Grab your stress ball: This week’s Ask Help Desk column is about setting technology limits with little ones and canceling Amazon Prime memberships. I’m 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 analyze all the data the apps your kids use collect about them. To check if your recurring costs fit into your budget, take our quiz “Is Amazon Prime worth it to you?” and click on our tips for canceling app subscriptions.

Have a tech question we haven’t addressed? Send it our way at [email protected]. Thanks for reading!

Question: How do I begin to protect and prepare my child for the Internet and social media as he grows up? After learning more about the dark side of technology, I am completely at a loss as to how to plan for the future. I jokingly told my husband that I want to live off the grid to protect our son. Are there resources that teach parents what to look for?

A: If you go off the grid, take me with you! Managing relationships with technology is hard enough for adults, so getting 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 the approach your family can take. Check out resource pages from children’s advocacy organizations Common Sense Media, Protect Young Eyes, and Wait Until 8. Look for some opposing viewpoints, too. 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 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 she thinks can help any parent strike the right balance. properly.

First, start talking about devices and apps long before your kids ask to use them. For example, the refrain might become “In our family, we’re waiting for a smartphone until 8th grade so we can [blank].” Fill in that blank with something specific to your family values, Shannon advised. Maybe your family likes the outdoors, or learning about new topics, or helping others. Ditching technology becomes easier when your child understands what you’re replacing it with. To that end, it’s important to structure 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 it slow. It can be easy to go from zero to 60, Shannon said, so talk to your husband ahead of time about device time limits or when it’s appropriate to sit your baby down in front of the TV. Before introducing any new apps or devices, set up parental controls so you can enforce restrictions without taking a tablet out of your child’s hands.

Shannon’s family has some ground rules, she said. First, there are no appliances in the bedrooms, including TVs. Second, toddlers, preschoolers, and elementary-aged children never take tablets or other personal devices unless the family is traveling. Third, no technology during home playdates. And fourth, an “educational” app or game never gets a free pass.

When your child asks questions or gets frustrated, you have an answer ready. Shannon maintains, “In our family, we pursue research.” With older children, you can also talk about research findings and their meaning. Finally, leave room for flexibility. If you’re cool-headed, screen time rules can go out the window, 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 for a family reset.

Question: I just tried to cancel my Amazon Prime membership and it was a fruitless exercise in frustration.

A: Ah, the wonderful world of corporate 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 that people had to click on six separate pages to cancel, with each page prompting consumers to stay on board. US consumer groups including Public Citizen have complained to the Federal Trade Commission about the same. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

Those tactics are so popular that they even have names: “obstruction” and “harassment.” 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 an internet person, you’ve come across a dark pattern. Why, for example, does the popup that is supposed to let you opt out of cookie tracking usually give two options: “accept all” or “more options?” Why does the pop-up that offers you a discount shame you with options like “no thanks, I hate saving money”? What about that report that shows how many other people are “currently viewing” an item on a retail site? Maybe it’s fake.

“It’s not that consumers are stupid or that they don’t have tech-savvy skills,” Gray says. “There are people on the other side who are actually engineering these situations to make them as complicated as possible. So you have to fight against this really concerted effort by many in the tech industry.”

About a year after being called across the pond, Amazon changed the 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 “increase” enforcement against companies that use deceptive practices to boost their subscription revenue. In addition, some elements of California’s privacy law may pressure large companies to ease up on dark patterns.

“Transparency and customer trust are top priorities for us,” said Jamil Ghani, vice president of Amazon Prime, in a statement to The Washington Post. “By design, we make it clear and simple for customers to sign up for or cancel their Prime membership. We constantly listen to customer feedback and look for ways to improve the customer experience, as we did after the constructive dialogue with the European Commission.”

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

How to cancel Amazon Prime

  • On a desktop, go to “Accounts and Lists” on the right side of the top menu. Select “Prime Membership”.
  • If a pop-up window appears, select the yellow button on the left that says “continue 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 membership”.
  • Select the yellow button that says “cancel my benefits”. Be sure to read the buttons carefully. Then select “continue to cancel”.
  • Here you will see an option to cancel your membership. Or scroll to the bottom of the page and select “end on [date].”
  • If necessary, continue to confirm the cancellation until you are done.

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