In a digitally dominated society, children are practically born with a device in hand. The internet is a vast and overwhelming space for young children, which is why parents have to take a proactive and responsible approach to their children’s online activity. However, deciding how and when to introduce children to mobile devices is not always easy to determine, but the below tips can help you figure out how to get your kid appropriately “wired.”
Many parents are surprised to learn that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) suggests that children not be exposed to any technology before two years of age. While not all technology is deemed “bad,” the AAP guidelines advise that if you let your child use a tablet or smartphone, only allow high-quality, educational programming, and view the material with your child to get a better perspective on what they are watching. Ultimately, practices include waiting as long as possible before introducing a young child to technology.
Moderation is key, so be mindful of how long your child is staring at a screen. Preschool children (ages 2-5) should – at max – only have one hour of screen time per day. By setting a standard at a young age, it will help prevent extended screen time usage as they get older. While the internet can serve as an educational resource for kids, extended exposure can have harmful effects on a child’s physical and mental wellbeing. Set consistent screen time “hours” for kids, while actively encouraging them to participate in screen-free activities. It’s suggested that young children should receive two to three hours of physical activity a day.
By establishing family guidelines, it lays a foundation for future technology patterns and avoids a potential “technology obsession.” However, as kids grow into elementary school, you have to allow for certain exceptions for homework and after school studies. A “tech contract” sets a standard for your children so they understand the potential consequences for breaking technology rules. It also creates accountability for the family by making the whole household more mindful of technology use.
Create mandatory time that is unplugged from all technology. Too much time on devices can be linked to rising numbers of childhood obesity, disrupted sleep and effected motor and cognitive functions. By making dinner or bedtime a device-free zone, it creates an opportunity for the entire family to bond and engage over face-to-face social interaction without distractions from mobile devices.
If you are going to set ground rules for your young children, try to lead by example. Young children tend to mimic actions they observe. It makes for a healthy technology environment. For example, put your phone down when talking with or to them. Avoid using your phone at the dinner table or during their bedtime routine, so that children understand a separation from devices with priority daily rhythms or etiquette. .
The internet has created a playground for cyberbullying and ultimately has led to new forms of harassment. While children are still young, parents should educate themselves on cyberbullying to prevent future instances involving their own children. Cyberstalking and deception are situations that can be easily avoided by starting a conversation with children at a young age.
As children mature, it becomes imperative to teach them about them how to safely browse on the internet to avoid bullying, viruses and phishing. Make sure your child feels comfortable talking to you about their internet activity. Honesty creates greater awareness about how to avoid potential predators and scams. Utilize internet filters and block browsers to help control what your children can and cannot access.
As your child learns life values, it is good to practice digital citizenship. Host an open conversation from a young age about how one’s online activity follows them forever and can impact their future. Discussing the consequences of negative online behavior from a young age helps avoid potentially harmful situations. Children’s brains are still developing, so technology influences a child’s thinking.
Learn about existing dangers and what’s popular online, such as viral trends and social media challenges. The more knowledgeable you are about these threats the less risk your child is exposed to. You can talk to your child and address the risks associated with these online hazards early on.
Just as you would teach your children about healthy nutritional habits or general politeness, parents now also have to coach these core behavioral strengths in the digital arena. However, digital parenting skills and tactics are not that much different. You still must exercise self-restraint and discipline in any context and ensure children truly understand the full scope and implications of their “digital footprint.”