Should toddlers watch screens? How to make a technical plan early.

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Grab your stress ball: This week’s Ask Help Desk column is all about setting tech boundaries with toddlers and canceling Amazon Prime subscriptions. I don’t know which is more difficult.

If you’re curious about tech safety for kids and teens, check out our guide to social media safety settings or our dive into all the data your kids’ apps 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 our tips for unsubscribing to unwanted apps.

Do you have a technical question that we haven’t answered? Send it to me at [email protected] Thanks for reading!

Technical plans for toddlers: How can I start protecting/preparing my toddler for the internet and social media as they grow? 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 for?

— Stephanie, Ashburn, Virginia

If you leave the network, take me with you! Managing relationships with technology is hard enough for adults – keeping kids away from screens can feel overwhelming.

Even if your child isn’t online yet, it’s never too early to start researching and brainstorming with your husband about your family’s approach. Check out the resource pages of child rights organizations Common Sense Media, Protect Young Eyes and Wait Until 8th. Also look for opposing points of view. (For example, some experts say it’s too simplistic to call for reduced “screen time” when kids need digital skills to communicate and compete.)

The technological limits will be different for each family. But Brooke Shannon, executive director and founder of Wait Until 8th – which urges caregivers to wait until eighth grade to give children smartphones – shared some tips she says 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 become “In our family, we wait until 8th grade for a smartphone so we can [X].” Fill in that blank with something specific to your family values, Shannon advised. Maybe your family loves the outdoors, or learning 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 kids’ lives so they can develop interests off the screen, Shannon said.

When your toddler starts experimenting with technology, like tablets or movies, take it easy. Going from zero to 60 is easy, Shannon said, so talk with your husband ahead of time about time limits on devices or when it’s okay to sit your child in front of the TV. Before introducing a new app or device, set up parental controls so you can enforce limits without snatching a tablet from your child’s hands.

Shannon’s household has a few cardinal rules, she said. First, no appliances in the rooms, including TVs. Second, toddlers, preschoolers, and elementary-aged children don’t get tablets or other personal devices unless the family is traveling. Third, no technology during play dates at home. And fourth, an “educational” app or game doesn’t get a free pass.

Distance learning apps shared children’s data on a ‘dizzying scale’

When your child asks questions or gets frustrated, prepare an answer. Shannon sticks to: “In our family, we follow research.” With older children, you can even talk about search results and what they mean.

Finally, leave room for flexibility. If you have a head cold, the rules about TV time can go out the window and that’s okay, Shannon said. A few days or weeks of extra tech (or an entire pandemic) doesn’t mean you’ve failed, and it’s never too late for a family reset.

Stuck in Purgatory Prime: I just tried pausing my Amazon Prime subscription and it was a fruitless exercise in frustration.

— Bill, Clarksville, Ind.

Ah, the wonderful world of business websites, where “pay now” buttons shine and “cancel” buttons are conveniently missing.

You’re not the first person to notice something fishy about Amazon’s cancellation process. Last year, Norway’s consumer protection organization filed a complaint against the retail giant alleging people had to click on six separate pages to cancel, with each page pushing consumers to stay on board. American 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 that they even have names: ‘obstruction’ and ‘throbbing’. According to Colin Gray, an associate professor of computer graphics technology at Purdue University and an expert on dark patterns, both are examples of “dark patterns,” or tricks that web developers use to manipulate your behavior.

If you are a human on the internet, you have encountered a dark pattern. Why, for example, does the pop-up supposed to allow you to opt out of tracking cookies usually offer two options: “accept all” or “more options?” Why does the pop-up offering you a discount shame you with options like “No thanks, I hate saving money?” And that count of how many other people are “currently viewing” an item on a retail site? It’s probably wrong.

“It’s not that consumers are stupid or lack the technology skills,” Gray says. “There are people on the other end who are designing these situations to make them as awkward as possible, so you have to fight against this really concerted effort from many players in the tech industry.

About a year after being called across the pond, Amazon changed its cancellation process for customers in the European Union. There is still hope for us in the United States, Gray said. The Federal Trade Commission said in October that it planned to “strengthen” enforcement against companies that arguably use deceptive practices to increase their revenue from subscriptions. And parts of California’s privacy law could put pressure on big companies to relax on dark patterns.

“Transparency and customer trust are top priorities for us,” said Jamil Ghani, vice president of Amazon Prime, in a statement shared with The Washington Post. Main Membership. We are constantly listening to customer feedback and looking for ways to improve the customer experience, as we have done following constructive dialogue with the European Commission. »

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In the meantime, these steps should guide you through the cancellation process. At the end, you will see an option to pause your subscription. If you get lost, email me and I can help you.

How to cancel Amazon Prime:

  • On a desktop computer, navigate to “Accounts & Lists” on the right side of the top menu
  • Choose “Prime Membership”
  • If you get a popup, choose the yellow button on the left: “Continue to Membership Management”
  • In the gray banner at the top of the page with your account name, select “Manage Membership” on the right. Then select “end subscription”.
  • Select the yellow button that says “cancel my benefits”. Be sure to read the buttons carefully.
  • Select “continue to cancel”.
  • Here you will see an option to pause your subscription. Or scroll to the bottom of the page and select “End the [insert date].”
  • If needed, keep confirming the cancellation until you’re done
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