Undoubtedly, modern technological marvels like the Internet, cell phones and social media have simplified our lives by keeping us connected with a constant flow of information at our fingertips. Social media has sparked movements, highlighted issues and turned many of us into millionaires. But you’ve the ugly side, too – the feelings of shame from comparing ourselves to others, cyber bullies of kids and teens and the effects of spending long hours in front of a screen. Let’s admit: In a tech-driven world, we can’t completely shield our kids from screens. Of course, we can try to use these tools effectively and safely so that our children profit from them without compromising on safety.
Very often, there is conflicting advice on raising confident and successful kids. Add to it the new challenges thrown by the Digital Age and you have an even more complicated parenting, more so during the ongoing pandemic. Nonetheless, it’s important to focus on balancing priorities and responsibilities between the needs of your children, other family members and yourself. The ubiquitous Internet may seemingly make the job easier, but it’s hard to know what to trust.
Parenting styles matter when raising children so much so that experts can predict the kind of personality that emerges from a particular parenting style. To raise a confident child with high self-esteem, having an authoritative (rather than authoritarian) parenting style is more desirable. As an authoritative parent, you would like your child to listen, respect and trust you rather than fear you. You would like to be supportive, and not be a stalking, helicopter parent. Right?
Managing Screen Time
You may dream of raising a screen-free child, but let’s admit it – screens are here to stay. Instead of adopting a binary Yes-No about screen usage, the practical challenge lies in balancing the ideal and the real to find the sweet spot. The ongoing pandemic has upended the social and family fabric, with all social activities from visits to grandma to teenage social networks to tuitions happening on screens. You may like to cultivate some aspects of these positive experiences in your children’s lives like reading books on an e-reader and Zoom calls with distant relatives. Technology is so pervasive now that it covers everything from sleep to study to social life.
Amid all these technological onslaughts is the question of protecting family time. Experts agree that agreeing on certain household rules to govern the usage of such devices and age-appropriate policies is the best thing to deal with the challenge.
Some such policies are appropriate for all, including parents:
- No mobiles at the dining table
- No screen use for an hour before bedtime
The golden mantra: practice what you preach to make it a success. And if you need to re-set these rules as children return to the classesroom, you need to talk about it with kids and explain why it matters to use devices with some limits.
Make sure that besides taking time for family meals and conversations, you sit down with kids and keep a discreet watch over their online life. Do not let them feel you are snooping on them; rather, do it tactfully. Leaving them alone with their devices as babysitters is a recipe for sure shot disaster.
Implications of Excessive Screen Time
Many studies have uncovered the detrimental effects of excessive screen time for kids. Latest data show that children and young adults spend an average of 3+ hours daily on social media. Some parents want kids to have smartphones as a safety measure while others shield their kids completely from screens by removing TVs and other devices. No matter where you fall on the spectrum, it’s clear that parents are concerned about kids’ screen time.
A 2019 study says that toddlers exposed to a screen time of 1 hour + daily reach their development milestones late. At this time, babies are exploring the world around them and picking up basic skills it by learning words, using hands, getting up on feet and absorbing an unbelievable amount of information.
Excessive screen time can lead to a stagnant lifestyle, obesity and poor health. Children can also encounter adult content or fall victim to cyber-stalking or cyber-bullying.
But there’s some good news. Limited screen time with apps and shows can have positive effects. Smartphones and tablets can contribute to hand-eye coordination, language skills and familiarity with technology, which comes in handy later.
Engaging a child with physical books, conversation or physical games has a greater impact than using a smart device to divert attention. Excessive screen time can stunt these processes and interfere with normal development. It affects the ability to focus, give attention, communicate and develop a good vocabulary. Reading with your child is much better for their development than sitting them in front of a device. With a tablet, the device does the thinking for the child; who doesn’t need to visualize or anticipate what comes next.
Our frontal lobe helps us understand social situations, sense communication cues and empathize with others. Unless kids balance screen time with plenty of in-person communication, they face the risk of developing a blunted sense of empathy and sensitivity to social cues.
It teaches kids to expect instant gratification. When a child touches a smartphone or tablet, it responds immediately. Games and shows are highly stimulating, with a flood of colors, sounds and shapes. Kids get addicted to devices because of this instant response. So it’s important to temper screen time with lots of real-world interaction.
Finding the right balance
Finding screen time balance is the best way to approach the digital experience. Extensive research cautions us to have moderate screen time for positive benefits. The challenge lies in limiting it to a light diet of digital consumption and keeping it from becoming a heavy feast.
Parenting tech-savvy kids
Kids notice adults tinkering with smartphones, watching online shows and browsing the internet. Ever curious as they are, kids are eager to handle smartphones to figure out how they work.
Parent counseling services suggest that WHO guidelines, instead of asking you to keep kids away from it, prescribe that parents teach kids to use them properly and regulate their use until they are old enough to make wise decisions.
- 0-2 years
From 0-2, parents need to carefully monitor and limit the kids’ screen time without allowing any sedentary screen time, as per WHO guidelines. It’s best for babies to avoid screens until they’re 6+ months old.
- 2 years
Read physical books to your child, who stands to gain so much from it. Books enhance their imagination power and vocabulary and communication skills, besides fostering your bond.
“A child who reads becomes an adult who thinks”
Even if the baby doesn’t show much interest, keep trying by giving different options. Make a routine of reading and teach it new words. To spark a love of reading, try getting them their personalized children’s book. They’ll be thrilled to see themselves as the hero in their favorite story!
- 3-4 years
This is the time for parents to introduce short stints of screen time. At this time, toddlers are busy learning critical life skills and developing their character. Towards this end, reading has to be a strong component of their routine, but introducing limited, age-appropriate screen shows or games – a maximum of 1 hour daily- can also benefit the child.
