I was out for a walk the other day when the song Scare Away the Dark by Passenger came up on my random shuffle. I listened to the lyrics … as he sang:
We should run through the forests
We should swim in the streams
We should laugh, we should cry
We should love, we should dream
We should stare at the stars and not just the screens …
He’s so right … We should absolutely get out in the physical world and do lots of things away from technology but given that technology now plays an integral role in our lives, we also have to make sure we help our children maximise the huge potential that technology offers them.
57% of parents believe that technology use has a positive effect on their child’s future career and life skills. Family Online Safety Institute Report
Can you imagine the last two years without Zoom, Teams, Skype, Tik Tok, Facetime and the rest? We have been able to continue educating our children and working and collaborating with colleagues; we have been able to stay in touch with family and friends near and far, at least to some extent …. We’ve been able to watch movies and play games, access information, listen to podcasts, join in lectures, and learn any number of new skills – including positive parenting!
And, let’s be honest, technology also offers parents a much-needed break ….
So … if it’s so great, why do we worry so much?
Well, that’s pretty easy to answer. We worry because our children now have access to the entire world on their phone! We worry about what they’re seeing or doing, who they’re doing it with, and how much time they’re spending on it. We worry about them losing sleep and the potential for addiction. We worry that they may experience bullying and meanness. We worry that one single post can impact their lives in a terrible way. We worry that they’re missing out on all the other amazing things life has to offer in the real world – like swimming in streams and staring at the stars!
We’ve been running our Parenting in the Digital World workshop for nearly a decade helping parents move away from controlling and restricting their child’s access to and use of technology and instead helping them become responsible digital citizens who use technology well and wisely.
So, how can we help our children get the most out life in the 21st century and develop a strong, healthy and positive relationship with technology?
Here are some thoughts ….
1 | WORK OUT HOW TECHNOLOGY FITS IN YOUR FAMILY LIFE
Before you start to talk, take a few days – even a week – to observe what everyone in the family does with technology. Does your family love to game, watch movies or cartoons, talk to grandparents, draw, make music, read …? Do you need technology to study or work? Think about how you categorise technology use. Most of us feel differently about gaming alone, and gaming with friends. Most of us believe that completing your online homework is essential and chatting to friends is optional … or is it?!
Setting limits on technology is important and complicated. It will be different for every family but any limit needs to be fair and reasonable if it’s going to help your child develop healthy digital habits. We all need to discuss and agree our own what, when, how, where, why of technology use. We’re happy to talk it through with you, but you can also check out Fosi.Org for some excellent resources.
2 | ALIGN TECHNOLOGY USE WITH YOUR FAMILY VALUES
Whatever your family values are, make sure your use of technology lines up!
Experts agree that technology and the internet are fundamentally neutral – it’s what we choose to do with it, and how we use it, that matters.
“Good people do good things with their access to the internet and social media ..… Bad people do bad things ….. The internet grants power to the individual according to that individual’s wisdom and moral stance.” Martin D. Owens, Pew Report
We love the acronym T.H.I.N.K as a way of deciding what is ok to say or write online. It’s really no different than what we teach for face-to-face communication. Is what you’re saying/writing True, Helpful, Inspiring, Necessary or Kind? If it is … great! But, if it’s missing one of these elements … even one … feel free to think it, but don’t say it … and definitely don’t post it. Because it can take on a life of its own.
3 | BE A MONITOR RATHER THAN A SPY
Lori Getz is an internet safety expert and has a short video where she talks about monitoring our children’s use of technology. She suggests that we provide the same level of supervision in the online world as we do in the physical world.
“When we look at monitoring, spying and privacy, we need to look at what is age appropriate for our children and what the rules are in the physical world.” Lori Getz
It’s unlikely you’d leave your three-year-old to wander unsupervised around your neighbourhood, so you sit with them as they’re using a device. Equally, your teenager will have more independence in the real world, although you will still make sure you know where they’re going, with whom, and when they’ll be back.
4 | HELP THEM SWITCH OFF
Children find transitioning from online to offline challenging … and with their reduced impulse control, combined with a body fuelled by adrenaline when they’re gaming, a more realistic expectation (and therefore less stress inducing for us!) is to accept that they will need some time to transition.
Asking them to go straight from a gripping game to humdrum homework without an intermediary break and some support (and probably some practice!) is pretty much doomed to failure!
So talk with them about what they think would help them. Kids are remarkably smart about the things that matter to them.
It might look like agreeing on a prompt and that you will stay alongside them – calmly – until they switch off. With younger children, you can role play turning the device off and putting it away. Add a dash of Descriptive Praise to help secure the behaviour … making it more possible for it to become habitual … more quickly.
Above all, remember that children are hard-wired for fun. Their agenda is to play … and enjoy themselves. Homework, taking out the rubbish, going to pick up a sibling from a playdate … not so fun … so the empathy piece is always a positive.
5 | CHANGE UP YOUR HABITS
Many parents share with us that they don’t follow the family rules themselves … We might sneak the iPad to the bedroom to watch one more episode of our favourite show, respond to emails late at night or leap to the beep in the middle of a meal.
Of course, there are times when we need to sort things out, but if you’re asking your children to leave their phones in the kitchen and read a book before sleep, it will make your job so much easier if you do the same. And you’ll probably sleep better too, which has its own benefits!
Overall, although we grew up in a low-tech world and are having to adopt and adapt to technology, our children can’t imagine a world without devices. They don’t distinguish between their online and offline life, or between a ‘real life’ friend or Zoom pal.
What we all have in common is that we are all still human. And every child craves connection, attention, love, security and family ….
They want (as Passenger also sings) “something real not just hashtags and Twitter.”
So perhaps the top digital tip is put your energy into making ‘real life’ activities together as a family as engaging and enjoyable as possible! That’s what going to help kids thrive in this 21st century world ….