TEENS AND TECHNOLOGY
Parents can shape how TV affects their kids by setting limits on how much they watch and what they watch, by talking to them and by setting a good example.
By: Dr.Tasaduk Hussain Itoo
Many parents are aware of the hazards that technology can unleash on teens and pre-teens – from cyber bullying to sexting and from information beyond their maturity levels to cyber predators. Not only that, the screen time can encourage a sedentary lifestyle, which may lead to obesity or other health problems apart from many psychological issues as well. Some parents may feel like there’s nothing they can do about technological dangers- after all, teens seem so much more tech-savvy than their parents these days. Can’t kids get around any barriers parents set up?
In fact, there are several ways you can help to monitor your child’s technology use and guide them in using it appropriately.
First of all, keep in mind that educating your child about technology begins long before the teen years. Not only that, but it should be an ongoing conversation with your child, not one quick sit-down talk. It’s the same thing as talking to kids about friendships, relationships, drugs or anything else. That means bringing it up as you go along. Talk to your children about their online interests, ask them who they like to talk to online and what they talk about, and give some advice about internet safety.
For example, any of these conversation openers might help you to educate your child about internet safety, even during middle childhood:
“Wow, that looks like an interesting site you’re looking at. What do you like about it?” “It seems like you’re spending a lot of time messaging your friends recently. Do you mostly message kids from school? What kinds of things do you talk about?”“You know how we’ve talked about not talking to strangers? Well, have you ever thought about the fact that some people who are online might be ‘strangers’ too?” “What are your favorite games that you play online? I’ve never heard of that one. Can I watch you play it? What’s your favorite part of it?”
Keep in mind that these questions are not supposed to sound like an interrogation, and in middle childhood, there’s a good chance that your kids will appreciate sharing this part of their lives with you. What you’re doing isn’t really “fishing for dirt”; it’s opening the lines of communication with your children on the subject of technology, and letting them know that you’re interested in talking to them about it. As they get older, keep on talking to them so that they’ll feel comfortable coming to you if they’re not sure what to do, or if they feel they’re getting in over their heads.
USE TECHNOLOGY TO MONITOR TECHNOLOGY
Sometimes you have to fight fire with fire, and sometimes you have to use technology in order to keep your child’s relationship with technology healthy. For example, if you see that your child is using her cell phone late at night and therefore doesn’t get enough sleep, you can arrange for your provider to automatically turn off her phone at a given time at night. You can also become a site administrator on your child’s social networking sites like Facebook.
For younger children who might accidentally mistype a site address and encounter age-inappropriate material, you can organize a bookmark history so that they can click on the links of any games or activities that they usually play. You can also put blocks on the search engines and on YouTube.
One less-known option you have is to have all of the texting history from your child’s phone mailed to you. Don’t worry – that doesn’t mean you have to read all of their texts. In fact it is an advise to the parents not to read any texts at all, unless you have a strong reason to suspect that your child may be experiencing cyber bullying, sexting, or any other dangerous side of texting.
Texting conversations are personal, like a diary, or like any conversation. But having that option in place, and telling your children about it from the first time that they get a cell phone, can help you down the line if something comes up. It can save you from being in a double bind if you do need to read your child’s texts, for their safety. Of course, there is rarely a need to do so, but if there is a true need due to high risk behaviors, at least it is an option.
If you’re not sure whether you’d like to use any of these interventions in the long term, consider trying them anyway. It’s very hard to go from a very loose, permissive household to a more strict one. “It’s much easier to loosen restrictions on kids and give them more freedom over time.”
KNOW YOUR KIDS
Knowing your kids is also one major step towards making sure that they are using technology safely. Take the time to get to know who their friends are, how their school days are going, and where they spend a lot of their time. Also, keep in mind that some kids are more susceptible to technological dangers than others.
Here are some questions that you can ask yourself about your kids to determine whether they have any of the risk factors for falling prey to the dangers of technology:
Does your child lack friends?Has your child seemed to withdraw recently?Does your child spend all of her time online?Has your child been bullied or depressed?
GIVE CHILDREN POSITIVE ALTERNATIVES
Keep in mind that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends no more than two hours of screentime – or time in front of a television, computer, cell phone, or other electronic screen – each day. As a parent, you can set the rules about how long your children stay online or on their cell phones, but you’ll be a lot more successful if you give children positive activities to replace screentime. Play games as a family or one-on-one, encourage them to read, and keep a variety of interesting activities around the house. With a bit of work on your part, you can help your child have a healthy relationship with technology.
