There is a hilarious graphic doing the rounds on social media of a young couple sitting side by side in bed, both engrossed by their own devices. There is a toddler sitting on the bed with them and the caption says ‘I am beginning to wonder if I was conceived, or downloaded’. On the face of it, the joke is funny. But when you look deeper, it is a strong representation of where our society is heading. If we can’t manage our own device use then how can we expect to tackle children and devices?
Regardless of the age of your children, it can be really hard to strike a balance with device use. It seems to get harder the older they get though. Especially as older children are often expected to use devices for their school work. Then, the younger children see their older siblings using devices, and want to use them too.
But how can we stop them from becoming consumed by the digital world?
Let’s take a leaf out of Nana’s book and preach that in our day, we didn’t spend all day with our head in a tablet, phone or game machine. We talk of the endless days spent riding our bikes in the street, playing with the neighbourhood kids, or making forts out of whatever we could find.
But the reality is that the world is a different place now. As parents, we are far more cautious of what we will let our children do because of a higher risk of danger.
The streets are too busy to ride bikes on, our neighbourhoods aren’t always filled with families, and we don’t want to touch things that we find on the ground any more. But there are ways for our kids to relive the glory days of our youth in a safe manner, and get away from the devices.
How much screen time should you allow your child? Well unfortunately, there is no hard and fast formula for working it out. You will have to discover your own parameters based on the risks involved, and your child’s ability to read potentially dangerous situations.
One of the first risks of excessive device time, is the effect it has on your child’s social skills. If they generally interact well with their peers, then there is no danger in a allowing them an appropriate amount of screen time. However, if they are struggling to interact face to face and gravitating exclusively towards online interaction, this could be a concern that needs addressing.
Another concerning risk is being exposed to predators, or inappropriate images and stories. Children have a harder time determining what is real and what is not, so can easily get hooked into hoaxes and scams.
The most concerning factor is exposing themselves to danger intentionally, or unintentionally. They may give away personal information like their name, address, where they go to school, or sharing photos of themselves. Teens and children can view themselves as invincible online, so don’t recognise the potential harm.
You have to feel comfortable with the rules you set around screen time. They have to align with your goals as a parent. Think about:
- The types of technology you will let your kids use
- A reasonable daily time limit
- Where your kids will be able to use the devices
- Will there be certain times of the day that are off limits for technology?
- What kind of content will they be able to view?
- What will you do if the rules aren’t working?
Once you set the rules, sit down and have a conversation with your kids and explain why the rules are in place, and what you expect to achieve from them. Then everyone is on the same page from the start.
Know how you will enforce the rules, and what the consequences will be if the rules get broken.
Be very clear on what must be done each day in order to have the privilege of screen time. Whether it be jobs around the house, doing homework, family time, playing outside, or spending time with a friend. Cover off those values of responsibility, social priorities and creativity over screen time.
Give your kids a great alternative to screen time. Don’t just say no to devices and expect them to come up with something themselves, because they will struggle. Pick some things that they will enjoy to do based on their hobbies or interests.
At the end of the day, you are the parent and the technology remains in your control, even if it doesn’t always feel like it. Don’t get into a power struggle, because it won’t end well. Here is what you can do instead:
- Change the password on the wi-fi or on the individual device
- Make use of the parental controls
- Optimise the privacy settings on social media accounts
- Take the charger
- If all else fails, disable the device
Lack of technological knowledge is no excuse for burying your head in the sand regarding your children and device use. Get savvy, and do it quick!