But alongside, parents need to resist the strong urge to use this screen time as a bargaining chip or a babysitter. Instead, you need to deploy screen time sparingly to entertain and educate them. Get out daily for a trip to the park, games and bonding as a family.
- 5-12 years
The screen time guidelines now become similar to those for adults. The “right” amount of exposure varies in line with the child’s hobbies, schoolwork and other pursuits. The amount of time spent with screens may still be a concern, but you need to educate kids about adult content and cyber bullying.
- 12+ years
It’s important for you to stay up-to-date to help your child navigate the digital world. But while doing so, you may have to grapple with some tough questions:
Does my child need a smartphone?
Should I monitor their messages?
Should I set limits on how and when they use their devices?
My child watches hours of video games and TV everyday – how much is too much?
Unfortunately, there is no right or wrong answer to any of them as every family is unique. One child may be responsible and transparent while using technology while another may be at risk of being exploited online. Thus, it’s important to remain up-to-date with technological trends, understand possible pitfalls and provide kids with guidance and support.
You can also watch our video on – Things not to do in Parenting
You can protect your child from the pitfalls of the digital world by using simple precautionary measures.
Cyber bullying, which begins rearing its head among kids and teens, includes:
- Sending threatening/ mean messages through text or online
- Accessing others’ online accounts to send unwanted posts/messages
- Circulating noxious images through text or phone
- Sending sexually explicit/ suggestive messages about others online or through text
Cyber bullying thrives on anonymity and makes it tough for victims to speak up as they may believe none will trust them. Any child can fall victim to cyber bullying, not just the shy, quiet kid who is targeted by bullies in movies.
Look out for the following. Your kid may be a victim of cyber bullying if he/she:
- Acts secretively/defensively about their online activities
- Seems agitated, upset or angry while messaging or using social media
- Feels reluctant about going to school/interacting with others
- Has started doing poorly in classes
- Has problems with eating/sleeping
- Encourage them to open up without shame or fear and offer plenty of love and support.
- Work with digital service providers, school and law enforcement agencies to check cyber bullying incidents in future.
- Education and empathy are the best tools to combat cyber bullying.
- Teach your children to recognize cyber bullying and take a stand for self and others
To tackle the menace, parent counseling services typically recommend the following
- Report inappropriate/humiliating social media content and try to get it removed
- Report cyber bullying incidents to parents/ teachers
- Support the victims with love and friendship
- Don’t forward explicit, rude or humiliating messages
- Teach your kid to have empathy
Many kids get exposed to explicit content online before they even know about physical intimacy. Protect your young kids by:
- Setting filters on the internet and social media to prevent access to such stuff
- Encouraging open, age-specific conversations about physical intimacy
- Showing love and support if they confide in you about what they’ve seen online
We all know about the promises of untold wealth/ lottery from a far away prince or a surprise introduction from a “rich relative” that you never knew about. Many adults get sucked into such scams. So it’s much easier for predators to victimize kids to seek out information about their parents, like credit card data or other sensitive data.
Once again, education is the best antidote to teach your kids to never share sensitive information like name, address or age with anyone online whom they don’t know. Tell them about sensitive vs. shareable information and encourage them to approach you if someone asks for sensitive data.
During the pandemic, many children had to struggle learning in ways that were harder than regular school. With the imminent return to classrooms, children need time to catch up and feel comfortable asking for extra help. They need to receive the message that what matters is the learning and understanding and some rigid schedule they may have fallen behind.
Parents need to step in when kids face academic challenges. Some others missed a step along the way, had a tough time during the pandemic, studied improperly or grappled with a learning difference. Parents should be in touch with their kids’ teachers about how things are going as determining the problem leads to the most helpful solution.
Parents as Digital Role Models
Those, for whom parenting styles matter when raising children, it’s important to know that children mostly learn what they see, not what they are preached. If a parent wants to make a social media post about something the child did that may embarrass him/her, it’s worth considering: Are you posting it to draw attention to yourself?
As a parent, you need to respect the child’s privacy much the same way you respect your friends’, family members’ and colleagues’. For instance, it may look cute to post a picture of a naked toddler but that may not be what your child would like to portray 15 years later. You may need to consider a “no butts” policy for social media.
In fact, we need to teach kids about consent- to being hugged by an uncle or being filmed crying over a lost toy. Children create digital footprints as they grow and you can start by respecting their privacy and using the same standards throughout their lives.
The Right Age for a Phone
A practical answer is: when they need one i.e. outside your direct supervision e.g. a child travelling between two houses or having a sleep-over at a friend’s place. Think of giving graded access to technology like beginning with a feature phone and then moving forward. Always remind them that privileges and responsibilities go hand in hand and increased access to technology should depend on its appropriate use.
Striking Digital Balance
These are incredible times to living in. We’re hyper-connected and technology unrelentingly continues to revolutionize our lives. And as parents, we need to encourage kids to harness technology positively and find balance in their lives. Parent counseling services often advise parents to strike a sweet balance by supplementing screen time with the following:
- Get outside often
Fresh air rejuvenates the body and the spirit. Take out kids regularly to teach them early about appreciating the beauty of nature and to be curious about the world.
- Active lifestyle
Physical activity can do wonders for kids’ development – Run, hike, play, swim and walk and encourage your kids to follow.
- We time
Make dinner, breakfast and dinner your regular bonding times. Eating together not only binds the family together, but also leads to better overall health, happiness and less stress.
- Love of learning
The finest thing you can do right from the beginning is- read with your child. Get books that fuel their imagination, stir excitement and teach them new things. Reading inculcates better vocabulary, improves IQ and can get them into the wonderful world of books. Better still. get them a personalized children’s book and they would love seeing themselves as a hero in their favorite story!