5 tips for smart digital parenting

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How many media devices do you have at home? Do you have computers, laptops, smart TVs, tablets, gaming gadgets, and mobile phones? According to a report on internet use in 2016, North American homes have an average of seven active connected devices in use every day (Jayson Maclean, Cantech Letter).

Having these gadgets is actually not the problem but the increasing usage is. In 2015, it was reported that “Canadian kids spend an average of 7 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, Catherine Cameron, Tennis Canada). And in the US, the amount of time young kids spend on mobile devices has tripled from 15 minutes a day in 2013 to 48 minutes a day in 2017 (The Common Sense Census: Media use by kids age zero to eight, Common Sense Media, 2017).

And 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)

In today’s highly technological and connected world, we can’t really avoid using such tools. And to be honest, usage does have enormous educational and social benefits. The issue here is all about moderating and supervising use.

5 tips for parents

  1. Learn more about technology and internet safety
    Yes, kids know more about gadgets and the internet than us. But we know better about the repercussions of losing self-control and the virtues of moderation. To bridge the gap, we should learn more about technology so that we can better understand how these tools work, how they can benefit our kids, and the possible dangers they face when using these technologies. The more we know, the better we can supervise our children.

    For instance, before saying yes to a game or download, you can read reviews from reliable, independent sources (for example, Common Sense Media). Popular games, movies, apps, and even TV shows are featured on such sites. You can get a better idea about their content – whether they’re kid-friendly, educational, or if it is appropriate for your child’s age. Also, did you know that you can set up your routers with strict filters or get parental-control apps to protect your kids from dangerous websites? Learning about trends and up-to-date tech information will help you better protect your child. And 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.  

  3. 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 employ sneaky tactics, some kids are challenged to find their way around the controls they set. So be honest! Tell them about why and how you need to set limits. Explain why certain content would be harmful or inappropriate for them. Also, let them know that you are the go-to person for any problem or question that they have.

    It is important to talk to your kids about appropriate and inappropriate online behavior, especially about the value of respecting other people (online or offline). It is also imperative that they know about the dangers of disclosing personal information (including photos) online. Discuss sample situations and tell them the appropriate response or actions. This will give them the confidence to say no, or log off if a situation is potentially dangerous.

  4.  

  5. Be a good example


    Kids are very observant! If you yourself do not practice good habits around the house, no amount of scolding or laying down rules will work. So make sure that you practice healthy gadget use. If your work requires you to use your mobile or to log on to check emails at home, explain it to them, but also set a schedule. Learn to keep the distinction between professional and personal time.

  6.  

  7. Read and play with them
  8. Make time to play with your kids, either with or without the gadgets. Playing online games with them will help you see the nature of the games and check potential hazards. Playing board games, sports or other off-line games will help them see that there are other ways to be entertained. Either way, these are great bonding moments for you and your children.

    One of the best activities is reading stories to your child as a bed time ritual. You can even choose to read books or articles in your native tongue. Young kids especially, will greatly benefit from hearing the words, rhythm, and patterns of language. This may also counteract some damaging effects of screen-time, as doctors believe that too much use has an effect on the development of proper communication skills in young children.

     

  9. No screen time one hour before bedtime
    Research shows that screen time (whether TV or computer) near bed time can interfere with the entire process of winding down, preparing for rest, sleeping and waking up refreshed. Keep gadgets out of the room overnight or set them on night mode to limit exposure to blue light.

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

    • For 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.
    • For children ages 2 to 5 years, 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.
    • For children ages 6 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

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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