Parenting in the digital age: reconnecting the family and breaking those bad habits

We’d all like our kids to come up for air from their phones and other connected devices once in a while, particularly during school holidays. However, it is important for us parents to also set a good example ourselves, as it can be difficult to gain the trust and buy-in from our children when discussing their technology usage if we are also tapping away on a smartphone. Ofcom research suggests that 99 per cent of 12-15 year olds spend almost 21 hours surfing the internet each week. The ways in which they can access the internet is varied, with 55 per cent having access to tablets and over three quarters (83 per cent) having their own smartphone. Parents of this age group also admit to finding it increasingly difficult to control their child’s screen time, with 41 per cent saying this has become more difficult the older their children have become. Something needs to be done. As a father of three children, I have had first-hand experience of how obsessive usage, anonymous chat sites, online bullying and content can affect family life. However, I also understand that reconnecting the traditional family union will require effort from both sides, young and old. No parent likes to see their children hide in a corner for hours, staring at a lit screen, or wants to see them suffer in silence when the online world turns nasty. Every parent would want to intervene and help, or have a way to limit the worst excesses of the digital age. Reconnecting families Do you find that the internet and portable devices have taken over family time? You could just switch off the router, but that doesn’t really solve the problem does it. What you need to introduce is a system in the home, supported by technology, where everyone knows when they can and can’t access the internet. That way you can bring back family time, without the distractions. It is important that this system does not replace discussions within the family, but further complements them, working almost as a ‘digital contract’ between parent and child. Parents feel more comfortable and confident with their decision and children understand the boundaries and the reasons why they have been set. Easier said than done I hear you cry? I believe if discussions are started early on, when children are still young, it will be far easier to implement and continue the digital contract through childhood and during the difficult teenage years. A rule-based system such as ‘no internet during dinner time’ takes away the punishment aspect and is easy enough for even the youngest child to understand and take on board throughout their lives.

Sleep soundly In a recent study, it was discovered many young children stay up until after midnight logged onto the internet and in many cases the parents weren’t even aware of this happening.It is also important for a gap between screen time and sleep. Most screens these days use LCDs that emit a blue light that inhibits sleep and disrupts the internal body clock. By discussing and agreeing on a night curfew, it is easy to ensure that everyone gets a better night’s sleep, with children being able to properly wind down and parents knowing their little ones aren’t being exposed to things online that they shouldn’t be. Early intervention It’s a sad fact that many children become the victims, and perpetrators of online bullying and stalking, with a lot of the time this going unnoticed by the parents because the child doesn’t want to talk about it, which can lead to serious problems later down the line. It is important parents not only have the ability to monitor their child’s exposure to these potential dangers, but also promote an open and honest dialogue with their child from a young age so that problems can be identified and discussed early on.