It’s no secret that we live in the age of technology. However, many of today’s parents did not grow up with technology or grew up at a time when technology might’ve been a basic cellphone and a home computer. Because of this, this generation of parent’s is writing the rules of technology for its children. Since technology is unavoidable, parents must try to create the safest experience possible for their children when they go online. Often online safety isn’t just about finding bad websites or getting scammed, it’s also about protecting children’s mental health.
From lack of sleep due to time spent scrolling through phones or gaming, to cyberbullying, spending time online has been shown to increase depression, loneliness, and anxiety. There are several steps parents can take to protect their children’s online safety as well as their mental health.
Set Limits on Screen Time
It is recommended to completely avoid screen time for children under 18 months of age (with the exception of video calls with relatives) and limit screen time to 1 hour per day for children ages 2-5, with that screen time ideally filled with quality, educational programming. Screen time should also be co-viewed with a parent to promote interaction.
Feeling a little overwhelmed by these restrictions? You’re not alone. Many parents use screen time when they need to get dinner on the table or a chance to get some chores completed. Consider checking out Common Sense Media. This organization can help parents choose age-appropriate options with educational value. The organization also tracks programs in terms of messaging, levels of violence, consumerism, sex, and other themes.
Focus on Several Aspects of Online Safety
Typically, a worry for children spending time online is the potential for interacting with strangers. While this is a valid concern, there are other concerns for interactions with people your children might know in real life. Cyber-bullying is common and very detrimental to mental health. Frequent social media use has also been shown to be damaging to physical health, with children getting less sleep and less physical activity.
Because an online presence isn’t something that’s likely to go away in the future, we should instead focus on helping kids have a healthy relationship with social media and the internet. Studies have shown that incidences of mental illness are greater in children that spend more than three hours per day on social media channels.
Keep Communication Open
Try to have frequent and non-judgmental conversations with your children about your family values and online safety. New apps, social media channels, and online forums are frequently appearing. By understanding the current online culture, you won’t be blindsided by your child’s online activity.
Instead of limiting or banning online activity, become a part of your child’s online life. If your child wants to play Grand Theft Auto, instead of making the game forbidden fruit, consider playing with your child and talk about what is happening in the game. Use it as an opportunity to discuss how the game’s interactions makes them feel and how it relates to your family’s core values.
By giving your child a chance to think about appropriate boundaries with their online presence, you can help them develop critical thinking skills regarding their media literacy and self-awareness. Even if you put parental controls on devices, many children can find ways around these controls, so it’s better to teach them to use their better judgement.