Nowadays, children are growing up ‘digitally.’ Parents play a critical role in teaching their children digital skills that allow them to navigate the complex digital world. For instance, parents must teach their children healthy concepts about digital citizenship and netiquette. However, parents can only do so much to police and safeguard their children and online activities.
Here are some practical tips on how parents and children manage the digital landscape more meaningfully.
The Family Media Plan is an interactive tool that the American Academy of Pediatrics developed to aid parents in customizing media use in the household. This plan targets screen-free zones and times, device curfews, media diversification, balancing online and offline time, digital citizenship and etiquette, safety, and sleep and exercise. The areas are customizable per child. In addition, the tool includes a Media Time Calculator to determine the allowable screen time and limits.
Even international schools in Manila like Reedley are aware of the need to minimize screen times regardless of the age of the students. So we encourage parents to be mindful of their children’s online activities, from their browsing histories to the apps they use daily.
As part of the plan, parents are encouraged to have screen-free areas in the house. Some examples are the bedroom and the kitchen, especially the dining table. The device itself disrupts the child’s sleeping patterns and affects sleep quality. Your child may get tempted to reach for his phone if it is near him. On the other hand, mealtimes must be respected by all family members. All family members must understand what they are expected to do in these areas.
If you will take your child’s gadget for a while, make sure that there are offline activities available. They do not have to be structured – spontaneous, stimulating play activities are highly recommended. Ask your daughter what she wants to do during her unplugged playtime. Playtime is beneficial for very young children. After all, children two years and below should have no screen time whatsoever.
In the same way, gadgets should not be treated as an emotional pacifier when older children throw tantrums. The effects are far too damaging when your child gets used to getting what he wants in exchange for calming down and staying quiet. There are many ways to channel strong emotions—breathing exercises, talking to him at eye level, encouraging him to share what he was feeling and why, etc.
Screen time does not mean that your child should use their devices alone. Instead, play with him, or ask what gaming apps are her favorite to use and why. These activities encourage learning, for you as well, as you get to know the things she does online. It’s a good bonding activity, too. For instance, when you play the same game, you will grasp why she loves certain games so much. This is your chance to demonstrate gaming etiquette and sportsmanship – skills that are somewhat difficult to internalize without a good role model.
Not just games, though, but shows that your teenage son loves to binge-watch. You will get to share your own experiences while growing up while immersing yourselves in certain familiar scenes. This is a way to tell your child that you care about what her interests are, albeit digitally.
If you have explored app stores before, you have probably seen ‘educational’ apps. But how many of these apps support your child’s learning needs? The same goes for the term ‘age-appropriate’ when the app is not appropriate for an eight-year-old at all. This is why you should scrutinize the apps before installing them on your child’s devices.
For older children and early teens, you can modify the permissions on their gadgets to allow only the apps you approve. Many online tools and apps can help you with this. If something suspicious comes up, talk to your child about why she cannot use the app or delay using the app until she is old enough to understand. You want to diversify the apps they install on their phones and tablets. Educational games are okay, but apps such as dictionaries, flashcards, storytime, etc., are essential too. Be reminded that apps should not replace the actual learning experience. You cannot over-rely on apps when it comes to your child’s learning.
Children of all ages should be taught about the importance of privacy and how it may be compromised if they share excessive information online. More specifically, parents must warn teenagers that what they share virtually – pictures included – will be accessible forever. Teach them to stay away from private chat rooms, ignore or delete any suspicious text, chat, or email, and not share photos, memes, GIFs, etc., if they are not sure of the integrity of the information. You don’t want your child to go browsing, get misinformed, and share articles that you later learn are fake news.
With this said, it helps to have open communication with your child. So that he would know what he can and cannot share online and what to do if he encounters skeptical information. Assure them they can always tell you about it and that you can guide them on how to deal with those things properly.
Children are bound to make mistakes when using search engines and social networking sites. Empathize with your child because they are a victim too. Consider errors as a teachable moment. Also, you may observe both closely and from afar. Older children are not comfortable with the idea that their parents look over their phones. Children have boundaries that parents must respect too. Observe changes in behaviors in your child. Sudden and drastic changes are red flags that are always worth looking into.
Technology is so ingrained in our lives today that it is difficult to imagine a life without it. However, to benefit from digital technology, we need to use it appropriately. Children’s use of technology should be in moderation. As parents, we have to support and guide our children to maximize the benefits while minimizing the harms.