If you feel that the emotional distance between you and your children is ever growing, then you are not alone. This distance can largely be attributed to how smartphones and social media have taken over our children’s lives. For parents of digital natives, this baffling problem is new and seemingly unsolvable - we are surrounded by screens and have, unfortunately, reached a point where no one is able to do without them.
One of the implications of the problem are decreased cognitive abilities and increased occurrence of depression and anxiety. It has also contributed to increasing obesity and behavioral problems that are becoming hard to handle. Social media and technology have created a palpable atmosphere of FOMO, a fear of missing out, on ‘happening’ events… even if teenagers seem to be hanging out together all the time! To regain any sense of control over this situation, you are in dire need of a digital plan that gets your children to connect with you and each other on a deeper, more emotional, ‘real’ level.
You may have tried to show them you’re the boss by taking away their devices and forcing them to live device-free for short periods - this only makes one hour seem like an eternity where they can’t wait to get back to their phones.
If you have tried this and if it has worked out for you - if your kids voluntarily let go of their devices to indulge in more quality time with you - that’s great! A well-organized digital plan allows you to go beyond taking your children’s devices away and allows you to come up with a wholesome solution that lets them connect with you. With a strong digital plan, you are not isolating your children as part of the problem but, instead, working with them - as a family - to solve the problem together.
Here are a few tips to keep in mind while chalking out your family’s digital plan:
As much as we advise against an authoritarian approach to screen time planning, it does help if you gently let your children know that they have to comply with rules or face the consequences. Therefore, all devices go into the charging station at least an hour before bedtime and during meal times. Especially if your kids are teens, ensure that these rules apply equally to you and your partner as well.
If your kids are between 13-18 years of age, try to limit screen time to maximum 2 hrs per day If they are younger than that, limiting to one hour of screen time allows them to enrich with offscreen activities.. This may initially sound unreasonable to the child but several health studies have proved the benefits of limiting screen time.The most important aspect that you should focus on, while devising a digital plan, is to come up with offline activities that all of you can do as a family. Substituting their screen time with - well, nothing - will not get your children’s minds off what might be going on in their virtual lives. Therefore, it is crucial to ensure that they have something to engage with when they disengage from their devices. If planned well, an exciting offline life makes it very easy for them to ditch their devices for a longer period of time.
Your entire family can go old school and take up board games, gardening or even volunteer for a cause that you believe in. This not only makes for memorable family time but also makes your family proud of contributing to a valuable cause.
During your children’s screen time, give them the privacy they need but, at the same time, stay on top of the media and applications they interact with online. You can use this time to discuss acceptable online behavior and etiquette. You can also equip them to handle instances of cyber bullying.
Discuss the consequences of trusting a stranger on the internet and how it can mentally, emotionally and physically damage them. Ensure that your children come to you as soon as they feel threatened on the internet. Talk to them about how unerasable digital footprints are and, therefore, how responsible they need to be with their actions online.
For parents, this decade will be known as one of the most challenging times in history! They are not just responsible for raising good citizens but also responsible for raising good digital citizens. Creating a digital plan for the entire family can be the key to helping your children gain control of their online lives and ensuring that technology doesn’t become an addiction that harms them at a later date. In fact, if your children react with aggressive resistance, consider taking them to see a child psychologist - it is possible that they are already addicted to the digital world. In your efforts to come up with a digital diet plan, we hope that these quick tips help you in achieving your goals.
Writing credit: Authored by Anitha, a mother of two children with interests in EdTech and a strong advocate for Digital Citizenship.
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