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.
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:
- How to Set Up Parental Controls on Your iPhone or iPad
- Android Device Parental Controls: A Comprehensive Guide
- How to Set Parental Controls for Smart Speakers and Digital Voice Assistants
- Your Child’s Screen Time: Everything You Need to Know
- 4 Important Rules for Your Child’s Screen Time
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.