From 1st Phones To Online Porn: Answers To Your Screen Time Questions NPR's Life Kit answers parents' questions about their kids' screen use. Education consultant Ana Homayoun says it's all about empowering your kids to make good decisions when you're not around.
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From 1st Phones To Online Porn: Answers To Your Screen Time Questions

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From 1st Phones To Online Porn: Answers To Your Screen Time Questions

From 1st Phones To Online Porn: Answers To Your Screen Time Questions

From 1st Phones To Online Porn: Answers To Your Screen Time Questions

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/761315420/761685682" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Suharu Ogawa for NPR
It takes a village to raise a safe online child.
Suharu Ogawa for NPR

When I was growing up, my grandmother was full of wise sayings about iPad time: "A Twitch or Vine wastes time." "The family that plays Super Mario 3D World together stays together."

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Oh, wait — no, she wasn't. And I bet your grandma didn't have a lot to say about TikTok feuds or lewd GIFs or Snapchat interrupting homework either. None of that stuff was common back in her day. That leaves parents like me struggling to make good decisions in a technology landscape that sometimes moves as fast as, well, Super Mario 3D World.

"I always say, it takes a village to raise children; it takes an online village to help keep them safe," says Ana Homayoun, an education consultant in Silicon Valley and author of several books, including Social Media Wellness. NPR's Life Kit asked for her thoughts on questions we got from listeners around the U.S. about parenting and digital technology.

When should kids get their first phone?

My son, who's 11, is about to start middle school. He doesn't have a cellphone yet. When do I get a cellphone? What kind of cellphone does he get? — Jill Kelsey, mother of two (11 and 8), Greenville, S.C.

Homayoun recommends you consider three things when getting a child a first phone:

1. Circumstances: Why does the child need a phone? Why does the child want a phone? Is it for safety or social reasons?

2. Maturity: This is about your individual child — don't go by just age or grade. How do they respond to something when it doesn't go as planned? Are they impulsive? Do they take care of their belongings?

3. Start slow:

  • Get a flip phone or entry-level smartwatch first. You can always upgrade later. (Consider the GizmoWatch, Relay or Jitterbug.) 
  • Take the phone away at night and at other designated times, such as until homework is done.

How do I help my child handle cyberbullying?

Again, from Jill Kelsey: I know social media can be a tough place for girls. So how do I help [my daughter] navigate that?

Homayoun says don't pretend you have all the answers. Instead, admit to your lack of knowledge and listen to your kids.

"I am so open with my students when I'm clueless," she says. "I'm like, 'Really? Really? That is what's going on?' But then they're like, 'Yeah, let me tell you more and let me explain this to you,' because they are the imparters of knowledge in that situation. And the roles are reversed, and that empowers them."

Homayoun recommends a strategy she calls "rehearsing the parting line": Help a kid come up with a script so they know what to say when someone says something mean online or shares a video or photo that makes them feel uncomfortable.

For example, a kid could say, "My mom checks my phone, so please don't send me that kind of stuff." Or "Can we talk about this in person later?"

How do I talk to my kid about online porn?

I can tell you that when I was his age, I was definitely looking, trying to get pornography any way I could. ... But to have the app so accessible, you know, in the palm of his hand, day in and day out, to us as parents, it's really unnerving. — JD, father of four, including a 14-year-old son (we're not using his full name to protect the family's privacy), Moscow, Idaho

Whether you object to pornography on religious grounds or are concerned about how it portrays women, Homayoun says you need to be the one to start the conversation.

A child might be interested in porn for many reasons, from simple curiosity to exploring an LGBT identity, she says. You need to ask — and listen — to find out.

"Kids really want to talk about this stuff," Homayoun says. "They are going online because they're looking for answers that for some reason they're not getting in real life."

YouTube

If you need more motivation, a study from Texas Tech University found that the more parents talked about pornography with their middle-school-aged children not necessarily condemning it wholesale, just sharing their values the less those children viewed pornography when they went to college. It also had a less-negative impact on their self-esteem if their partners viewed pornography.

How do I help them balance homework with screen use?

My oldest had some issues just managing how much he was using the iPad. ... It would look like he was doing his homework, and it was literally taking him all night and sometimes the next morning to get his homework done. ... I had told him if you just finish your homework, we'll give you an hour of screen time afterward. ... It just wasn't clicking for him. — Tammy Bristol, mother of two (11 and 9), Downers Grove, Ill.

For boys that age, says Homayoun, "we really want to build intrinsic motivation around developing better habits, and we want them to be part of the conversation around self-regulation."

Don't forever be the enforcer who has to breathe down your kids' necks to get them to accomplish their goals, she says. Instead, break up focused work into chunks: 15 minutes followed by three- to five-minute breaks. Make a game of it; see how fast they can get the homework done and how much they understand it.

"We have students in high school that start from 15 minutes and work their way up so they can do 45 minutes without taking a break, and then they take a 15- to 20-minute break," Homayoun explains.

Whether the issue is porn, homework or something else, Homayoun has one important reminder: Parents need to understand the signs of problematic overuse.

"If your child is gaming and can't stop and it's affecting everyday living — like it's affecting hygiene, it's affecting moodiness, it's affecting basic eating and behavioral habits that are important — that could be a sign of problematic overuse," she says.

And bring any concerns to a pediatrician or other professional.