Many of us come from a childhood without technology as we know it today. We played outside more, we had 3 or 4 channels on terrestrial television and the programming for children wasn’t available 24/7. The internet wasn’t even a thing – crazy hey! Video games didn’t become mainstream until our teenage years or even later for many parents. We couldn’t have dreamt of a the digital age ever being a thing to think about.
These days most of us are using our Smartphones daily, often for several hours a day. We stream things on TV rather than having to wait for scheduled shows and we order food online. The digital age makes our lives easier and some argue more stressful, but what does it mean for our children?
It’s a Different Age
Very young children obviously have no need for a smartphone, however, one in four under the age of six now have their own phones. These young children are seeing most adults around them looking and using their phones frequently, day in day out. It’s hardly surprising that they want to play with it too and have one of their own. Although many youngsters will not be allowed a phone of their own until secondary school, many still have access to technology that we didn’t when we were young. Many children are wizards with a tablets, gaming consoles and computers.
Not only do little ones have access to such tech, they also know exactly how to use it. They quickly learn how to navigating apps and websites such as YouTube and Facebook. For many, these devices are used in a similar way to TV. Providing a great source of education/entertainment to children as well as offering parents an opportunity to have a quiet moment. Maybe have a cup of much needed coffee, or to try do some daily tasks.
Educational Benefits of Digital
Children have the whole world at their fingertips. Where kids once had to go to the library, they now have access to everything with the use of a search button. There are countless apps and games designed to help children learn and develop from the moment they enter the world. Tech will play soft music to calm a baby; show colours, teach children how to read and count, entertain them. Also as children grow, it’s used as a tool for socialising too.
The digital age is still in its infancy, and time will tell how ‘good’ it is on these new generations. However, parents are being advised not to give children free reign over their digital lives. This is important for small children but also for impressionable teenagers.
The Dangers of Social Media
In the news lately there have been a few worrying stories regarding the negative sides of social media. For example, social media was partially blamed by Ian Russell, the father of Molly Russell who committed suicide aged 14. Molly had viewed images of self-harm and featuring suicide on sites such as Facebook and Instagram. As a result, Facebook are conducting a full review of their policies and working with mental health experts to work out what they can do to prevent such tragedies.
In recent weeks a new threat has been discovered on YouTube involving ‘Momo’ a game encouraging youngsters to self-harm and teaching them how to kill themselves. Children are also being told that their family will be harmed if they tell anyone or fail to complete a challenge. The same type of problem arose in 2017 with a ‘game’ called Blue Whale. These games are run by hackers who are after information. Momo isn’t the first and sadly it won’t be the last game of this type.
Keeping Children Safe Online
Yes, the Internet is scary, but it also plays a huge role in everyday life, in work, socialisation and education. With all the worrying activities online and through social media it is important to ensure children are taught how to be safe online. Young children don’t need to be given smartphones and those that are should be closely monitored and limited regarding the amount of online access they have.
Social media sites are for adults and teenagers over the age of 13. Setting boundaries and teaching safe use is now an essential part of parenting.
- Set limits – Limit the amount of time children spend online and in front of screens.
- Encourage offline activities for the whole family but also for individual time such as our extraordinary jar mission. Exercise, outdoor play, reading, sleep, writing and play dates – these should all be part of life.
- Know what your children are up to online. Set up parental controls on all devices and discuss apps, games and social sites with your children. Know their friends and where they hang out online.
- Avoid displaying negative feedback to your children, encourage honesty and openness by calmly discussing the cons and collectively enjoying the pros that come with online life.
- Be a great role model with your own digital life. Think about how you use different media and how you work it into your life as a whole.
- Accompany young children when they are online and ensure the screen is always used around other people so the content can be monitored.
- Learn the apps yourself, use them and explore the settings so you can teach your children how to be safe online by using the privacy settings provided.
- Teach children how to report any people, pages, apps or videos they come across that cause them concern.
- Ensure children know that they can come to you with any problem and not get in trouble, especially if they are told that they or their family will be harmed if they call for help.
- Keep lines of communication open and remind children that their digital footprint cannot be erased. What they put online will be there forever.
- Inform children about threats such as hackers and sexual predators and teach them how to protect themselves.
It is okay for children to be online. It’s unavoidable in the digital age, but like all things in life, it’s important for children to be monitored and taught how to use it sensibly and how to remain safe. Social media and technology are now an integral part of life and therefore a part of parenting. It can be scary, but the more you know, the more you can teach!
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