You have heard or experienced it yourself how digital devices have become such a huge part of our lives, some treat them like the resident babysitter, others use devices as an essential tool of communication. Without our mobile devices, we would be handicapped one way or other.
In recent years, the problem of having children glued to the screen is a common one. Excessive screen time can result in grouchy, sleep-deprived children as highlighted in a study1 by Boston College. In the study of 50 nations, British children were found to be getting the worst sleep. This problem seemed more common in affluent countries as technology is more likely to be allowed in the bedroom. Apart from poor moods and irritability, excessive screen time can decrease motivation, concentration and damage mental health.
In a tech-saturated world, avoidance is not the remedy. Children of every age group partake in screen time, whether passive or interactive. While technology can be a major distraction from essential activities like family time, homework, motor skills development, it can also be used to create, socialise and learn. Similarly, we ought to use technology as a tool to aid us in monitoring and managing screen time. A recent survey2 by Intel Security suggests that a quarter of parents worldwide use technology to monitor kids’ online activities. If you’re one concerned parent, how about using technology to your advantage? Instead of yelling or resorting to empty threats, we could restrict device usage with a swipe and a click!
Here are 7 ways how technology can make parenting easier!
1) Scheduling screen time
We all know how challenging it can be setting boundaries AND keeping to them. Children are made to overstep boundaries. American Association of Pediatrics’ (AAP) latest guidelines in October 2016 recommended limiting screen time use of 1 hour a day for children between ages 2 to 5, while prioritising time for sleep and play for older children before screen time is allowed. Handy tools are available for parents to set limits on time spent using mobile devices. By scheduling screen time, your child will be bound by a fixed timing dictated by you. This sets a healthier routine and prevents your child from using the device during inappropriate times.
2) Restricting access to apps
Game addiction is real and potentially destructive. While certain apps can pave the way to destruction, others can encourage useful skills such as solving mathematical sums, writing a story or creating a 3D movie. On the other hand, technology empowers parents to enable selected apps such as educational games, school assessment apps and enrichment apps. Enabling or disabling apps is easy with a few quick taps and swipes. This would help hone certain skills you want your child to have, instead of encouraging unhealthy addictions.
3) Tracking location of child
A child’s schedule is often packed with activities so you might find their whereabouts worrisome. Did they reach home safely? Are they wandering elsewhere? Did they arrive at the enrichment centre at the right time? Even if the child were to switch off the device, parents will be able to trace their child’s last seen location. Have peace of mind knowing where your child is any time of the day. This minimises moments of uncomfortable interrogation for both parent and child.
4) Geofencing alerts
When children are older, it may be harder to restrict their mobility or deter them from visiting undesirable places. However, it is better to be in the know than be ignorant about your child’s whereabouts. Geofencing is increasingly used to determine virtual geographic boundaries. The parent device will be alerted once your child’s mobile device is in or out of a certain area such as the game arcade or the library. With real-time information, you would be more aware of your child’s favourite hangouts.
5) Limiting app usage
Do you know how much time your child spends on games or YouTube in a day? It is challenging to enforce limits on screen time without resorting to threats, bribes or “cold turkey”. While every parent’s intention to limit their child’s screen time is good, the method in doing so could translate into a negative outcome. An app-limit function would help parents monitor the device’s app usage and even analyse it. Being open with your child regarding such data could enlighten the child regarding the time spent on games compared to the time spent on homework. This information helps everyone prioritise items on the agenda, and allows the child to proactively manage his or her own device usage.
6) Monitoring device activities
Mobile devices can be used for many different activities – designing, learning, reading or even practising assessment papers. While there are many helpful educational apps to assist the child in his or her learning, there are apps which can be more of a distraction. It is crucial to monitor how your child uses the device, aside from how much time is spent on the device. Be on top of all the activities! View all the apps downloaded, paid for (with YOUR credit card), updated or deleted at a glance. Having access to this information gives you a good idea on how your child uses the device and perhaps how to reduce usage of certain apps.
7) Multiple device controls
It takes a village to raise a child; similarly it would also take a village to ensure healthy screen time use. If you are overseas or too engaged at work, perhaps your spouse could monitor your child’s mobile device instead! This prevents your children from going under the radar. To ensure consistency, the device management account can be shared with your spouse or fellow caregivers. Hence, all parents or guardians can be involved in managing the devices.
Setting controls on devices is helpful for parents in this technology-saturated era. Also, it is critical to strike the right balance of screen time, and offer support when there is a problem. As parents, we must role model the way we use technology as well. While we can set boundaries and be consistent with limits, we need to be more aware of our children’s mobile habits as well as ours.
Spending time bonding without mobile devices is certainly a way of minimising excessive screen time. Here’s to striking a healthy balance of technology use! Good luck, mums and dads!