Parenting is not an easy job and even more difficult in this digital era. Parents have to make a million of decisions regarding technology use before their kids even reach elementary school. The decision to purchase appropriate devices, apps to install, games to play, and screen time starts before preschool. Then there is a gaming world of Minecraft, Angry Birds, Among US and what not, that parents have to watch out for. Before you know it, the world of social media bangs on the door with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok etc. So what should a parent do to survive this crusade? While there is no hard and fast rule to digital parenting, in light of many studies conducted over the years, this article highlights 8 expert tips on digital parenting that can help you raise and protect children from any negative impact of technology.
1. Technology is not your Baby Sitter!
It is the first rule of digital parenting which is highly applicable in today’s world. Allowing technology to take over as your child’s nanny is now a common failure shared by Pakistani parents. No matter how determined you were to never allow babies to have food in front of tablets, now you most likely grab smartphones or tabs if your child is crying or not eating. However, as more and more studies are being conducted on impact of technology on child’s behavior and body, the picture keeps getting scarier. Understand the impact that technology can have on your babies, young kids and teenagers. In the end, your children are your responsibility not the tech companies. If you cannot control the way technology is used in your home, it is better to not provide it to children in the first place.
2. Communicate with your children openly
Significance of communication with children cannot be stressed enough. Open communication and bonding with your children is a solution to so many problems that parents face today and yet we fail at it miserably. The reason is often our lack of effort in building relationships with children and simply dictating rules for them. Put digital access in this recipe and a disaster is waiting. Technology has its benefits, no doubt, but its dark side often overcomes the good side.
Talk to your children about the digital world, its pros and cons, new apps, games, upside and downside of social media. Tell them how to interact online with empathy and how it reflects on them just as in real life. Teach them about the material that will be available online and which material is good for them and which is not including the explicit material or threat from strangers. Let them know that you are aware of everyone’s online activities at home for their own safety and that you will always be there if they want to share anything unusual or disturbing about their digital experience.
3. Keep parental controls ON! But Don’t Stalk
While communicating with your children forms a strong base of trust, there are few steps that you need to take on side to ensure their safety. There are several free tools that allow controlling what can be searched and which websites or links should be inaccessible. For instance, try using Open DNS with home Wi-Fi router so you can control adult or harmful content for kids based on your preference instead of your Internet Service Provider (ISP). For apps like YouTube, additional parental controls are available. You can also check history every once in a while to understand any anomalies in your children’ behavior. Sharing accounts for YouTube or befriending children on social forums is also a good idea to remain informed about their friends and acquaintances. However, respect their need for social media distancing and do not poke on their social accounts unnecessarily.
4. Keep yourself updated with latest trends
This is particularly applicable in Pakistan where parents consider themselves too old too soon. You can never communicate with your child about technology effectively unless you are familiar with their interests and latest updates in the digital world. Update yourself with new apps, games, social media forums, and parenting tips provided globally. Do not try to snub a child on dark side of technology that they are into unless you understand its dynamics. It is very common for children to take parents lightly or get annoyed when parents stick to being traditional parents and lag behind in understanding new technologies.
5. Discipline yourself first and then your children
In order to raise emotionally and physically healthy children, it is essential to understand that parenting is not an easy job. What’s more important is to realize that parents need to discipline themselves more than the child. Parents need to show a responsible behavior when using technology because children do as they see. Some of actions as responsible digital behavior you can show include
- Restrict your usage of digital devices at times and places where unnecessary like dinner time or family gatherings
- Do not use cell phones or tablets while talking to your kids or anyone to instill basic etiquettes of conversation
- Never text or call while driving
- Keep a decent behavior on social media discussions to be a good example
- Most importantly, spend more time face to face with your family after daily chores and job instead of immersing yourself in smart devices
6. Avoid Social Media as much as possible
While this may not sound like a great tip to certain parents, it is a highly recommended by many psychologists. Social media accounts have been categorized as one of the main catalysts for depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, sleeplessness and disorganization of white & grey matter in brain as well as neuron connections. Use of social media should be avoided as long as possible and that time should be utilized to create greater human bonds with your children. Social media usage often blurs the difference between real and online friends or world. It is, therefore, recommended to be extra careful about this unavoidable aspect of technology. Parents should do whatever is in their reach to prepare children accordingly from early age.
7. Understand that you are the Parent not a friend
A lot of studies on parenting suggest becoming your child’s friend to make them close to you and remove any hesitancy from their side. However, forming a strong connection and bond with your child does not make you their friend. It just makes you a good parent in which a child can confide when needed. As parents, we need to be prepared to say the word “NO” a lot. Especially when our child needs to be protected, shielded, punished, or encouraged. This applies even more for use of technology. As a parent you need to be strict about timing of using digital devices, restriction on exposure to certain apps, games, websites or online interactions, and permission to get their own devices or taking other people’s devices. This type of digital parenting will come in handy when your child’s friends suggest crazy and wild ideas later on.
8. Explore and Celebrate Technology with your Children
We are living in a digital era where technology is replacing most of professions. Therefore, technology is here to stay. We can make the best out of it by keeping ourselves updated with latest trends and uses of technology. Accept yourself as a digital parent and celebrate this era with your children by using technology together. Have some fun by downloading their favorite games and playing online together. Watch latest videos with them, whether informative or goofy. Share photos or funny memes and try to follow apps/websites they are interested in. Ask for their help whenever needed. This way you can easily share your values, beliefs as well as advice to children without making them feel stifled.