Lockdown has been difficult for parents. Not only are you expected to deal with a global pandemic and keep up with your work but you have to play educator and I.T. technician for your children. In the days when most schools were online, and the chances of having places to go to that were open were scarce, there was very little to do other than spend time online.
But what are the downsides of your children spending too much time in front of screens? According to Paul Weigle, a child and adolescent psychiatrist on the Hartford Healthcare’s podcast series, ‘Coping With COVID-19’, increased screentime can have many negative effects on children. These include affecting sleep patterns, less physical activity, less socialising with those around them, affecting their diet and nutrition, and a lack of personal responsibilities.
So how can you make sure that your child has a healthy online and offline balance? Here are some tips:
Know the technology that your child uses
The first step is to begin to understand your child’s online presence and to do that you need to know how the technology that they use works. If your child spends all day playing games on their X-Box or scrolling Instagram or watching videos on YouTube, you need to know how the consoles, websites, and apps work. A good tip is to use the App Guide for Parents.
Check the privacy settings of your child's devices
All devices - whether it’s a gaming console, phone or laptop have privacy and parental settings. Make sure that you do your research on how these settings work and set them up on your child's devices to make sure that they are safe.
Install monitoring software on your children’s devices
In addition to the settings that are already on the device, it is a good idea to install monitoring software as well. Software, such as Bark keeps track of what your child is doing online. It is also important to check up every few months to make sure that the software is enabled and working.
Speak to your children about online reputation
It has become almost like a proverb that once something is on the web, it is there forever. It is important to have a conversation with your children about how what they post now, can affect their lives later. This will help them to be more cautious.
Have designated screen times
To limit how much time your family is spending online, have designated times of the day when screens are, and are not allowed. Some families have tech curfews at about 7 pm or 8 pm, and others limit the children to a certain amount of hours per day. Once they have used that up, they are not allowed more. You can also install software to limit the number of hours your child is online.
Keep internet devices in public places in the house
A great technique to try is to have a public area of the house which is where internet devices can be used. This allows online interactions to be more transparent and children are less likely to do unsafe things if they are in the company of others.
Don’t allow internet devices in bedrooms or bathrooms
One way to make sure that your child sticks to the time limits set out for them is to deny them the use of their phones and laptops in their rooms. They are more likely to sneak-a-peek at their phone or indulge in unsafe behaviour when they are in private.
Loosen the safety methods the older your child gets
You can’t monitor your child’s internet activity forever, so the goal is to make sure that as your child grows they learn to monitor themselves in order to have responsible interactions online. If your child is very young it is important to block anything that might be harmful, but as they get older you can loosen restrictions.
Give your child the privacy they need
Keeping your child safe, doesn’t mean that you have to monitor them 24/7. In instances where they can’t see their friends every day, they might need some space to talk to them without parents interfering. Allow your children to have private conversations with people you know. Don’t pry into their personal lives if they are not comfortable sharing, and make sure that they always have access to information that they need.
Make offline time more fun
Many times your children will be drawn to their devices because they are bored. And while we know that parents are extremely busy, it is your responsibility to make sure that they are occupied. Children often model their behaviour after their parents, so make sure that the whole family puts their devices away, and spends time together – whether it might be doing something creative, something outdoors, or having a fun board games night.
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