Tips for Parenting in the Digital Age

Gen­er­a­tion Z, also known as the post-mil­len­ni­al gen­er­a­tion, is our future. As tech­nol­o­gy pro­gress­es with leaps and bounds, dig­i­tal plat­forms and elec­tron­ics are more acces­si­ble than ever. It’s next to impos­si­ble for a child these days to be unex­posed to smart­phones, tablets, com­put­ers, and most impor­tant­ly, the Inter­net. Par­ents rais­ing young chil­dren in these chang­ing times have to take extra steps to safe­guard them. The chal­lenges cur­rent-day par­ents face are large­ly unprece­dent­ed – the likes of which no pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tion has seen. 

While rais­ing chil­dren is eco­nom­i­cal­ly, phys­i­cal­ly, and men­tal­ly tax­ing, the cur­rent preva­lence of tech­nol­o­gy presents par­ents with a host of new issues to deal with. Some com­mon prob­lems include behav­iors influ­enced by exces­sive screen time, dig­i­tal depen­dence, cyber-bul­ly­ing and dis­tract­ed par­ent­ing. Below we pro­vide tips on par­ent­ing in the dig­i­tal age.

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Managing Screen Time

We’ve all seen chil­dren and adults alike dis­ap­pear into screens, spend­ing hours brows­ing the Inter­net on smart­phones and tablets. While enter­tain­ment on devices is fine with­in mod­er­a­tion, more often than not chil­dren devel­op an unhealthy depen­dence on screen time. Par­ents should sched­ule an appro­pri­ate amount of screen time each day. More impor­tant­ly, it’s vital to adhere strict­ly to estab­lished ground rules. 

The Amer­i­can Acad­e­my of Pedi­atrics (AAP) strong­ly advis­es against any screen time for chil­dren under 18 months, while lim­it­ing screen time to about an hour a day for chil­dren between the ages of 2 to 5 years. Too much screen time can neg­a­tive­ly impact a child’s brain devel­op­ment, cause behav­ioral issues, pos­si­ble eye dam­age and atten­tion dis­or­ders. Keep a close watch on all the devices in the house and the man­ner in which chil­dren are using them.

We’ve writ­ten exten­sive­ly about screen time and parental con­trols. See some of our oth­er resources here:

Lead By Example

Chil­dren learn by exam­ple. If they see their par­ents glued to screens all day long, they nat­u­ral­ly tend to fol­low suit. Com­bat­ing exces­sive screen time by set­ting a good exam­ple is cru­cial. Turn off social media and email noti­fi­ca­tions, switch phones to silent, and learn to pri­or­i­tize chil­dren over the buzz of a noti­fi­ca­tion. Always stay present and focus on build­ing a dis­trac­tion-free and engag­ing rela­tion­ship with children.

Establish Tech-Free Zones

It’s also crit­i­cal to show chil­dren that times or spe­cif­ic activ­i­ties are tech-free. Cre­at­ing a dis­tinc­tion between focus­ing on pri­ma­ry social activ­i­ty and screen time teach­es chil­dren the val­ue of human inter­ac­tion. Make meal­times, fam­i­ly activ­i­ties (both inside and out­side), play­time, school work time, and pre-bed­time strict no-tech zones. This lets chil­dren con­cen­trate ful­ly on the task at hand rather than get­ting dis­tract­ed by the allure of the Internet.

Avoid Technology as a Consolation or Support System

It can feel easy for par­ents to hand an upset child a phone to calm them, how­ev­er this can have adverse effects over time. Rein­forc­ing bad habits by reward­ing chil­dren with screen time can turn sour quick­ly. Tem­per tantrums and exces­sive lethar­gy are just a few side effects of exces­sive screen time. It can also act as an easy crutch and an escape from deal­ing with a child’s neg­a­tive emo­tions. How­ev­er, using screen time as con­so­la­tion all but con­vinces chil­dren that the more upset they get, the more time they get to spend on devices. Talk to chil­dren who are upset, ques­tion them kind­ly and con­sid­er­ate­ly, or take them along on an out­door activ­i­ty. It’s also impor­tant to encour­age pos­i­tive dia­logue from an ear­ly age.

Think Twice About Posting to Social Media

Chil­dren under­stand more than we give them cred­it for. Par­ents have to be extreme­ly wary about what con­tent they post on social media, or if they should post at all. Experts say chil­dren start to devel­op a strong sense of indi­vid­u­al­i­ty after age 5. Seem­ing­ly inno­cent social media posts by par­ents can cause a myr­i­ad of prob­lems down the road. Kids may feel that their pri­va­cy has been vio­lat­ed and what par­ents con­sid­er harm­less fun, chil­dren might view as embar­rass­ing. This can lead to cas­es of social anx­i­ety or oth­er neg­a­tive emo­tions. They also may not feel the same sense of cama­raderie their par­ents feel with extend­ed fam­i­ly and friends. Last­ly, seem­ing­ly inno­cent social media posts may also be used for bul­ly­ing, impact­ing children’s’ futures adversely.

Establish Careful Boundaries

While enforc­ing bound­aries both off and online are impor­tant, par­ents have to be care­ful of over­ly restrict­ing chil­dren. Often times, sup­pressed chil­dren are more like­ly to act out and rebel. Main­tain strong over­sight, but also cul­ti­vate a cer­tain lev­el of trust and auton­o­my. Chil­dren who con­sis­tent­ly feel trust­ed tend to devel­op respon­si­ble habits by them­selves. Don’t hov­er over every sin­gle move chil­dren make, as this tends to feel suf­fo­cat­ing. Talk to them reg­u­lar­ly and help them under­stand why cer­tain con­trols and restric­tions are necessary.

Make Screen Time a Family Activity

Noth­ing bonds a fam­i­ly like a shared activ­i­ty. Since some lev­el of screen time is inevitable, par­ents have to fig­ure out a way to bring the entire fam­i­ly into the fold. Find cre­ative and edu­ca­tion­al games, apps and appro­pri­ate con­tent to engage with as a group, or even pick a fam­i­ly-friend­ly series to watch together.

Vet the Content Kids Consume

The Inter­net, while help­ful and infor­ma­tive, can be a very dark and neg­a­tive place. Chil­dren are nat­u­ral­ly more tech-savvy and can access areas of the Inter­net that par­ents might be igno­rant about. It’s impor­tant to take a proac­tive approach to find out what chil­dren are view­ing online. Engage in your child’s inter­ests and encour­age them to share what moti­vates them. While cyber-bul­ly­ing and oth­er neg­a­tive aspects of the Inter­net are every parent’s night­mare, even mun­dane every­day con­tent can serve to harm your child. While snoop­ing through their brows­ing his­to­ry can be an extreme step, doing the appro­pri­ate research to under­stand their pas­sions and set­ting the right lev­el of parental con­trols is important.