In the 1940’s when televisions first started to appear in homes around the world, there was great excitement and wonder, but many from that era recall the warnings to children that they would get square eyes from watching too much or sitting too close. Decades on and none of the baby boomers have square eyes but we now face warnings of the dangers of digital technology, fears that our children will become digital zombies with no concept of reality or ability to interact with each other in the physical realm.
Parents of today are pioneers- the first generation to guide our children through the digital jungle. While technology has plenty of benefits for our children, there are many dangers and the only way to counteract these is by doing our best to help our kids make good decisions about technology use.
Here are some tips to help you get navigate the digital jungle with your child’s ability to live in the real world left intact.
The length of time your children are allowed to be on a device is up to you, sometimes it’s easy for time to go by, especially when they are nice and quiet and you can get things done, then suddenly they have been staring at a screen for 3 hours straight. Set alarms on your mobile phone so you can time their use if it’s hard for you to keep it in check. Recent studies have also shown that children who use devices for prolonged periods of time are vulnerable to neck and back issues and vision problems. Kids may grumble and moan when you turn off the Wi-Fi and tell them to go outside but it will only take a few times before they realise there is a big fun real world out there too. Encouraging sports and other activities such as music, dance, crafts and arts is also a great way to find the balance.
Keep them close:
As much as possible encourage your children to use their devices in the lounge or somewhere more ‘public’ than their bedroom, this allows you to be around and cast your eye across what’s going on. they are also more likely to ask questions and start conversations about things they have come across if you are close by.
For the little ones:
When your children are very little they need you to choose the games and apps they can use. If possible, delete or block social media such as You Tube from their devices altogether – it’s all too easy to search something innocent and stumble across some child inappropriate content.
Many children’s games and apps require parents to enter email addresses and passwords- this is a good opportunity to check what they are downloading. Popular interactive worlds like Club Penguin and Moshi Monsters involve interaction with real people in real time so make sure children know never to give out any personal details such as their real name, age, school or where they live. Also make sure they know never to click pop ups or choose ‘yes’ to any downloads without checking with you first.
The internet is an amazing tool for learning and research – no longer do children need to spend hours searching library shelves for a book on their chosen project topic, the magic of Google means all the information they need is at their fingertips- but this does not mean that they should not still experience the local library and learn how to search for books and enjoy the wonder of browsing the shelves. Children also need to know that much of what they find on the internet may not be correct or validated information and that information needs to be taken from multiple verified sources before being relied upon. This applies both to both educational and personal life related ‘research’.
Get them streetwise:
Cyber safety education is now as necessary as stranger danger. Internet trolls and perverts can easily pose as someone your child’s age and are able to manipulate and deceive. Our trusting vulnerable children need to be taught that all is not what it seems and that anyone can say they are who they are not. Ensure they know never to give out personal details to anyone in any circumstances and to tell you straight away if anyone asks. With proper guidance and monitoring children can have a great time ‘socialising’ on the internet and meet some lovely genuine friends on line, so long as all the safety precautions are being taken there should be no problem.
Be the chaperone:
When older children start to make accounts on social media sites make sure you are one of their friends and that they give you log in’s and passwords so they know you can access the account at any time. That said many teens create multiple secret accounts alongside their main account and that is where trouble can start. Even the most sensible and trustworthy child can get carried away on line and find themselves in tricky situations. Having them using laptops and devices out in the main living areas can discourage any kind of inappropriate behaviour from going on.
Being available and open to discuss issues without judgement as they arise is vital. Cyberbullying is a huge issue, people say and do things behind the protection of a screen that they would not do in real life. When faced with a challenging situation ask your child to think about what they would say or do if this happened in real life? If a stranger walked up to you on the street and asked for your name or school would you tell them? Would you say mean things to someone you just met in the street because they had a different view on things from you? Reacting to situations on the internet as you would in the real world is a great start to acting responsibly online.
Sadly, it has become common for teens as young as 11 to share ‘nudes’. These are pictures of themselves scantily clad or completely naked that are often requested by boys. Some girls get the idea that they only way to be popular or liked is to send these pictures when they are asked to. Make sure your teen understands that what goes on the internet can be found on the internet forever, even when sent in personal messages these pictures are shared and this can lead to great humiliation and emotional distress. It is common for employers to Google a prospective employee before they hire them so it’s very important to keep your integrity on line all times.
Be a good role model:
At a high school cultural performance recently my daughter pointed out to me that not one kid in the audience was using a device. But there were adults who were. One older lady was even playing solitaire with the sound on! Lead by example. If Dad is staring at his phone the whole time at the dinner table, it’s probably not going to be fair to expect the kids to put their devices down either.
Dealing with the challenges in the digital world is very similar to tackling the challenges faced in the real world. We can give our children as much education and guidance as possible but at some point we have to stand back and let them cross that road themselves. Even with the right amount of education and guidance children will still make mistakes, then we then can only step in and give advice and help them to fix the situation. The hardest part to understand is that there is every likelihood that by 5 years old they will know more about the technology than you do!
Do you have some awesome tips on how to keep your little ones safe in the digital world? Share them with us in the comments below or over on our Facebook page!
‘Alexandra is a freelance writer and Mother of 2 girls aged 9 and 14, she enjoys writing about N.Z. family life and her own parenting experiences. Both her daughters have chronic health conditions which has led to a unique perspective on parenting which she writes about along with many other topics in her blog:http://www.justmesayingblog.wordpress.com