3-3-19 Sheriff's Column — Parenting tips in digital age

By Sheriff Steve Lawson
Posted 3/1/19

Parenting Tips in a Digital Age

With the rise of supposed online threats and viral challenges it has never been more important to know and understand the role parents must play in the digital age we live in.

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3-3-19 Sheriff's Column — Parenting tips in digital age

Posted

Parenting tips in a digital age


With the rise of supposed online threats and viral challenges it has never been more important to know and understand the role parents must play in the digital age we live in.

Here are a few tips in this digital age: 

• Treat media as you would any other environment in your child's life. The same parenting guidelines apply in both real and virtual environments, set limits; kids need and expect them. Know your children's friends, both online and off. Know what platforms, software, and apps your children are using, what sites they are visiting on the web, and what they are doing online.

• Set limits and encourage playtime. Media use, like all other activities, should have reasonable limits. Unstructured and offline play stimulates creativity. Make unplugged playtime a daily priority, especially for very young children. 

• Screen time shouldn't always be alone time. Co-view, co-play and co-engage with your children when they are using screens — ​it encourages social interactions, bonding, and learning. Play a video game with your kids. It's a good way to demonstrate good sportsmanship and gaming etiquette. Watch a show with them; you will have the opportunity to introduce and share your own life experiences and perspectives — and guidance. Don't just monitor them online — interact with them, so you can understand what they are doing and be a part of it. 

• Be a good role model. Teach and model kindness and good manners online. Because children are great mimics, limit your own media use. In fact, you'll be more available for and connected with your children if you're interacting, hugging and playing with them rather than simply staring at a screen. 

• Know the value of face-to-face communication. Very young children learn best through two-way communication. Engaging in back-and-forth "talk time" is critical for language development. Conversations can be face-to-face or, if necessary, by video chat with a traveling parent or far-away grandparent. Research has shown that it's that "back-and-forth conversation" that improves language skills — much more so than "passive" listening or one-way interaction with a screen.

• Limit digital media for your youngest family members. Avoid digital media for toddlers younger than 18 to 24 months other than video chatting. For children 18 to 24 months old, watch digital media with them because they learn from watching and talking with you. Limit screen use for preschool children, ages 2 to 5, to just one hour a day of high-quality programing. Co-viewing is best when possible and for young children. They learn best when they are re-taught in the real world what they just learned through a screen. So, if Ernie just taught the letter D, you can reiterate this later when you are having dinner or spending time with your child.

• Don't use technology as an emotional pacifier. Media can be very effective in keeping kids calm and quiet, but it should not be the only way they learn to calm down. Children need to be taught how to identify and handle strong emotions, come up with activities to manage boredom, or calm down through breathing, talking about ways to solve the problem, and finding other strategies for channeling emotions.

• Apps for kids – Do YOUR homework. More than 80,000 apps are labeled as educational, but little research has demonstrated their actual quality. Products pitched as "interactive" should require more than "pushing and swiping." Look to organizations like Common Sense Media for reviews about age-appropriate apps, games and programs to guide you in making the best choices for your children.

• Warn children about the importance of privacy and the dangers of predators and sexting. Teens need to know that once content is shared with others, they will not be able to delete or remove it completely, and includes texting of inappropriate pictures. They may also not know about or choose not to use privacy settings, and they need to be warned that sex offenders often use social networking, chat rooms, email, and online gaming to contact and exploit children.

• Remember: Kids will be kids. Kids will make mistakes using media. Try to handle errors with empathy and turn a mistake into a teachable moment. But some indiscretions, such as sexting, bullying, or posting self-harm images, may be a red flag that hints at trouble ahead. Parents must observe carefully their children's behaviors and, if needed, enlist supportive professional help, including the family pediatrician.

Media and digital devices are an integral part of our world today. The benefits of these devices, if used moderately and appropriately, can be great. But, research has shown that face-to-face time with family, friends, and teachers plays a pivotal and even more important role in promoting children's learning and healthy development. Keep the face-to-face up front, and don't let it get lost behind a stream of media and tech.

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