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Q: How do you begin to protect and prepare your toddler for the Internet and social media as he grows up? As I learned more about the dark side of technology, I completely lost my sense of how to plan for the future. I jokingly told my husband that I wanted to live off the grid to protect our son. Are there resources that teach parents what to look for?
A: If you exit the game, take me with you! Forming a relationship with technology is difficult enough for adults, so keeping children away from screens can seem overwhelming.
Even if your child isn’t online yet, it’s never too early to start researching and discussing with your spouse an approach your family can take. Check out the resource pages of children’s rights organizations Common Sense Media, Protect Young Eyes, and Wait Until 8th. Also look for some opposing viewpoints. For example, some experts argue that the call to reduce “screen time” is too simplistic when children need digital skills to communicate and compete.
The limits of technology will be different for each family. But Brooke Shannon, executive director and founder of Wait Until 8th, which encourages parents to wait until eighth grade to give their kids smartphones, shared some tips she thinks can help any parent find the right balance.
First, start talking about devices and apps long before your kids ask to use them. For example, the refrain can be “In our family, we wait for a smartphone until the 8th grade so that we can [blank].” Fill that gap with something that aligns with your family values, Shannon advised. Maybe your family enjoys going outdoors, learning new things, or helping others. Removing technology becomes easier when your child understands what you are replacing it with. To that end, it’s important to organize children’s lives so they can develop interests outside the screen, Shannon said.
When your child starts experimenting with technology like tablets or movies, take your time. According to Shannon, it’s easy to go from zero to 60, so talk to your husband ahead of time about device time limits or when it’s appropriate to sit the baby down in front of the TV. Before introducing any new app or device, set up parental controls so you can set restrictions without taking the tablet out of your child’s hands.
According to her, Shannon’s family has a few basic rules. First, no appliances in the bedrooms, including TVs. Second, toddlers, preschoolers, and elementary school children never get tablets or other personal devices unless the family is traveling. Third, no technology while playing at home. And fourth, an “educational” program or game is never freely available.
When your child asks a question or gets frustrated, prepare an answer. Shannon maintains, “In our family, we follow the research.” With older children, you can even talk about the results of research and their significance. Finally, leave room for flexibility. If you have a cold, the screen time rules may not apply, and that’s okay, Shannon said. A few days or weeks of extra technology (or an entire pandemic) doesn’t mean you’ve failed, and it’s never too late to reboot your family.
Q: I just tried to suspend my Amazon Prime membership and it was a disappointment.
A: Oh, the wonderful world of corporate websites, where the ‘pay now’ buttons shine brightly and the ‘cancel’ buttons are absent.
You’re not the first person to notice something fishy about Amazon’s cancellation process. Last year, a Norwegian consumer watchdog filed a complaint against the retail giant, alleging that people had to click on six separate pages to cancel, each page encouraging consumers to stay tuned. US consumer groups, including Public Citizen, have complained to the Federal Trade Commission about the same. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
These tactics are so well-known that they even have names: “obstruction” and “hooking”. Both are cases of “dark patterns,” or tricks web developers use to manipulate your behavior, according to Colin Gray, an associate professor of computer graphics technology at Purdue University and an expert on dark patterns.
If you’re a human on the internet, you’ve come across a dark pattern. Why, for example, does a popup that is supposed to let you opt out of cookie tracking usually offer two options: “accept all” or “more options?” Why does a discount offer pop-up shame you with options like “no thanks, I hate saving money”? What about that count that shows how many other people are “currently viewing” an item on a retail site? It’s probably fake.
“It’s not that consumers are stupid or don’t have tech literacy skills,” Gray says. “On the other end, there are people who actually create these situations to make them as difficult as possible. So you’re going to have to fight back against this really concerted effort by a lot of people in the tech industry.”
About a year after the bid challenge, Amazon changed its cancellation procedure for customers in the European Union. But there is still hope for us in the United States, Gray said. The Federal Trade Commission said it plans to “step up” its crackdown on companies that use allegedly deceptive practices to boost their subscription revenue. In addition, certain elements of California’s privacy law may also put pressure on large companies to abandon dark templates.
“Transparency and customer trust are our top priorities,” Jameel Ghani, vice president of Amazon Prime, told The Washington Post in a statement. “By design, we make it clear and simple for customers to both sign up and cancel their Prime membership. We are constantly listening to customer feedback and looking for ways to improve the customer experience, as we did after a constructive dialogue with the European Commission.”
In the meantime, these steps will guide you through the cancellation process. At the end, you will see an option to suspend your membership. If you’re lost, send us an email and we’ll help you out.
How to cancel Amazon Prime
- On your desktop, go to “Accounts and Lists” in the top menu on the right. Select Basic Membership.
- If a pop-up window appears, select the yellow button on the left that says “go to membership management.”
- On the gray banner at the top of your account name page, select “manage membership” on the right. Then select ‘cancel membership’.
- Select the yellow button labeled “cancel my preferences”. Be sure to read the buttons carefully. Then select “continue to cancel”.
- Here you will see an option to suspend your membership. Or scroll to the bottom of the page and select End at [date].”
- If necessary, keep confirming the cancellation until you’re done.