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‘Their phones are an extension of themselves’, ‘my son says he’s “in critical condition” when he runs out of data’, ‘TikTok is driving me nuts’... These are just some of the phrases exasperated parents use when describing their children’s attachments to tech devices. But they also note big positives. Three parents share the advantages of tech when it comes to child-rearing and provide their tips for monitoring your child’s usage.
Nomfundo Nkambule, mom of Luvuyo (4), gave him a Samsung tablet after he had shown a keen interest in his dad’s. ‘We pre-approved and saved a few age-appropriate entertainment shows, such as Peppa Pig, and nursery rhymes, such as Baby Shark, for him to watch on loop,’ she says. ‘We’ve also discovered the joys of kiddies’ Youtube.’
Nomfundo admits she has learned to be a tough negotiator when it comes to monitoring his use. ‘It has become a very efficient babysitting service for an hour or two over weekends when I’m trying to get stuff done around the house, but when I tell him to put it away, it can get tricky,’ she says. ‘I worry about his posture, so I never let him have it for too long.’
That said, Nomfundo loves what her son is learning from his gadget. ‘His language skills and general knowledge have improved,’ she says. ‘I’ve noticed he prefers the tablet to TV. I guess it’s because it's more up-close and personal. At the moment, we don’t have to worry about data because we use fixed-cost home wifi.’
Chantel Kleinschmidt, mom of Kate (9) and Zara (11), gave her daughters iPads five years ago when she and her husband were due for upgrades. ‘It was for educational goodies only and they were allowed only games that didn’t use data,’ Chantel says.
When Zara was in Grade 4, the Kleinschmidts told their daughters they could get smartphones if they performed well at school. Both subsequently came in the top five of their grades of 70+ learners. ‘So we had to keep our promise!’
Chantel keeps a close eye on all tech activities. ‘I have the password for all apps and games they want to download, and I’ve said no to a few age-restricted ones,’ she says. ‘When we gave the girls their phones, we explained we had full reign and they know we can look at what they’re texting and watching at any time.’
Instagram accounts are closely monitored and there are a few household rules when it comes to tech usage. ‘From Monday to Friday, the girls are only allowed to use their phones and iPads for school projects. And then they get an hour a day to watch smart TV. Over weekends it’s a bit of a free-for-all, but we don’t allow their phones in restaurants or family outings.’
When it comes to cyberbullying and other dark corners of the web, Chantel is pleased that Zara belongs to Web Rangers at school. ‘She goes to other primary schools to teach kids about cyberbullying, and I’ve noticed that Kate will often ask her questions if she’s unsure about a particular website or app.’
Faranaaz Rahbeeni is mom to Imraan (17), Ismaeel (15) and Aisha (6). ‘Our home fibre is like liquid gold to these kids,’ she says. ‘I don’t think they’re ever going to leave! Yet the boys are now complaining that it isn’t fast enough for their games!’
Faranaaz believes it’s pointless trying to fight the losing battle against technology. ‘Parents will never win,’ she says. ‘But we shouldn’t be pushing for the old ways when there were no smartphones, data or online games. Technology is second skin to these kids. They don’t understand a world without it – and it’s no good taking a device away from them because they’ll simply find another screen to use.’
Instead, parents should appreciate the positives, she says. Convenience, safety, education and communication are all easier because of these devices.
‘I’m grateful my sons can use their phones for Uber rides when necessary and although Aisha uses the family phone to video call me at work all day long, she was able to explain Newton’s Law of Physics to me the other day. She’d learned about it from watching a programme!’
When it comes to data for her sons’ phones, she says the struggle is real. ‘They’re constantly running out and asking me for money,’ she says. ‘Imraan says he’s on “critical life support” when he’s running low, which is often.’ But, as annoying as the financial side of constant data top-ups can be, Faranaaz says it means she can be in contact with her kids, no matter where they are.
Looking for more tips on childcare safety online? Read this article about special child-friendly features available on YouTube.