5 tips for smart digital parenting

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How many media devices do you have at home? According to a report on internet use in 2016, North American homes have an average of seven active connected devices in use every day (Cantech Letter).

Having these gadgets is actually not the issue. The problem is the trend of increasing usage. In 2015, it was reported that “Canadian kids spend an average of seven hours and 48 minutes a day in front of screens” (Canadian kids spend more time in front of screens each week than their parents spend at work).

Why is this bad? Research shows that sustained computer/internet use among young kids:

  • increases the risk of obesity
  • causes sleep problems
  • has a negative effect on school performance
  • can lead to addiction and problematic Internet use (e.g. Internet gaming disorder, anti-social behavior)
  • exposes them to inappropriate content such as violence, porn, advertising and cyberbullying
  • can lead to depression

(Healthy Children.org)

It’s hard to avoid using these gadgets. More so during the pandemic when school, work and other activities have been moved online. To be honest, digital tools can have enormous educational and social benefits too. What we need to focus on is moderating and supervising use to prevent negative effects.

5 tips for parents

  1. Learn more about technology and internet safety

    Some kids may know more about gadgets and the internet than us. But we know better about the repercussions of losing self-control and the value of moderation. To bridge the gap, make an effort to understand how digital tools work, how they can benefit kids, and the dangers kids face when using them. The more we know, the better we can supervise our children.

    For instance, before saying yes to a game or download, read reviews from reliable, independent sources (for example, Common Sense Media). Popular games, movies, apps, and even TV shows are featured on such sites. Find out whether they’re kid-friendly, educational, or if they are appropriate for your child’s age. Learn about routers with strict filters, or parental-control apps to help protect your kids from dangerous websites. Stay updated about trends and new tech developments. Don’t forget, anything you don’t understand, you can always search online.

    Suggested websites to read to keep up with technology trends: Get Cyber Safe, Cyberwise, Edutopia (for Educational Technology trends for K-12), Be Web Aware, Childnet, Media Smarts, Canadian Centre for Child Protection (Mobile Safety), Family Online Safety Institute, and The Door that’s not Locked.

  2. Talk to your kids and help them make good choices

    Experts say that more than parental security apps and filters, talking to your child is the best way to limit use. When parents are sneaky about controls, kids consider it a challenge and find their way around them. It’s better to be honest. Tell them why you need to set limits. Explain why certain content would be harmful for them. Always be open when they have questions or concerns about the things they see online.

    Teach them respectful online behavior. Discuss sample situations and provide the appropriate response. This will give your child the confidence to say no, or log off when a situation is potentially dangerous.

  3. Be a good example

    Kids are observant! If you don’t practice good digital habits around the house, no amount of scolding or laying down rules will work. Limit your gadget use at home if possible. Keep your professional and personal time separate.

  4. Read and play with them

  5. Spend time to play with your kids, with or without gadgets. Playing online games with them could help you check potential hazards. Meanwhile, board games, sports or other off-line games will help them realize that there are other ways to be entertained.

    One of the best activities is reading stories to your child. You can even read books or articles in your native language. Kids will benefit from hearing the words, rhythm, and patterns of language. This may also counteract some damaging effects of screen-time. Doctors believe that too much screen time affects the development of communication skills in young children.

  6. No screen time one hour before bedtime

    Research shows that screen time (whether TV or computer) near bedtime can interfere with the entire process of winding down, preparing for rest, sleeping and waking up refreshed. To ensure a good night’s rest, keep gadgets out of the room overnight or set them on night mode to limit your child’s exposure to blue light.

    Recommended screen time
    The following is the American Academy of Pediatrics’ guidelines on screen time:

    • Children younger than 18 months – Avoid use of screen media other than video-chatting. Parents of children 18 to 24 months who want to introduce digital media should choose high-quality programming, and watch it with their children to help them understand what they’re seeing.
    • Two to five years old – Limit screen use to one hour per day of high-quality programs. Parents should co-view media with children to help them understand what they are seeing and apply it to the world around them.
    • Six and older – Place consistent limits on the time spent using media, and the types of media, and make sure media does not take the place of adequate sleep, physical activity and other behaviours essential to health.
    • Designate media-free times together, such as dinner or driving, as well as media-free locations at home, such as bedrooms.
    • Have ongoing communication about online citizenship and safety, including treating others with respect online and offline.

Here’s an example of how scheduling your child’s media time can be done:

Media Time Calculator, The Durable Human

Want to use the Media Time Calculator? You can find it here: Family Media Plan, Health Children.org.
Article updated April 15, 2021.
Sources: New media habits for young kids, Caroline Knorr, Common sense media; Here’s how much screen time your kids should be getting, according to new recommendations, Carmen Chai and Allison Vuhnich, Global News; 10 ways to keep your family safe online, Child Development Institute; Digital Citizenship: Guide for Parents, Get Cyber Safe, Government of Canada site; Melinda Gates: I spent my career in technology. I wasn’t prepared for its effect on my kids, Melinda Gates, The Washington Post. All accessed October 19, 2017.

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Community Resources

Download Digital Citizenship: Guide for Parents on the Government of Canada site to have a handy reference. It is divided into the three aspects of digital citizenship: Respect people’s feelings, Respect privacy, and Respect property online.

Live & Learn offers Digital Skills Workshops. Click on to see upcoming schedules.

Do you need basic computer training? Immigrant Centre offers it for free: Individualized computer training.

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