Children and technology abuse
While experts say that parents should remain skeptical of the notion of internet addiction, however, they also argue that parents should be alert and aware of the hazards that technology offers to teens and preteens – from cyber bullying to sexting, and from information beyond their maturity levels to cyber predators. Not only that, screen time can encourage a sedentary lifestyle, which may lead to obesity or other health problems. There is ample evidence that intense social media use and excessive gaming — spending two-thirds or more of free time — is correlated with negative mental health outcomes, including higher incidence of anxiety, depression and substance use, impairment with cognitive functioning and decreased learning ability.
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 strategies recommended by expert psychologists that parents can adopt to monitor their 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.
Keep in mind that the questions you ask to them are not supposed to sound like an interrogation, rather should help in 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 it 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 cell phone late at night and therefore doesn’t get enough sleep, you can arrange for your provider to automatically turn off the child’s phone at a given time at night. You can also become a site administrator on your child’s social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc.
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 advice 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.
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 the time online? Has your child been bullied or depressed?
GIVE CHILDREN POSITIVE ALTERNATIVES
Keep in mind that the American Academy of Paediatrics (AAP) recommends no more than two hours of screen time – 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 screen time. 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 behaviour 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 apnoea (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 rules on how much TV they can watch. The American Academy of Paediatrics recommends no more than 1 to 2 hours a day of quality programming (and no TV for kids under 2).
▪︎Set rules about when they can watch TV. For example, no TV until homework or chores are finished; no TV late at 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 teens.
▪︎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.
▪︎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.
▪︎Watch TV with your kid. Watch at least one episode of their favourite programs. Make sure you think it is okay. Surf the internet together or play their video games with them, as well.
▪︎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.
▪︎Limit your own TV watching. Try to watch less or watch more educational programs, more so when your children are around.
- The writer can be reached at [email protected]