Raise Kids to Thrive in a Digital World
We are living in a revolutionary digitalized era. The digital age has brought about the ubiquitous availability of digital devices and media, making them essential for social connection and learning in our world today. The benefits of these devices, when used moderately and appropriately, can be considerable. To accomplish this a daunting task for parents under normal circumstances. With the advent of the COVID-19 crisis, parents may become even more fretful to achieve and sustain a sensible balance for the educational, health and entertainment needs of their children.
To be sure, there are digital dangers of excessive screen time and social media exposure. Endless hours of meandering aimlessly through social media platforms increases the risk of screen time addiction and other mental health disorders. In 2016, the American Pediatrics Association published the results of a study about the perils to psychological well-being due to excessive screen exposure, along with guidelines for limiting the risks. However, in these times of a world-wide pandemic, when schools are out of session, summer camps being cancelled, and social distancing rules being imposed, it may be time to reconsider the risks of screen time and perhaps to bend the rules in order to benefit beleaguered parents working remotely from home. Parents who have an inflexible work schedule are desperately searching for a roadmap to attain the optimal balance of healthy and purposeful online and offline activities for their kids.
Given the unique circumstances brought about by the pandemic restrictions, experts are rethinking previous recommendations and are now encouraging parents to not be too hard on themselves. There is no official playbook for how to manage a household during a worldwide pandemic. “As long as parents are making themselves available to their children, and engaging them in activities and learning opportunities offline throughout the day, then the kids will be all right,’ said Dr. Michael Rich, director of the Center on Media and Child Health at Boston Children’s Hospital. The key is creating a balance of involvement in social media as a means for purposeful activity and maintaining social connections with family and friends. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents and caregivers develop a family media plan that takes into account the health, education and entertainment needs of each individual child as well as the whole family; and then follow the family media plan together, revising it when necessary.
Thankfully, there are abundant resources to draw upon for enhancing your child’s online experience. Mixing online educational tools into the daily routine, like ABCMouse and GoNoodle can help achieve the desired balance. There are many apps that help with creative or intellectual development, such as digital musical lessons and virtual tours of zoos and museums. There are apps that guide and encourage kids through yoga, mindfulness, and meditation exercises. There are internet resources for read-aloud stories, literacy and writing tools. When face-to-face interactions are limited, video apps for chatting, such as FaceTime and Marco Polo can be immensely helpful to maintain social connections between kids and their friends. The options are plentiful and exciting to explore.
It is certainly possible to lead a healthier technology lifestyle. In the spirit of achieving a wholesome balance between online and offline activities, here are suggestions from experts in the field that might prove to be useful:
Take the Lead: Set a positive example by modeling appropriate digital behavior.
Screen Free Zones and Times: Designate places and hours where screen time if limited or prohibited. Make mealtimes and bedtimes device and media free. No devices in the bedroom after your children go to bed.
Include Yourself in Child’s Online Activities: Sharing and talking with your child about consumption of media can help maintain and strengthen self-esteem. Sign up for the same apps your child uses to become familiar with content.
Child, Context, and Content: You know you child better than anyone else. If the child is anxious, limit exposure to news or scary content. If you child likes music, find content that incorporates singing and dancing.
Plan to Unplug: Set up a structure for unplugging for an hour, an evening or even a full weekend. Keep the social and emotional connection with your child upfront and not lost behind the wall of media and technology.
Explore Together: Plan screen time to make room for physical activities, such as hiking, a trip to the zoo, playing outside activities with friends, or playing with toys. Plan a day at the beach, exploring a new city, visiting a museum or a picnic at a nearby park.
Do Your Homework: There are more than 80,00 apps marketed as educational, but little research has demonstrated their actual quality. Look to organizations like Common Sense Media (www.commonsensemedia.org) and SmartSocial (www.smartsocial.com) for reviews about age-appropriate apps, games and programs to guide you in making the best choices for your child.
The most successful strategy is a plan to include moderate exposure, taking into account the needs of your child and the family as a whole. Although warnings about the risks of excessive social media and digital device consumption has been well-established, bear in mind that a thoughtfully developed family media plan can enhance your child’s social, emotional, educational, and creative development. With sufficient resources, creativity and guidance, they may be establish a shining social media presence that opens doors to future opportunities.
Hawkey, Elizabeth (May 2019) media use in childhood: evidenced-based recommendations for caregivers, American Psychological Association, CYF News
Ochs, Josh (May 2020) digital safety and bending screen time rules, SmartSocial.com
Ochs, Josh (April, 2020) digital detox: how parents can encourage social media breaks, SmartSocial.com,
Ochs, Josh (May 2020) how students can use screen time at home to safely connect with friends, SmartSocial.com
Ochs, Josh (May 2020) negative effects of social media on mental health, SmartSocial.com,
Media and Young Minds (November 2016) Pediatrics; The Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, Council on Communications and Media Policy Statement https://dos.org/10.1542/peds.2016-2591
Children and Media Tips from The American Academy of Pediatrics, (May 2018) American Academy of Pediatrics, https://www.aap.org/en-us/about-the-app/aap-press-room/news-features-and-safety-tips/Pages/Children-and-Media-Tips.aspx