Should toddlers look at screens?  Make a technology plan early on.

Should toddlers look at screens? Make a technology plan early on.

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Grab your stress ball: This week’s Ask Help Desk column is all about pushing technology boundaries with toddlers and canceling Amazon Prime memberships. Not sure which is harder.

If you’re curious about online safety for kids and teens, check out our guide to social media safety settings or dive into all the data the apps your kids use collect about them. To check if your recurring costs are within your budget, take our ‘Is Amazon Prime worth it for you?’ quiz and click through our advice on canceling app subscriptions.

Do you have a technology question that we haven’t answered? Send it to [email protected] Thank you for reading!

Q: How do I start protecting and preparing my toddler for the internet and social media as they grow up? After learning more about the dark side of technology, I don’t know 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 out for?

A: If you go off the grid, take me with you! Technology is hard enough for adults as it is, so trying to get kids away from screens can be overwhelming.

Even if your child isn’t online yet, it’s never too early to do some research and brainstorming with your husband about how your family can go about it. Check out the resource pages of child protection organizations Common Sense Media, Protect Young Eyes and Wait Until 8th. Look for some opposing viewpoints as well. For example, some experts argue that calling for reduced “screen time” is oversimplified when children need digital skills to communicate and compete.

Technology frontiers will be different for every family. But Brooke Shannon, executive director and founder of Wait Until 8th, which urges caregivers to wait until eighth grade to give kids smartphones, shared some tips that she thinks can help any parent strike the right balance.

First, start talking about devices and apps long before your kids ask to use them. For example, the chorus could be: “In our family, we wait until 8th grade for a smartphone so we can have it [blank].” Fill in that blank with something specific to your family values, Shannon advised. Perhaps your family loves the outdoors, learning about new subjects, or helping others. Removing technology becomes easier when your child understands what you are replacing it with. To that end, it’s important to structure children’s lives in a way that allows them to develop off-screen interests, Shannon said.

When your toddler starts experimenting with technology like tablets or movies, take it slow. Going from zero to 60 can be easy, Shannon said, so talk to your husband ahead of time about device time limits or when it’s appropriate to put your child in front of the TV. Before you launch a new app or device, set up parental controls so you can enforce boundaries without wrestling a tablet out of your child’s hands.

Shannon’s household has a few cardinal rules, she said. Firstly, no appliances in the bedrooms including TVs. Second, toddlers, preschoolers, and elementary school kids are never given tablets or other personal devices unless the family is traveling. Third, no technology at home during game dates. And fourth, an “educational” app or game never gets a free pass.

If your child asks questions or is frustrated, have an answer ready. Shannon maintains, “We do research in our family.” You can even talk to older kids about research and what it means. Finally, leave room for flexibility. If you have a cold, screen time rules might go out the window, and that’s okay, Shannon said. A few days or weeks of additional technology (or an entire pandemic) doesn’t mean you’ve failed, and it’s never too late for a family reset.

Q: I just attempted to pause my Amazon Prime membership and it was an unsuccessful exercise in frustration.

A: Ah, the wonderful world of corporate websites where the “Pay Now” buttons are brightly lit and the “Cancel” buttons are conveniently absent.

You’re not the first person to notice something fishy about Amazon’s cancellation process. Last year, the Norwegian consumer protection organization filed a complaint against the retail giant, alleging customers had to click through six separate pages to cancel, with each page urging consumers to stay on board. US consumer groups, including Public Citizen, have complained to the Federal Trade Commission about the same thing. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns the Washington Post.)

These tactics are so well known they even have names: “obstruction” and “nagging”. Both are instances of “dark patterns,” or tricks web developers use to manipulate your behavior, according to Colin Gray, associate professor of computer graphics technology at Purdue University and dark pattern expert.

If you’re a human on the internet, you’ve encountered a dark pattern. For example, why does the pop-up that is supposed to allow you to decline tracking cookies usually offer two options: “Accept all” or “More options”? Why does the pop-up offering you a discount embarrass you with options like “No thanks, I hate saving money”? And what about that count of how many other people are currently “looking at” an item on a retail website? It’s probably a fake.

“It’s not that consumers are stupid or that they don’t have technical knowledge,” says Gray. “There are people on the other end who actually design these situations to be as difficult as possible. So you have to resist this really concerted effort by many in the tech industry.”

About a year after Amazon was called across the pond, Amazon changed its cancellation process for customers in the European Union. However, there is still hope for us in the United States, Gray said. The Federal Trade Commission said it plans to “step up” enforcement against companies believed to be engaging in deceptive practices to boost their subscription revenue. Additionally, some elements of California’s privacy law could also force large companies to settle on the dark patterns.

“Customer transparency and trust are our top priorities,” Jamil Ghani, vice president of Amazon Prime, said in a statement to The Washington Post. “Our design makes it clear and easy for our customers to sign up for or cancel their Prime membership. We are constantly listening to our customers’ feedback and looking for ways to improve the customer experience, as we have done after a constructive dialogue with the European Commission.”

In the meantime, these steps should walk you through the entire cancellation process. At the end you will see an option to pause your membership. If you get lost, email us and we can help.

How to cancel Amazon Prime

  • On a desktop, go to “Accounts & Lists” on the right side of the top menu. Select “Prime Membership”.
  • If you get a pop-up window, select the yellow button on the left that says “Continue to Membership Management”.
  • From the gray banner at the top of the page with your account name on the right, select “Manage Membership”. Then select “Cancel Membership”.
  • Select the yellow button that says “Cancel my benefits”. Be sure to read the buttons carefully. Then select “continue canceling”.
  • Here you will see an option to pause your membership. Or scroll to the bottom of the page and select End On [date].”
  • If necessary, continue confirming the cancellation until you’re done.

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