Children today are growing up with mobile technology fully integrated into their lives, from the moment they wake up until they fall asleep. They don’t remember a time before it, and now that Pandora’s box has been opened, it’s unlikely that technology is going to go away anytime soon. Instead, it is likely to become ever more present in our lives, in ways that we cannot yet even imagine.
So, it is crucial for parents to help their children to develop a healthy relationship with technology from the start.
There are benefits and challenges to growing up with technology. One benefit is that it becomes second nature, picking up new and advanced skills easily – unlike their parent’s generations who grew up without mobile technology, computers etc… Also, kids who are growing up in a different city or country than their grandparents or relatives can still build meaningful relationships with them thanks to technology such as Skype and Face Time – bringing people together, despite significant geographical distances.
However, the very ease with which young people accept the ever-greater assimilation of technology into their lives also comes with inherent challenges. It can be very difficult for them to disconnect, and just as difficult to identify when online behaviours translate into real-life threats. There is also a real cultural difference between young people who have always lived with technology and older people. For the former, it is simply the part of the world as they know it, and they may tend to see it as an extension of themselves. For the latter, it is more likely to be seen as a tool that they may choose to use or not, depending on the situation.
Rather than attempting to shield our children from mobile technology, I would advise that parents teach them how to use it responsibly and promote healthy habits from the start. Here’s my five tech tips to help parents promote a healthy digital diet:
1. Instilling the importance of “netiquette”. That might seem a little quaint and old-fashioned, but understanding that our behaviour matters online as much as it does in real-life helps to mitigate against the risk of children drifting into bullying or other inappropriate behaviours.
2. Moderating internet use. The internet is a great resource and can help us to keep in
touch with people and share our experiences. However, it was not built with children in mind – and not everything online is appropriate for children. Smartphones mean that children can access the internet easily – so it’s a good idea to have a comprehensive set of parental controls to help introduce the online world safely. Good parental controls should allow you to limit what they see online and approve any app downloads.
3. Promoting screen-free time. Parents and children alike benefit when periods of the day are set aside for device-free interaction. Deciding what’s important to you as a family – for example family meal times, and agree that you’ll all set your phones aside, provides a forum in which all the members of the family can interact with one another, face to face. With the monqi parental app you can schedule other screen-free time – such as an hour before bed or homework time - explain to your children why it’s important to have these breaks from their smartphone.
4. Teaching children about boundaries. Most parents already teach their children about concepts such as “safe touching” to help them understand if someone is threatening or taking advantage of them. A similar approach can be used to establish clear boundaries online. Children should also be assured that they will not be punished, but supported, if they approach their parents for help in this regard—even if they have made some mistakes.
5. Parents should remember that children learn from example. If they want their kids to moderate their device usage and limit the amount of time they spend online, they should start by developing their own personal healthy relationship with technology.
If we approach technology sensibly, and help our kids to do likewise, we can ensure that it enhances our quality of life, making it easier for us to make and sustain friendships, rather than replacing them, and helping children to become more independent, rather than less.