In a world where children are “growing up digital,” it is critical to teach them healthy digital citizenship and use. Parents are crucial in teaching these skills.
Tips to Assist Families in Navigating the Ever-Changing Digital Landscape:
Create your own family media usage strategy.
Media should serve you and your family’s values and parenting style. Media, when used thoughtfully and appropriately, can improve daily life. However, when used incorrectly or without consideration, media can displace many important activities such as face-to-face interaction, family time, outdoor play, exercise, unplugged downtime, and sleep.
Treat media in the same way that you would any other environment in your child’s life.
The same parenting principles apply in both the real and virtual worlds. Set boundaries; children require and expect them. Know your children’s online and offline friends. Know what platforms, software, and apps your children are using, what websites they visit, and what they do online.
Set boundaries and encourage playtime.
Media use, like all other activities, should be subject to reasonable constraints. Unstructured, offline play fosters creativity. Make unplugged playtime a daily priority, especially for toddlers.
Screen time should not always be spent alone.
When your children are using screens, co-view, co-play, and co-engage with them—it promotes social interactions, bonding, and learning. Play video games with your children. It’s a great way to show off your sportsmanship and gaming etiquette. Watch a show with them; you’ll have the chance to introduce and share your own life experiences, perspectives, and advice. Don’t just observe them online; interact with them so you can understand and participate in what they’re doing.
Set a good example.
Online, teach and model kindness and good manners. Limit your own media consumption because children are excellent mimics. In fact, interacting, hugging, and playing with your children rather than staring at a screen will make you more available to and connected to them.
Understand the importance of face-to-face communication.
Two-way communication is the most effective way for very young children to learn. Back-and-forth “talk time” is essential for language development. Conversations can take place in person or, if necessary, via video chat with a traveling parent or a distant grandparent. According to research, “back-and-forth conversation” improves language skills far more than “passive” listening or one-way interaction with a screen.
Limit your children’s access to digital media.
Other than video chatting, avoid digital media for toddlers aged 18 to 24 months. Watch digital media with children aged 18 to 24 months because they learn by watching and talking with you. Limit screen time for preschool children, ages 2 to 5, to one hour of high-quality programming per day. When possible and appropriate for young children, co-viewing is preferred. They learn best when they are re-taught in real life what they have just learned on a screen. So, if Ernie just taught you the letter D, you can go over it again later while eating dinner or spending time with your child.
Create technology-free zones.
Keep screens out of family meals, other family and social gatherings, and children’s bedrooms. Turn off any televisions you aren’t watching because background TV can interfere with face-to-face time with children. Charge devices outside your child’s bedroom overnight to help him or her avoid the temptation to use them when they should be sleeping. These modifications promote more family time, healthier eating habits, and better sleep.
Don’t use technology to soothe your emotions.
Although media can be very effective in keeping children calm and quiet, it should not be the only way they learn to relax. Children must be taught how to identify and manage strong emotions, come up with activities to relieve boredom, or calm down by breathing, talking about solutions, and finding other ways to channel emotions.
Do YOUR homework with these apps for kids.
Over 80,000 apps are labeled as educational, but little research has been conducted to demonstrate their actual quality. “Interactive” products should require more than “pushing and swiping.”
It is acceptable for your teen to be online.
Online relationships are a normal part of adolescent development. Teens can benefit from social media as they learn more about themselves and their place in the adult world. Just make certain that your teen is acting appropriately in both the real and virtual worlds. Many teenagers need to be reminded that a platform’s privacy settings do not actually make things “private,” and that any images, thoughts, or behaviors they share online will become a permanent part of their digital footprint. Maintain open lines of communication and let them know you’re available if they have any questions or concerns.
Inform children about the value of privacy as well as the dangers of predators and sexting.
Teens must understand that once they have shared content with others, they will not be able to delete or remove it completely. This includes texting inappropriate pictures. They may also be unaware of or choose not to use privacy settings, and they should be warned that sex offenders frequently contact and exploit children through social networking, chat rooms, e-mail, and online gaming.
Keep in mind that kids will be kids.
Kids will make mistakes when it comes to media. Try to handle mistakes with empathy and turn them into teachable moments. However, some transgressions, such as sexting, bullying, or posting self-harm images, may be a warning sign of impending trouble. Parents must carefully monitor their children’s behavior and, if necessary, enlist the assistance of a supportive professional, such as the family pediatrician.
Today, media and digital devices are an indispensible part of our lives. When used moderately and appropriately, these devices can provide significant benefits. However, research has shown that face-to-face time with family, friends, and teachers is crucial in promoting children’s learning and healthy development. Keep the face-to-face front and center, and don’t let it get lost in a sea of media and technology. Play, aside from being enjoyable and entertaining, is essential for your child’s health and development. Play promotes the development of important social-emotional, cognitive, language, and self-regulation skills. When you play with your child, you help to build the safe, stable, and nurturing relationships that they require to thrive. Learn how to make play a central, skill-building part of your child’s life.