Something really cool happened to me recently: I was invited by The Parent Zone to hold a workshop on “Raising Good Digital Citizens” at their Digital Families Conference in London on October 15, 2015. This was cool for many reasons – least of all was that I got to hang with out Baroness Joanna Shields, UK Minister for Internet Safety and Security, an incredibly nice American from Pennsylvania who is serious digital safety royalty to boot.
Name dropping aside, the successful all-day conference was designed to help families get the best from the web. And yours truly had a blast leading an interactive workshop for social workers, eSafety consultants, teachers and anyone who cares about children flourishing in the digital age.
On the Eurostar back to Paris, giddy with happiness from the lively exchange, I did a virtual head-smack thinking, “I need to share these kernels of wisdom with my Parisian posse.”
So, here is the first of a series in which I share the real deal: how insiders on eSafety deal with their own children, the rules that they set and, basically, a listing of best practices.
Best Practices for Digital Parents of Children aged 0-8
Effects of Screen time
- Research is not conclusive on the effects of screens on child development, so err on the side of caution and find balance for screens in the life of your child. Too much screen time may damage the brain, inhibit the ability to recognize emotions, and affect child development.
- Most pediatricians and psychologists on both sides of the Channel recommend no screens for our wee ones. Wee = less than two years old. Check out the recommendations from Common Sense Media and the Mayo Clinic.
- If you’re feeling rebellious about screen limits and have older children, compare your digital family plan with Nanea Hoffman, author of an inspiring no-screen limit article for the Washington Post.
- If you must share photos of your children on your social media sites, be sure to set the strictest privacy settings and share only with friends and family.
- Watch yourself for tendencies of oversharenting where you are divulging every action and movement (oh yes, I’ve read the posts about little Debby’s first movement). Before you hit enter, ask yourself: will this be embarrassing to your child when she is 18? Will her friends tease her? Will her boyfriend think her mom was whacked? The Internet is like Vegas: what happens online, stays online, so act respectfully with your child’s digital reputation as well.
Watching cartoons in the morning
- As with many online issues, experts are not in agreement regarding the affect of cartoons before school. Some say that a little bit of educational TV is okay, whereas others argue cartoons before school is not ideal because it is difficult for children to switch from fantasy mode to work mode.
- Several of the eSafety professionals that I know allow cartoons and educational TV in the morning in order to get out the door. And a little inside information, I’m pretty sure I watched every episode of the Jetsons (“Meet George Jetson…”) and Gilligan’s Island (“Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale…”) and other than having chronic “theme show song-itis,” I turned out okay.
Play games with the little guys
- You can use Internet and technology to teach your children and there is a huge range of educational apps and games. Don’t know where to start? Read reviews according to age for games and apps.
- Alternate online games with offline games. Go back to your own childhood and purchase your favorites: Connect 4, Candyland, Chutes and Ladders, Twister, Dominoes – the list is long.
Talk to your children
- Opt for a paper book before an eBook of fairy tales for your baby. But if you absolutely must read electronically, use your voice to read, not the electronic narrator. Young children learn languages better by watching facial movements.
- As they get older, keep up the dialogue by asking: WHO is your child talking to / playing with? (multi-game playing), WHAT are they doing online? (playing, chatting, creating), WHERE are they going online? (what websites, games and apps), WHEN are they going online? (with the babysitter, with your ex, with grandma?)
Set those boundaries early
- Begin as you mean to go on. Parents of younger children are in a fantastic position to deal with digital parenting and set the rules and expectations right from the beginning.
- Like with any potentially “bad” thing (read: wine, chocolate, TV), moderation is the key. A healthy digital diet is a better way to live than to be obliged to wean and digital detox to recover a healthy balance.
- Don’t freak out because this is new and exciting technology. Being a parent hasn’t changed at all: you only have more toys to play with and you can easily bring your offline parenting skills online.
- Be a good role model yourself and use your devices in ways that you want your children to emulate.
If for some insane reason, I didn’t answer your specific concern on digital parenting, shoot me an email at [email protected]. I would love to hear from you!
HAVE TWEENS AND TEENS? THEN CHECK OUT PARTS TWO AND THREE:
Part Two: Digital Parenting: The Inside Scoop on Screen Limits for Tweens (Part 2)
Part Three: Digital Parenting: The Inside Scoop on Screen Limits for Teens (Part 3)