With the summer holidays upon us, how many parents are desperately trying to think of ways to occupy their children without ‘resorting’ to Ipads, phones or gaming consoles? Trying to avoid a school holiday that looks something like this is getting harder and harder!
Current research shows that we should be worrying less about how much time our kids are spending on screens and more about what they are doing. Clearly being online all day, every day is not a good thing, but limits will vary from family to family, so hard and fast rules won’t work. It is a very different world to the one that we grew up in, and we need to factor that into our parenting. What is emerging from research is that the most important thing we can do for our children is to build their resilience, so that the risks in the online world do not become harm.
The ideas below are no means a guide on parenting, but more useful tips that could just help us get through to September!
The same parenting rules should apply in both real and virtual worlds. Children need and expect limits and rules. Know their friends, both online and off. Know what platforms they are using, where they are going and what they are doing.
Be a good role model – harder than it seems when we can access emails, Twitter, Facebook etc from our phones! Resist the temptation to keep checking – if you are doing it, children will copy. Attentive parenting requires face to face time away from screens.
Families who play together, learn together. Family participation in media encourages social interactions and learning. Play a video game with your kids. Your insight helps children put their media experience into perspective. It's also a good way to demonstrate good sportsmanship and gaming etiquette.
Check out the quality of apps. Tens of 1000’s of apps are labelled as “educational”, but many are of very low quality. It’s also important to know about security settings and age appropriate apps. This list from Parentzone gives some pointers.
We all know that unstructured playtime stimulates creativity. Tech use, like all other activities, should have reasonable limits, and these will vary from family to family. Make time to play off line with your children.
Even though we may not understand it, online relationships are part of adolescent development. Social media can support teens and tweens as they find their own identity. Our job as parents is to ensure our teenagers are behaving as appropriately in the online world as we would expect them to in the ‘real’ world. Keep lines of communication open and let them know you're there if they have questions or concerns.
They will make mistakes online and they may well see things that upset them. Handle these mistakes and situations with empathy and use them as teaching opportunities. Don’t take their tech away – they need to know that if they see something upsetting they can talk to you, rather than be punished. However, some indiscretions, such as sexting or posting self-harm images, should be a flag to look further into your child's behaviours. Try and keep up with the ever growing list of sites that may not be what they seem - Here is a good place to start.
Make certain times and places tech free, such as mealtimes. Recharge devices overnight away from your child's bedroom. These actions encourage family time, healthier eating habits and better sleep.