We can watch whatever we want, whenever we want. Technology is part of our children's lives however, research has shown that that face-to-face time with family, friends, and teachers plays a pivotal and importance in promoting our children's learning and healthy development. We need to work on keeping the face-to-face up front, and don't let it get lost behind a stream of media and tech. It begs the question, what restrictions do we need to put in place to ensure that our children get all the benefits of technology without the negative side effects? Some of these negative side effects include:
-The dangers of predators
-Mental health issues
-Engaged in entertainment tasks while doing academic tasks thereby reduced learning
So as active parents what do we do to ensure that our kids get all the benefits of technology without the dangers? Unfortunately the battle over the screen, be it mobile phone, iPad or computer is something that is all to familiar to most families. As a parent I struggle. It is all too easy to let my son watch his iPhone, however we owe it to him to be involved and set up some guidelines so that he is protected and stays healthy. Here are some good guidelines that I have discovered:
1. Develop a Family Media Use Plan - Set up some media guidelines that works with your family values and your parenting style. We want media to enhance your children's life but not replace important activities such as face-to-face interaction, family-time, outdoor-play, exercise, unplugged downtime & sleep.
2. Set some limits - Just like anything else in your child's life, they need to know what you expect of them. Technology is no different. They need limits for their own safety and health. My friend Julie makes sure that her kids put their iPhones on the kitchen bench when it is time for sleep, others use apps to monitor tech use and set limits. For example, Google’s Family Link is very handy, Amazon’s parental controls are excellent, and Apple offers some parental controls as well. Whatever works for your family, you need to know your child's friends on and offline. Know what platforms, software, and apps your children are using, what sites they are visiting on the web, and what they are doing online. Place consistent limits on hours per day of media use as well as types of media used.
3. Encourage screen free time. Media use, like all other activities, should have reasonable limits. Unstructured and offline play stimulates creativity. Promote that children and adolescents get the recommended amount of daily physical activity (1 hour) and adequate sleep (8–12 hours, depending on age). Designate media-free times together (e.g. family dinner) and media-free locations (e.g. bedrooms) in homes. Promote activities that are likely to facilitate development and health, including positive parenting activities, such as reading, teaching, talking, and playing together.
4. Screen time shouldn't always be alone time. I am guilty of this. It is so easy to use technology as a babysitter. Co-view, co-play and co-engage with your children when they are using screens—it encourages social interactions, bonding, and learning. Play a video game with your kids. It's a good way to demonstrate good sportsmanship and gaming etiquette. Watch a show with them; you will have the opportunity to introduce and share your own life experiences and perspectives—and guidance. Don't just monitor them online—interact with them, so you can understand what they are doing and be a part of it.
5. Be a good role model and have some peers to support your kids. Teaching your kids how to behave online starts with you modelling that behaviour. Children are good mimics so we need to model the behaviour we expect to see. It is important to be available and connect with our kids face to face. Kids need to know how to manage boredom and how to behave appropriately in the online and real worlds. You need to be the person who educates them about this. Kids will make mistakes and this is a teachable moment. Actively develop a network of trusted adults (e.g aunts, uncles, coaches, etc) who can engage with children through social media and to whom children can turn when they encounter challenges.
6. Discourage entertainment media while doing homework. My son loves to watch You Tube while doing his homework. A growing body of evidence suggests that the use of media while engaged in academic tasks has negative consequences on learning. It just makes sense. Devices away during homework time.
7. Protecting your child's identity. Content that an adolescent chooses to post is shared with others, and the removal of such content once posted may be difficult or impossible. Adolescents vary in their understanding of privacy practices. It is important for parents to be across what their kids post online and set their privacy settings as high as possible. Keep the communication lines open with your kids so they can come and ask you anything about things they have seen or heard online. They will need you to give information context.
8. Use tech as a learning tool. There are many great learning apps out there and some can be a great way to up-skill in an area that your child might be having difficulty with. Common Sense Media is a great resource for parents sharing educational apps and recommending age appropriate media for your kids. You can set up preferences for media, gaming and books based on your values and child's age.
Technology is part of our life and it is certainly a big part of our kids environment. Some are more attached to it than the family pet! Navigating this landscape isn't easy but hopefully the above tips and resources will give you some tools to approach this space proactively.