There are many opinions but there is no simple answer to this question. Like anything, there are pros and cons to technology which we must bear in mind before banning our children from mobile phones or the internet. There are four main types of online use: creative, connection, discovery and passive/consuming. The former three types are considered more positive whereas the latter can be more negative. We hear so much about the negatives, so what are the positives?
Creativity. There are many great educational apps and online resources that can support learning and creativity (see Azoomme, Cambugs, Writing Wizard, Hopscotch, LumiKids Park, Breathe Think Do with Sesame, also see web links below for more recommendations) particularly for those children who need multi-sensory approaches such as kids with learning needs (i.e. dyslexia, ADHD, autism, etc.).
Connection. Technology provides another level of safety as you can have immediate contact with your child or teen wherever they are (the Find my Friend app can track phones that are linked). It supports social skills, whether it is Skype, WhatsApp, WeChat, Viber or Facetime contact with friends and family far away; it’s a shared topic of interest which children chat about in the playground (banning kids can isolate them from peers); and multiplayer online games supports making new friends, particularly for those who may find socialising face to face challenging (e.g. kids on the autism spectrum). The future is online and our children need to be able to engage with it and be part of it to make an impact (kids coding courses are a fantastic example).
Discovery. Most children are skilled in using Google to look up information whenever there is something they want to know. Statistics show that children who use online research for homework get better grades. Research shows that playing online/computer games can develop problem solving and motor skills. This new generation has access to more information than any generation before, resulting in more creativity, curiosity, and knowledge. Yes, they are smarter!
However, there are cons such as online bullying, the risk of grooming, online addiction and decreased productivity due to distraction (this is in adults too! We are all prone to get lost on Facebook or Instagram when we have a deadline due). Too much use can also impact on sleep, concentration and motivation. So how do you safeguard your child from the risks? These are my top tips:
- Set boundaries. Prevent device use one hour before bed. Introduce a family contract about online use at home that everyone agrees on, and make sure the adults follow suit. If phones/tablets are not allowed at the dinner table then that includes mum and dad. Modelling is more powerful than instructing. Research shows that less than 2 hours is a ‘safe dose’, but individual children differ so observe your child and know what is best for them.
- Get involved. Whether it’s asking your child what they play and getting them to show you or playing together for fun as a shared activity, use it to create more opportunities for communication and bonding with your child.
- Use it to teach. Help children to manage emotions (anger, disappointment, frustration) and time management (teach time, use clocks, timers, etc.) through setting boundaries and rules around use.
- Be informed. Ensure you know what your child is doing online. If your child is using a game or app you’re unfamiliar with, ask them to show you or try it out for yourself. Open communication about their activity will keep your child safe. If you make online use a topic of discontent at home they will keep their use secret and this is more dangerous. Use device safety blocks, such as: Circle, Unglue, Google family link, or just switch off the Wifi at home for certain periods.
- Find a balance. Much technology can support social interaction, but if this is the only social interaction they are having then it can be a negative. Ensure online use is part of a range of activities, interests and hobbies and not the only one.
Some red flags that online use is impacting negatively are: issues with school, difficulty with sleep, explosive reactions when you ‘cut the cord’ and social or conduct problems. If you are worried about your child you can use seek further advice from our team.
Written by: Dr Jennifer Greene Consultant Educational & Child Psychologist SACAC Counselling
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