things intended for a few of their friends and forget that their parents (or even a wider peer group) might see what they’ve shared. It helps to gently remind them from time to time—that you saw one of their posts, for instance. You might use it to open a discussion about who else might have seen a text message. Or what has happened to you when you’ve sent a text to someone in error. This is not to scare them, but to just be a little more aware of the effects of unintended communication.

Young teens’ and tweens’ identities are in flux, so they are especially attracted to the social media photo communication applications like Snapchat. They get the chance to test out personae. The backside of this is that sharing photos can lead to surface judgments and virtual beauty contests. It  also can be stressful and time consuming keeping up ongoing Snapchat Streaks. It’s important to teach young people how to manage these challenges.

Despite all of these challenges, social media can be important to the development of your kids’ social skills. Learning social norms and appropriate behavior is difficult for kids—even in the real world. The help you offer to them is no different, despite the medium. Here are some of suggestions for Helping Kids Manage the New Rules of Digital Etiquette.

If you are a regular reader, you know that I favor mentorship over monitoring—and using empathy as the keystone of your strategy. Here are some other resources to help you with each:

In addition to needing peer hangout time,  kids do crave spaces  to think about the role of social media in their lives. I just published a new curriculum, co-authored with Karen Jacobson, full of challenging and fun activities to help kids think about and manage the new and ever-changing challenges of the digital world. While it’s pitched towards teachers and group leaders, parents could get a lot out of it too. It’s called Connecting Wisely in the Digital Age: Social Emotional Exercises For Plugged in Kids. (You can buy the curriculum here.I’ve been leading workshops with these exercises at schools around the country. Students have responded very enthusiastically!

Young people really crave opportunities to discuss these issues…Let them lead, but ask them about the latest app, or something they’ve seen their peers do in social media, and give them a chance to reflect. You’ll both learn so much!

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