IMPACT OF TV
Research shows the impact of TV on children and teens is mostly negative. Violence on TV has been linked to real-life aggressive or violent behavior by kids. Many studies have also shown that the more TV kids watch, the more likely they are to become obese. Obesity is linked to several major health problems, including asthma, diabetes, heart disease, and sleep apnea (a sleep disorder) among young people. In addition, kids who watch a lot of TV are likely to read less than other students. They are more likely to get lower grades in school. They may also be more likely to smoke, use alcohol or drugs, have a poorer body concept and self-image, and be sexually active as teens.
PARENTS CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE
Parents can shape how TV affects their kids by setting limits on how much they watch and what they watch, by talking to them, and by setting a good example.
⚫Set Limits on TV and Other Media for Your Teen or Pre-Teen
⚫Set rules on how much TV they can watch.The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than 1 to 2 hours a day of quality programming (and no TV for kids under 2). Consider a weekly limit, too. Avoid letting children watch large blocks of TV (i.e. 4 hours straight) by having them choose specific programs to watch.
⚫Set rules about when they can watch TV. For example, no TV until homework or chores are finished; no TV late at night or on a school night; no TV during dinner, etc.
⚫Set limits about what they can watch.Teens can handle more serious programs than younger kids can. But it is still important to limit the amount of violent, sexual, or stereotyping material they are exposed to. Get to know the TV rating system or use the TV guide to help you decide what is okay. When you can, watch shows with your teen and discuss what they are seeing with them.
⚫Help them balance TV with other activities.Don’t just tell them to watch less. Encourage them to spend time finding and doing other activities they enjoy such as: reading, music/arts, sports, hobbies, outdoor play, social activities, family activities, etc.
⚫Turn the TV off during dinner. Try using this time for talking and being together as a family.
⚫Turn the TV off when nobody is watching a program. Avoid using the TV as background “white” noise. This increases the amount of time kids are exposed to negative images and advertising. Try playing music instead.
⚫Keep TVs out of kids’ bedrooms.Kids who have a TV in their room are more likely to spend more time watching TV, watch programs they otherwise wouldn’t be allowed to, stay up late and get less sleep, and be socially isolated. They are also much more likely to become obese.
⚫Watch what Your Teen or Pre-Teen Watches on TV and Other Media
⚫Know what they are watching. Pay attention to what is on the screen. Also, be aware of what your teen is watching when you are not around. Many teens and pre-teens report that they watch different shows when they are away from their parents. Talk to parents of your kid’s friends, too; let them know your expectations about TV.
⚫Watch TV with your kid.Watch at least one episode of their favorite programs. Make sure you think it is okay. Surf the Internet together or play their video games with them, as well.
⚫Turn it off if it is inappropriate or offensive.Teach your children to do the same.
⚫Set a computer block on inappropriate Internet sites.Set a block on sexually explicit sites and discuss which sites are permitted for your child to use.
⚫Encourage kids to watch more positive programs.It may be easier to get your teen to watch something else, rather than limit how much they watch, at first. Use videos and DVDs to record or show high-quality, educational programs for them to watch.
⚫Talk with your teen or pre-teen about what’s on TV. When you watch a program together, talk about what themes it shows. Make links between the show and personal experiences, books, history, or places of interest. Use the show as a launching point to talk about difficult issues like racial stereotypes, gender stereotypes, violence, sexuality, or drugs. Don’t be afraid to express your opinions and values.
⚫Beware of advertising.Talk about TV ads particularly with your pre-teen. Help them understand what ads are trying to sell, how they do this, and how they can be misleading. Who is behind the ads? What methods are they using to “lure” kids?
3.MODEL GOOD TV BEHAVIOR
⚫Limit your own TV watching. Try to watch less or watch more educational programs. Shows with more violent or sexual content should be viewed when your younger children are not around. Remember, your kids watch you and will copy what you do.
⚫Don’t make TV seem more valuable than it is. Avoid using TV as a reward or punishment (unless it is punishment specifically for breaking a rule about TV itself.)
⚫If you or your kid snacks while watching TV, try eating healthier snacks. While sitting in front to the TV, many kids and adults eat unhealthy snacks. There are also many ads that make foods loaded with fat or sugar look good. Try to resist the temptation. Eat something good for you and your family like unsalted unbuttered popcorn, vegetables, or fruit.
The writer is Medico/ Motivational Speaker/Activist /Columnist/Educator at Unacademy and can be reached at [email protected]