So how soon do we need to start thinking about the online lives of our precious offspring? How do we ensure they are getting everything they need to thrive in a screen filled world?
Well, from the moment little Johnny is viewed on the ultrasound he may well be only moments away from his first foray into digital life. As we share the sonographic outline of a new baby, followed a few months later by newborn images to broadcast their arrival earthside, we are beginning to build on those foundations for a life lived online, in and amongst the screens and devices.
Now even if you are not a super high tech family. Even if your little Johnny will not have an Instagram account by the age of 2. Even if you will be shielding him from apps and games and social networking, you will, one way or the other, be starting them off on their life journey that will very much include screentime, devices and advancing technology.
Because take a quick look around and our devices, screens, games, consoles, computers and tablets play a very prolific role in the lives of the vast majority of the population. So, if it’s going to play a pretty major role, whether its time watching ABC Kids, playing a game on mum’s phone or even if it’s just the way they view the digital habits of those around them….then we want to make sure those experiences are still allowing them to grow and thrive in the greatest way possible.
And we don’t really know a lot of the effects of technology on our kids and on their development. Simply put, the technology hasn’t been around long enough for us to have the appropriate data to come to any real conclusions, and there are some certain questions of ethics when it comes to gathering data about young people’s use of screens. Afterall, we can’t lock up a group of 5 year olds in front of a screen for a few years in order to monitor the effects on their brains and bodies.
But whilst we don’t know a huge amount about the effects of screentime, we do know a lot about what children need to thrive as a healthy human, help that brain reach its potential and reach all those important developmental milestones.
So how do we ensure we are building solid foundations that allow our children to grow and thrive both with and without the screens, both in the real world and in online spaces?
Well seeing as we have a good idea of what kids do need, let’s keep ensuring those things are happening and be mindful of how we are incorporating the tech stuff, and err on the side of caution, balance and common sense.
So here are some of the things that will certainly help us out, even from the moment we first bring our little bundle of joy home.
Trust the values
In most cases the values you have as a family and the lessons you teach your children in the real world will be transferred to your child and ultimately to their experiences of the online world. The way you live, connect, treat others, handle situations and conflict, support other people. All of this will come to be reflected in the way they interact and treat others both in the real world and when they begin to interact and communicate with others online.
Make some boundaries and set limits early
They will need help regulating their behaviour particularly when it come to what they have access to and the amount of time they have that access. It doesn’t come naturally and it’s not always easy to counter the forces of a fun filled, interactive screen that seems to answer so many of their perceived needs. So put in place the rules you want and the habits you want to nurture early. Moulding the behaviours and habits of a toddler or preschooler, or even primary school child, is a lot, lot easier than trying to change the habits that have become entrenched behaviours of a teenager
Recognise that not all tech is created equal
There are a gazilllion apps aimed at toddlers and preschoolers in the app store. In fact it is the most popular paid category of apps. Some of them are great. Some of them are rubbish. View a game first, check reviews and even play it before handing over to your child. It may just be an annoying accent you don’t want to hear on repetition, or it may be something that is pretty mind numbing and not in any way interactive or valuable in terms of a learning tool. If in doubt you can use commonsensemedia.org who will review every app, game, book, movie and media.
Use settings but don’t rely on them
Setting up our apps and games and devices is an imperative way to help protect our kids from inappropriate content. However, we can’t be lulled in to a false sense of security particularly with platforms such as Youtube and Youtube kids. The content on Youtube is not pre moderated, so there is no guarantee that unhelpful, inappropriate or downright disgusting stuff may not seep through. These sites rely on people reporting bad content, and then they go through a process or reviewing and moderating and then possibly taking it down. All the while it has done the rounds, been shared and viewed by many, many innocent eyes. Look to ABCKids, Netflix Kids, Foxtel Kids or anywhere where you can curate the viewing and hand pick the content they watch.
Monitor and model
Obviously when kids are young we want to be monitoring all they are doing online but we also want to be modelling good behaviours too. We can tell kids until we’re blue in the face the things we want them to do and the ways we’d like them to act. But in the end, they will very much be modelling their behaviours on what they see from us. So think about how you are using your devices in front of other people, the role it plays in your life and the things you do with the technology. Of course that’s not to say we can’t use it and enjoy it in front of them….but just be mindful of the behaviours we are showing them .
Remember we know what works
They need the security and consistency of all those things we know makes for healthy development. Routine and boundaries, good sleep and plenty of it, good food, active play to run and jump and explore and develop gross motor skills. Time to make, draw and create and develop those fine motor skills. They need a whole range of experiences and exposure to ensure those little brains are making the most useful connections to grow to their potential.
Prioritise human relationships and connection
They need us and our cuddles and our laps. They need our interaction and our reading and our songs. Remember that you are still the parent and you must play the role of helping our kids manage their screentime as they grow. They will face some pretty compelling reasons to stay playing with a device, so as parents we need to help them with that. We need to recognise that whilst we too may find it difficult to manage our screentime habits, we therefore certainly cannot afford to expect our kids to be able to adequately mange theirs without our input. So remember we are ultimately in charge of how those habits start forming and turn in to life long behaviours.
And finally, always remember that the most important connection of all is the one you have with your child. Do that, and your kids will go a long way to reaching potential, maintaining physical, cognitive, social and emotional wellbeing, and they will continue to thrive in a screen filled world.