The media landscape has changed so radically in the past 30 years that it’s often difficult to comprehend how far we’ve come. It seems as though there is a new social media platform or online meme sweeping through the ranks of the younger generations every week.
How are parents supposed to find a balance that allows their children to access all the best the internet has to offer, while still keeping them safe and promoting positive development?
The truth is that raising a child in this digital-first world is very difficult. There are simply no shortcuts when it comes to ensuring your children are happy and healthy with their relationship to the internet.
The keys to finding a system that works for your family include making a plan, acknowledging your core principles, and communicating with each other.
Let’s take a look at some specific techniques you can use to build a healthy digital environment for your children.
Make a Plan
The biggest piece of advice I can offer to any parent is to decide how you’ll approach screen time with your child. When I say ‘in advance,’ I mean before the child even arrives.
That’s right, the very second your child comes home with you they are going to be confronted with more screens than ever before.
It won’t be long before the baby is fascinated with your phone and it’s essential for you and your partner to have a plan in place for how to deal with that.
Studies have shown that as as children spend more time in front of any screen, your children are more likely to experience development delays and be overweight.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screen time for children under 2 and staying well under one hour of screen time per day for children under five. This number doesn’t change too much as kids get older, either.
Consistency is Key
Most families I talk to settle on an approach that looks something like this: they allow their child to use iPads, TV or cell phones for a certain amount of time per day, and only accessing certain apps or video content the parents deem appropriate.
This system seems to work well for younger kids, but it can be difficult for children to understand why screen time must be limited. However, it’s important to stay consistent with parenting.
Just as you’d place limits on dessert, its important to have limits on screen time as well- and sticking with it!
Screen the Screen Time
The best concrete step you can take to achieve this goal is to curate your child’s online experience.
If your child is going to use a device, make sure it’s one where you are 100% in control of the apps and other content they can access.
Lots of companies market tablets specifically for kids which allow for this kind of parental control. With a little know-how, you can set up any device with parental controls.
Keep it Educational
When I talk with parents about why they give their toddlers access to the internet, a standard answer is that they want their kids to have access to high-quality educational content.
A few honest parents will also tell me that it helps to keep their little one quiet and entertained long enough to get a few things done. However, the consensus is that learning is the key focus.
I can tell you for darn sure that if you give your child unfettered access to your phone, they will spend 100% of their time playing Candy Crush or some other game with lots of bright lights and pretty sounds.
Try preloading a few educational videos to help prevent mindless viewing and at least have the element of learning.
Put the Tech Away
Many families actually designate certain times where technology is not welcome – mealtimes, playing board games, family meetings, playing outside, etc or even certain areas of the home.
During these breaks from social media, opportunities to connect and talk about life with your children are created.
Also, developing social skills only happens through socialization which is vital in preparing your kids for preschool or kindergarten.
Knowing how to play well with others, communicate, talk through problems, maintaining good eye contact, and even listening is all developed through social interaction.
Children Are Always Watching
Finally, know that you will always be your child’s first role model when it comes to their digital life.
No matter what you do, your kid will eventually be old enough to access every part of the internet.
When that day comes, you want to know you’ve equipped them to handle that access responsibly.
Just as you think about what you want your child to get out of the internet, consider what you want to get out of it as well.
Talk to your children about what’s good and what’s dangerous about online life. Show them how to be a good family member and a good friend to others online as well.
Create a Healthy Balance With Technology
Creating a time limit for technology use or even designating certain areas of the home as tech free zones such as bedrooms and the dinner table helps create a healthy life balance.
There’s no perfect way to raise a child, and in today’s media environment, and that truth has only become more obvious over time.
To find out what will work best for your family, start with a strong set of principles and do everything you can to stick to them as your children grow up.