Our kids have one foot in the here-and-now and one foot in the online, digital world. As parents, this is a scary concept to process. How can we teach our kids to protect themselves online? How much screen time is too much? According to local experts, parenting in the digital age comes down to involvement, patience, and balance.
Social Media Safety
Let’s face it: Your kid probably knows more about Instagram than you do. And that’s okay. According to Sue Cook, owner of Family Therapy & Life Coaching Group, your child’s technical knowledge will likely translate into marketable skills down the road. But being involved is a crucial step in keeping your kids safe online. “Involved parents can help keep their children safe and influence how social media impacts their child’s mental health,” says Cook. One strategy Cook recommends is having your child teach you what they know about social media. This will not only make them feel like they have something to offer, it can help keep you up-to-date.
And gaining technical knowledge is essential for parents to be involved in their child’s online life, says Cook. “Play their games with them, read their social media posts, texts, and emails.” If this sounds like a breach of your child’s privacy, it shouldn’t, says Cook. Your child should know from an early age that what they do on their devices will be available for you to see. But, she warns, parents should always do a digital check with their child rather than in secret. “There is nothing to hide and nothing should be hidden.”
We All Scream for Screen Time
Seeing children glued to a smartphone or tablet is an all-too familiar sight nowadays. In some ways, I can’t say I blame them—so many of my childhood road trips would have been much less painful with a screen—but how much screen time is too much? Should we ban screen time altogether? Can we find a middle ground?
Cook largely disagrees with banning screens. Rather, it’s about taking time to teach and model responsible use. “Moderation is applicable for most things in life,” says Cook. “As parents, we need to teach them how to balance things and make healthy choices.” Cook says that we can help our kids become accustomed to moderation by maintaining boundaries. The key to these boundaries is being clear about: When, How Long, What, and Impact.
Your child should know when they will have access to their tech (what chores do they have to finish first?). They should also know how long they will have that access. Cook suggests that you set a timer and have your child describe what they will do after time is up. Next, clarify what they are given access to (what sites or games?). And finally, have your child observe the impact of screen time on their mood, interest, and energy levels. Are they passionate about a storyline in a game? Do they feel tired? Have certain social media interactions dampened their mood? Take the time to check in with them.
Don’t Despair, Reach Out
When I first sought out tips for parenting in the digital age, I turned to local parent Suzanne Olimer. She immediately rattled off about ten pieces of advice. Set up parental controls. Access their email. Block restricted sites. Facetime is just for faces. She paused and concluded, “It’s really scary—as if parenting wasn’t already held at an impossible standard.”
At the end of the day, today’s parents are doing their best – just like the generations of parents who came before them. But by speaking openly and sharing experiences with one another, we can work together to create a safe and supportive community—both online and off—to raise our children.
by Emily Bednarz
Family Therapy & Life Coaching (Family TLC)