Like most parents, I get nightmares about my kids over-using technology and being hooked onto their digital devices all the time. New terms like “technology addiction” or “internet use disorder” don’t help either. By the way, I might just mention here that both these terms do not exist in DSM 5 (the diagnostic manual used by most mental health professionals around the world). However, “Internet gaming disorder” does exist but a child must have some very serious symptoms to fall into that category.
Still. when I see my children bent over their iPads or looking at computer screens I freak out a little. Needless to say, screen time is also a cause of constant arguments between my kids and me. That got me thinking what can I do to manage this situation.
Managing screen time in your house
Set time limit. Most primary school children spend 20-30 mins on any activity. Screen time is no different. Have a discussion with them and come up with an agreed time limit and frequency of the use of iPad or any other device. 20-30 mins once a day is quite sufficient on a weekday. Give them access for longer periods during school holidays as a special treat.
Watch the content. It is extremely important that they have access to only age-appropriate content. YouTube for kids is an excellent alternative to the regular app. It has educational channels like craft and science experiments. And if a child types anything inappropriate in the search bar the results are automatically filtered. Make sure your wifi password is not saved on the device and children cannot download anything on their own. Here is a website with loads of useful apps for kids of all ages https://www.commonsensemedia.org/lists/free-apps-for-kids
Research. If your child asks you to download or buy a specific game research it a bit before agreeing. You will find that most apps and games have reviews on the internet by other parents. If you are not happy with it suggest an alternative.
Some times are no-device times. For instance, we have a no-device-at-meal-time policy. And it applies to adults too! We also have a rule about leaving the device or game controller if someone enters the house, greet them properly and talk to them. My children are also not allowed to take their devices with them if we are going outdoors. Let them feel the joy of human interaction.
Stick to the age limit on social media sites. Most social media sites such as Facebook have an age limit and children sometimes provide wrong birth year to create an account. Once they are on a social media site you lose control over what they might be exposed to and often they don’t have enough experience to deal with age-inappropriate content. Have a discussion with them and let them know that age limits need to be followed because they are for their safety. Just like car restraints have to be kept on until a certain age to protect a child from physical harm, these age limits are to protect them from psychological harm.
Invest in a standing desk. If you are looking to buy a table for their computer or laptop invest in a standing desk. Most of these come with a manual lever or height adjustable legs. Adjust it according to your child’s height and ask them to use their device while standing up. You will find that it drastically reduces their screen time. It is when they get too comfortable on a sofa that they don’t want to move. Don’t forget to let them sit on a chair if they have to use their device for a school project.
Lead by example. Simply put, if we are going to look at our phones while our children are trying to talk to us they will do the same. Children often don’t follow verbal instructions but show them by your actions and you will see good results. If your child wants to play with you or talk to you show them the respect they deserve by putting your phone down and giving them your full attention.
BENEFITS OF SCREEN TIME
Technology can also be a huge benefit to your child's learning. This year my kids’ school rolled out a new pilot program called SOLE (self-organised learning environments) to see if this type of learning has better results than traditional methods. My 9-year-old son’s class was part of it. Through this program, children were able to work on different projects that had an impact on the world that they live in. In other words, they were shown how can they be change agents rather than passive learners. Children researched their topics, prepared surveys about it, and came up with future directions all on their own with a bit of guidance from teachers.
Parents were invited to an expo that showcased the projects children of class 3,4 and 5 had been doing. And some of them blew my mind. One project was about recycling and children used plastic bags to make mats for homeless people to sleep on. They got into contact with a local charity that could help them distribute the mats where needed. Another was about cyber bullying. Creating awareness and educating Internet users about digital footprint and how their words impact others. My son’s class did a project about deforestation and its impact. They ended up contacting the local council and acquired loads of seedlings to plant in their school grounds.
A new way of learning
While looking at these projects I was thinking how today’s learning is very different from our time. These kids are part of a larger world. Their competitors are not just kids from our streets but children sitting in other countries. And how do they all connect to their world? Of course through their devices. This type of learning where information needs to be updated constantly, more than one approach to a problem exist and you want to connect to a wider source of information is only possible through the internet and digital devices.
Digital devices are tools for learning just like books were in our time. It turns out that years ago reading for long periods of time was considered unhealthy too because as parents we are scared of anything new for our children. Anything unfamiliar is bound to make us doubtful. But now that we are familiar with books, we know which books to choose for our kids, and what are the general rules for reading (not too close to the eyes), are we still scared of them? Most of us would be very happy to see our children engrossed in a book.
The same principle applies to digital devices and the internet. We need to familiarise ourselves with what are the appropriate ways of using it and the content suitable for our kids. Here are some suggestions to manage the use of digital devices in your household:
Like anything else in this world, technology is neither good nor bad. Its how we use it makes it good or bad. The other day I was fascinated to see my child watching a video about how to ride a bicycle and then applying that knowledge to learn to ride all by himself without any help! Times are changing and our kids’ tools for learning, communicating and entertainment are changing too. We can only hope to keep up by not comparing them to ourselves and not thinking our ways were better because we were born in a different time. Let’s be honest, it is every generation’s past time to worry about the future of next generation. Human culture and technology are constantly evolving and its progression is not going to stop whether we like it or not.
I will leave you with an image that gave me hope that our children might just turn out to be fine even after all that screen time.