This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and Walmart Family Mobile. All opinions are mine alone. #DataAndAMovie #CollectiveBias
Every family needs to think about smartphones, kids and they use them. Do we indulge our kids in too much tech? We can all agree that a child who spends hours a day indulged in any kind of screen time is not a good idea. And while you may think it’s ok to let them online once they are home from school, kids are being exposed to far more screen time at school as well. If you have a child with a learning disability, speech difficulties or other special needs, it’s likely that assistive technology is frequently used in the classroom – that is, even more screen time.
When To Use Screen Time to Help Your Child
However, I’m not against using technology to help kids “get through” something. As the mother of a child with autism, I have often blogged about how my daughter, particularly when she was younger, did not have the ability to wait on line at a theme park thanks to her cognitive struggles. The problem is that you can get heavily reliant on your phone as a way to calm or comfort your child. Here are some key times when you should clearly have a well-charged smartphone on hand to help your child through a difficult wait:
- The Doctor’s Office
We all know this is unpleasant for many kids, even moreso for kids with sensory disorders. At the end of that long wait, come a cold stethoscope and the dreaded ear scope. I’ve also had the problem of distracting one child while the OTHER one has to wait for a long procedure, like when Amelia went to the cardiologist. Naturally, the doctors focus on calming and catering to Amelia, to make sure her heart is not racing so they get clear reads from the sonogram. Zoe, however, needs to be equally distracted, especially since our cardiologist has a full line of videos just for the patient.
- The Restaurant
We always seem to go when it’s most crowded. Last week, we went before the snow fell AND called in our reservation in advance. We still had to wait 40 minutes with hungry, giddy kids. I don’t advocate using the phones during the meal, but 30-60 minute restaurant wait times are difficult for any child without a good distraction.
- A Long Drive
If you’re going to visit relatives only an hour or so away, avoid handing over the phone, but if your trip is longer, a cell phone with extra charge is a must for a child who has challenges that make sitting still difficult. I remember the year we drove to North Carolina (we’re in PA). We split up the drive and stopped off for the night, but it still ended with a solid one of Zoe screaming after all our tech was dead.
- A Short Drive
It’s a good idea to have it on hand because “stuff happens.” For example, if you’ve just started your child on a clean diet and drive by McDonald’s, or you’re going to the doctor but you drive by the theme park you’re kid loves, you know that you may be in danger of a meltdown that lasts the whole trip. Or, if you have an autistic child and do a U-turn – those still trouble my daughter! A phone is a quick fix to calm a child down so that the driver is not distracted by tantrums or piercing screams.
- A Long Visit, Strange Place or Boring Event
I’m a big advocate of taking kids with autism outside their comfort zone (which usually encompasses your house) and into the world, so they can engage with others, enjoy their community and behave well in public. For example, taking Zoe to see “The Nutcracker” ballet last year was a big success. She could have missed that field trip, but she loved it all the way through to intermission (about 3/4 of the way through). Taking an autistic child to the ballet is not something everyone would do, but I prepared for the long trip home with a phone. From visiting family holiday events to new places you want to try with your child to an event that sounded fun but turned out boring (and hard to leave), any place that allows you to use a phone will help your child through the rough spots.
Thankfully, this has not happened to us yet, but a trip to the ER for one family member, a flat tire or a fender bender are the kind of emergencies that kids with special needs may not understand. A smartphone not only distracts them from the emergency, it can also focus them so they are less likely to wander away.
Tips for Better Use of Screen Time
Now that you have a list of times when you’ll want to have your smartphone on hand, you need to know the best ways to use it. The key is learning when and how to allow screen time so that you don’t run into a situation where your child is in her teens and holed up in her bedroom with her smartphone for hours at a time.
Here are my best tips for better use of screen time, for rare case and regularly. (Download the printable checklist!)
- Be sure that G-rated or other parental settings are turned on for your devices. This can be inconvenient but at least you’ll know what they are watching in your own activity list.
- Monitor your child. Even with those settings activated, I’ve seen hair-raising videos come up on YouTube, like Disney cartoons dubbed with bad words. I’m not sure why but those can slip under the G rating guidelines.
- Set down rules and limits. For example, if you’re at dinner, no tech while eating. (I recommend this at home too.) Set a time limit for using a smartphone, too.
- Recognize when the tech is a trigger. In this case, take it away. My daughter always screams over the mean cat scene in “Cinderella,” so we don’t let her watch that.
- Bring extra chargers for longer outings.
- Bring a back up phone. You might needs the GPS for directions or to make an emergency call.
- Put on fun games and educational apps, but keep the YouTube and browser off. “Going out” should not be times for movie watching, but you can tell them they can pick one when they get home.
- Turn off in-app purchases. That way, you can avoid surprise bills.
- Don’t get them their own phone – or put it off as long as possible. My kids are in grades 4 and 7, and while I recognize that phones are coming down the road, this allows me to keep a watchful eye on everything they do and guarantees that they don’t go over limits I’ve set. I need my phone too!
Make Sure You Have Enough Data
But all this connection takes a LOT of data, and for a family on a tight budget, that’s not easy. Have you ever gotten a bill that went up way higher than expected, thanks to overages and extra data usage? The safest bet is an unlimited data plan but they can be pricey!
That’s why I’m psyched to share about the new Walmart Family Mobile PLUS plan, which features Unlimited Talk, Text, & Data including up to 10GB of 4G LTE data PLUS a free movie on VUDU ($7 value) every month per line for $49.88. Even my husband, Mr. Techie himself, said, “WOW! That’s a great deal for all that data.”
The set up was fast and I had a nice selection of phones to choose from at Walmart. We chose a Samsung Galaxy Core Prime (you know I love Samsung), currently available at Walmart for $79.92* (Rollback from $99.92). This is an excellent phone that works just like the pricier Samsung phones and is sharp, clear, fast and quickly charges. It’s the perfect price, too, for a phone for your teen – assuming she’s responsible with her use of screen time!
That will go a long way to helping your kids get through anything that takes way longer than expected or goes as NOT planned! Naturally, all that talk, text and data will also help you through emergencies, school trips, family outings – and all of life’s U-turns. Load up all the educational apps to keep your child meltdown-free.
When you’re home again, you can load up that free VUDU movie you promised your kid, or get them to bed early because they may be knocked out already. For us, that’s when it’s time for “indoor date night.” Chris and I loading up a good grown up film on our PlayStation 4 when the kiddos are in bed.
*Disclaimer: All prices for phones and plans included in this post are accurate as of the date of posting; however, these prices are subject to change. Please refer to http://cbi.as/28aqc or your local Walmart for current pricing.