This blog was written for CHEA by COSMO Technologies, a family tech company founded by homeschool graduates, including Russell York, son of CHEA’s Regional Advisory Board Members Scott & Mary York. Learn more about COSMO and an exciting partnership with CHEA at the end of this article.
Connection is an incredible thing, and in our modern world, we have more of it than ever before. It is incredible to think that just 20 years ago, Google had only just been founded, Facebook and YouTube were still just ideas, and the smartphones we can’t live without today didn’t even exist.
There is no doubt that this connection has come with incredible blessings and advantages. Homeschool families especially know how great a resource for learning the internet can be! But it’s also brought tremendous challenges and damage. Consider the following statistics:
- 53% of kids in the US today have a smartphone by the age of 11 (Common Sense Media)
- Kids between the ages of 5-8 spend over three hours per day on a screen (Common Sense Media)
- 82% of parents say they are concerned about their kids’ screen time (Parents Together Action)
- Reports of child online exploitation have risen dramatically since the start of the coronavirus pandemic (WSJ)
- Numerous recent studies suggest strong correlation between social media usage, screen time, and increased risk of depression in adolescents (ABC News)
This is just the tip of the iceberg as a growing body of research emerges, raising alarm among parents and health experts. For parents who are working hard to protect and equip their kids, dealing with technology can often feel like all or nothing.
More than ever, homeschool parents are grappling with the realities of our digital age and how to safely raise kids in a screen saturated world. What do parents need to know about internet safety today? What are the best ways to help your family develop good web habits? We’ve compiled a list of the most important tips and ideas to help families protect kids online.
1) Set clear screen time limits
When it comes to setting limits on “screen time” or “computer time,” parents know it can be tough. It is especially true when homeschool families tend to rely more and more on screens for valuable learning resources. When it comes to limits, communication is key. Having clear, designated time limits for kids to use a computer, tablet, etc. is so important for creating consistency and boundaries.
It is also important to pair screen time limits with other priorities so kids understand what’s most important – and to show flexibility when those priorities change. If your child is using the computer to access quality content and learning materials, it may be appropriate to extend the time they use the computer. Additionally, setting limits for screens can vary based on age. This helps kids understand that screens are tools, not toys, and time with them isn’t automatic, but comes with age and maturity.
2) Give screen time a “home”
“Place” has a powerful way of creating associations in the mind, especially the rapidly developing minds of our little ones. As a home educator, you’ve already seen this, as your child starts to put the pieces together in their learning journey. It’s an amazing thing to behold!
In recent years, researchers have uncovered incredible insights into how the mind forms and sustains new habits. Our minds tend to create loops or patterns in which something triggers an action to receive a reward. One way researchers suggest breaking a habit? Disrupt the loop.
A very practical way to do this in your home is to rethink not just how your family does something (in this case spending time in front of a screen), but where. While time limits can seem arbitrary to kids, location is more tangible. Could the kitchen table be a “no screen zone”? What about bedrooms? Just as important, what are your family’s spaces where you can make screen time intentional and keep family involved? Instead of focusing only on how much screen time kids should have, consider first asking where.
3) Invest in online parental controls
If you think about it, we have safe onramps for most things – safety seats for cars, training wheels for bikes, drivers ed for teens. But that’s often not the case with the internet and technology. Parents need to have some control over internet use in the home and exercise it, when necessary, for the safety of their children. This is a critical part of helping guide and train your kids about what safety in the digital world means. Tools that allow parents to block some websites, filter information, and monitor their child’s use when online are important to consider for any household. Think of parental controls as a sort of safe guardrail that supports your kids as you stay engaged with them on their journey, learning about technology.
4) Make a screen time plan as a family
Being told “no” is, well, no fun. We all know that. But how different does it feel when someone helps you understand the problem and invites you into building the solution? All of a sudden you’re a collaborator, not a victim. That is one of the things that makes homeschooling so amazing – kids get the chance to have ownership and investment in their education.
Kids need that same invitation when it comes to screen time. How much screen time do kids need? Well, what if you asked your kids? What would they say? Consider making it a homeschool project – grab a big ol’ piece of paper, markers, and make it a family activity to map out a plan to help everyone spend less time with screens and more time playing together.
Setting shared goals can be a wonderful way to come together and make a memory while you’re at it. Who knows, you might just be amazed at what your youngsters dream up!
For those with a little older kids, we love the resources that START (Stand Together And Rethink Technology) has developed for having collaborative conversations with your kids about how they engage with technology.
5) Building intentionality by asking “why”
One parenting tip you’ll often see is to make screen time a reward for doing other positive things like chores or homework. While that can absolutely be a positive and helpful approach, making screen time a reward also helps to elevate its value in a child’s mind.
You know that moment when your kid comes running to ask “can I have the [insert device]?” or “can I play [insert game]?” One helpful approach is to take that key moment and ask a simple question: “Why?” Instead of only encountering rules, you can give your child a moment to consider what they want and why they really want it.
In many cases, that moment may be a great opportunity for home educating parents to disconnect boredom from screen time. It also gives parents the opportunity to redirect the screen time focus from simple stimulation to something educational. The subtle message over time: screens are places we go to learn, not tune out.
ABOUT COSMO Technologies and the Homeschool for the Holiday Initiative
COSMO Technologies is a groundbreaking family tech company founded by homeschool graduates with a mission to help keep kids safe and families connected in the digital age. And this holiday season, COSMO is excited to give back to support homeschooling in the state of California!
The founding team at COSMO, Russell York, Michelle Ross, and Ryan Gilles, all grew up homeschooled and became friends during their college years. Now they’re working to provide parents with the tools they need to safely and intentionally navigate our digital world.
COSMO’s flagship product is a simple, powerful kids smart watch called the JrTrack 2. With 4G nationwide calling, messaging, GPS tracking, and more, it gives parents peace of mind without all the concerns that come with internet browsing and social media on traditional smartphones. The JrTrack 2 is already one of the nation’s best-selling kids smartwatches that’s giving families a family safe, parent-approved alternative to cell phones for kids ages 5-14.
“We think of it as a ‘cyber safety-belt’ for the digital age,” says Russell York, COSMO’s CEO. “It’s a simple but powerful way that helps keep families connected and lets parents guide and train kids how to safely navigate the digital world at the right age.”
“Looking back, I’m so grateful for my home education, the training I received, and the supportive homeschooling community around me,” says Ryan Gilles, COSMO’s Director of Brand. “This initiative, like the company as a whole, is all about giving back and supporting families.”
This Holiday season, COSMO is partnering with CHEA to give back to support home education in our state – and you can help! For any JrTrack 2 Kids Smart Watch purchased in the state of California through COSMO’s website, the company will donate 8% back to CHEA in support of homeschool families! Any purchase helps make a difference.