Modern parents are often riddled with techno-guilt as they have no frame of reference when it comes to raising digital kids. According to the second National Broadband Network's™ Digital Parenting Report, half of parents worry their kids spend too much time online. They often feel (unnecessary) angst about their children spending time plugged in because it’s so different to their unplugged childhood that was spent staring at the sky and not at a screen. We just need to find healthy ways to use tech with kids so that their health, learning and development are not adversely affected.
High Quality = Low Guilt
Parents can ditch their techno-guilt if they source quality educational screen experiences for their child. When kids are using screens to create (e.g. creating a digital storybook using an app), collaborate (engaging in online forums to complete homework tasks) and communicate (creating and uploading a multimedia presentation online), they’re engaging in higher order thinking skills.
High Speed = Low Stress
Get high-speed Internet. Multi-tasking impairs kids’ academic performance, especially for ‘heavy multitaskers’. It causes fatigue as it depletes glucose stores in the brain and raises levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. Studies have shown that task interruptions, particularly digital interruptions, have cognitive costs: they disrupt attention, result in increased error rates, and appear to overload kids' working memory. If kids have access to fast and reliable Internet, they’re less likely to succumb to digital distractions. Reliable Internet also means fewer sibling squabbles over WiFi access (and that’s a win for every parent!).
Kill the Zombie
When kids assume an active role online, they’re less likely to be digital zombies. Encouraging your child to actively use technology to create, collaborate and communicate activates their pre-frontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for executive function skills such as planning, flexibility, decision-making, analysis and delayed gratification to achieve long-term goals – this recruits their higher order thinking skills.
A study published in 2009 in the International Journal of Learning and Media showed that most children’s media activities benefit from adult, or even sibling or peer interactions, known as 'co-viewing'. Through verbal interaction, children engage in deeper levels with screens, use language and solve and discuss problems. Ideally, parents would co-view as much as possible. However, the good news is you don't always have to play with your child. Simply asking them questions before, during or after they’ve used a screen has benefits, too. It’s called ‘cognitive priming’ and it helps kids to keep actively involved when using a screen.
Model the Solution
Model healthy digital habits from the outset (which isn’t always easy). Research confirms that our kids emulate their parents’ screen habits.
Go On Show
We need to discourage technology from being considered ‘toxic’ or ‘taboo’ as this drives children’s behaviour underground. A simple way to embrace this at home is to encourage the use of screens in public areas of the house, and keep bedrooms tech-free. Do Green-time, not just Screen-time
Many kids today don’t relate to the term ‘screentime’ because they’ve grown up in a tsunami of screens. Screens are simply part of their life and are akin to oxygen. I suggest parents refer to kids’ online and offline time, or plugged in and unplugged time. However, don’t obsess over quantifying how much time kids spend with screens. Instead, focus on WHAT they’re doing with screens. It’s imperative that kids learn to balance screen-time and green-time for healthy development, finding creative solutions, developing new ideas and for memory consolidation.
Digital Babysitters are Okay (Sometimes)
Some parents rely on screens as a digital babysitter from time to time. Raising my hand here too! It’s an effective strategy in the short-term. However, young children can quickly become digitally dependent instead of learning essential emotional-regulation skills. If you do use screens to keep them busy, access quality educational content - for example, informative videos, book apps, audio books or podcasts.
Have a Transition Plan
Plan a positive transition activity to get kids to turn off the device without emotionally combusting. Establish firm parameters about when the device will be switched off (to prevent techno-tantrums).
Their brain releases dopamine when they’re using a screen, so, you need to find other activities that your child finds pleasurable.
Ban the Ban!
Banning, fearing or ignoring technology won’t serve our kids. There’s little doubt that our kids will inherit a digital workforce. Parents need to embrace technology, digital abstinence is not a solution.
As a researcher visiting Australian preschools and schools, I’ve seen incredible learning opportunities thanks to technology – everything from first-year students engaging in video chats with their classmates’ grandparents in Japan, to secondary students listening to science podcasts in rural classrooms. Digital resources allow kids to learn at their own pace and seek additional support in the privacy of their own home, without being ridiculed by peers.
Learning to code will be a mandatory skill in the Australian curriculum from 2018 so parents and educators need to recognise that this is an essential skill.
Have a 'Digital Dialogue'
Have ongoing, 'digital dialogue' with kids about technology. It’s not a one-off conversation, as the technology constantly evolves and kids’ interests change too. Informal conversations reassure our kids that screen-time isn’t something that’s forbidden or secretive and that we value what they do online.
Dr Kristy Goodwin is the author of Raising Your Child in a Digital World (Finch Publishing, $9.99 e-book, $29.99, p/b), drkristygoodwin.com
If your home isn’t connected to the nbn™ network yet, you can follow the step-by-step guide at nbnco.com.au/check-address
This article first appeared in CHILD Mags April 2017 issues.
Image by: Alisa Anton