I kept my son away from the claws of smartphones and tablets for as long as I could. That changed when he started going to school on his own. On several occasions, he either got lost or wasn’t home hours after his usual timings. We needed something to help us get hold of him. Out of fear and perhaps desperation, we decided to give him a mobile phone.
However, we soon discovered that handing him a mobile device was just the start of something else. There were more to be mindful of than we thought. I am aware there are parents like me, who are worried about increased screen times of our children, what they are doing and sharing online. In fact, when I looked it up, I found that nearly half of all the children aged 10-12 own a smartphone.
According to the 2019 Common Sense Census, tweens (aged 8-12) and teens (aged 13-18) spend more than half their time watching videos and gaming. On average, nearly 5 hours and 7.5 hours are spent on screens each day by tweens and teens respectively — excluding additional time spent for school or homework.
On one hand, parents are concerned that overuse will negatively affect their children’s growth. On the other, they are worried that their child may miss out on the benefits of effective technology use. For example, acquiring new knowledge through online learning or information search.
Sure, I have some concerns of my own. But rather than an outright ban, I chose to delve deeper into the realms of being a digital parent and found some ways to promote healthier digital screen time. With proper disciplining and monitoring of my children’s tech use, I understood better their mobile habits. In turn, I was able to regulate his mobile, computer, and PlayStation usage. Here are some pointers that I found useful.
When you hand your child a device (in this case, a smartphone, tablet or a computer), you are essentially giving them unlimited access to the world wide web. Whether they mean it or not, at some point, they are bound to stumble upon “stuff” that may not be age-appropriate. Rather than kicking up a fuss or confiscating their devices, try the following to steer your child towards responsible and healthy device use.
It is important to know what apps your children are downloading. Understand the kinds of mobile apps your kids are using and how much time they are spending daily. Are they devoting too much time to their games, videos, social media or video/text chats?
For starters, here’s a tip. You can block in-app purchases and prevent downloading of apps that are rated above your child’s age or what you are comfortable with, for example, 12+. Note that with these settings, kids will still see apps above their allowed ratings but they will not be able to download it. However, even with these restrictions, parents are still encouraged to review the apps that their child has downloaded or wishes to download.
Before handing a smartphone to your child, load in some fun and enriching games such as quizzes and crosswords. For instance, a friend introduced me to ‘Quiz Up’ which I shared with the family. It brought us much laughter and unexpectedly, more bonding time when my son kept asking for game nights!
You can also download games like “find the differences” puzzles, or even Subway Surfers and Angry Birds to improve their eye for detail and motor skills! To boost your child’s creativity, add drawing or colouring applications to his smartphone (note: do keep a check on the advertisements that appear inside the applications you install).
Prior to handing the mobile device to your child, sit him/her down and establish a set of house rules and boundaries. Make sure that they understand the limits set and are willing to keep to it.
For younger children below the age of 2, the recommendation from American Association of Pediatrics (AAP) is to have zero or very limited screen time (such as video chatting with family); and not more than one hour per day of high-quality children’s programming for those aged 2 to 5. Of course, such limits are dependent on the academic needs of school-going kids as some schools begin to adopt a higher level of web-based learning (or e-learning) to prepare kids for the digital future.
Also, designate technology-free zones and schedules at home. For instance, absolutely no devices are allowed at meal times, bedtimes and whenever there are family gatherings. In fact, devices are also not allowed in the bathroom! There are practical tools around to help parents set limits on device use and schedule screen time breaks. This paves way for healthier routines and helps the young children to follow a timing determined by you.
How do we expect our child to willingly put away their devices at the breakfast table if we are distracted by the morning news or work emails? Set a good example for your child by limiting your own screen time.
A lot of times, it is the computer screens that are the portal of “inescapable hell” for our children. When children dawdle over computer screens too much, their eyes, thinking capacity, and even the will to study takes a toll. I say that from my own experience. I was once addicted to my Game Boy and Brick Game, and at some point, Chrono Trigger. My eyes were burning and I was hungry but I refused to let go of the game controller.
Hence, the more attention you pay to their computer and gaming console usage, the better it is.
I recommend positioning the computer with the screen visible to you when you enter your child’s room. Alternatively, place it in the living room where you could easily see the screen while your child is using it. This way, you are able to keep an eye on your child while he’s playing or doing his school assignment. Your child is more likely to be deterred from accessing inappropriate searches since he will not be able to hide what’s on the computer!
If you are a parent of a teenager, you would be familiar with God of War and GTA, which were trendy titles amongst children a few years ago. It was so popular that every other kid we knew were playing it, and parents were understandably upset. These games contain scenes of violence, obscene language, even nudity. This isn’t a problem for adults but poses potential issues for kids who may not be mentally or emotionally equipped to discern real from reel.
There are a few ways to approach this. Firstly, depending on the individual child, it might be best to disallow such games since it is not age-appropriate. To protect your child from inappropriate video games, I recommend that you buy their games yourself both online and offline. If your child is a little older, sit him down and explain about the nature of the game before making your judgement if the game is suitable for him.
As with mobile device usage, limits must be drawn out beforehand. Stipulate the amount of time your child can spend on his computer or video game consoles, and make sure they stick to it.
Encourage them to take occasional breaks to give their eyes some rest from the screens.
Constant exposure to social media can lead to self-obsession and comparison with others. They deem themselves as “unpopular” when they do not receive a certain number of likes or views on their posts. A child who is not equipped to handle all these may find themselves feeling depressed.
Four years ago, a social media phenomenon known as ‘Blue Whale Challenge’ was reportedly the cause of over 130 suicides in children and teenagers worldwide. Allegedly, participants were asked to complete 50 tasks (including some self-harming), with the final task being ending their own lives. Although none has been confirmed, they were claimed to be connected to the challenge.
Whether or not this challenge really existed, parents cannot deny that the threats are real. Every day, internet users (both adults and kids) are bullied, online and offline. And when kids are bullied relentlessly, we cannot ignore the possibility that they may crack under such pressure eventually. Besides cyberbullying, there’s also the risk of online grooming and catfishing. These predators are lurking around, waiting to target impressionable children on social media platforms. To safeguard your child from unknown dangers, the following measures are necessary.
These are some precautions that can help us understand our children better and protect them from possible digital dangers. In the modern world, there’s nothing better than running outdoors and enjoying some fun activities for our children. However, a little blend of tech in their daily activities is the way to go to enhance learning and playing!
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