Blog - 25 June 2022
Martine Oglethorpe from The Modern Parent is an expert in online safety and has written her top tips in a comprehensive guide for parents to help with managing screentime for children of any age.
There is no doubt the experiences of the last couple of years have culminated in a far greater uptake of screentime and online activities for our young people. Along with an increased amount of time tethered to a device, we have also seen greater exposure to more sites, apps and social networks at an earlier age. In an attempt to fill the voids imposed by remote learning, restrictions and lockdowns, young people turned to technology to continue to learn, remain connected, informed and entertained. This has left many parents and carers now feeling the negative effects of this reliance on technology and thus a desire to wean back some of that screentime and reclaim a greater sense of balance for their young people.
Whilst the impacts of these times may well vary across the different age groups, parents and carers can certainly continue to play a role in helping to support the healthy use of screens by implementing a range of boundaries, critical thinking, habit forming behaviours and relevant conversation to reassess the role that technology plays within their families.
For younger children, it is still imperative that parents/carers are the ones making the decisions around their screentime. Both in terms of what they are doing on the screens and how much time they spend online. Young children have not developed the cognitive ability to be able to manage their time, to manage complex interactions, nor have they the understanding of what content is appropriate for them. So, their parents and carers must be taking on that role.
For these younger ages therefore, the main communication needs to be around the premise that whilst the devices and screens may certainly play a role in their lives, they are just one of the many ways that young people have at their disposal to learn, to develop, to be entertained and to connect and their safety is always a priority.
If a young person has started with some solid boundaries around technology use, it is a lot easier to manage the transitions and help them better regulate their behaviours themselves as they get older.
This age group has also had a huge increase in screentime due to increased time with remote learning, with many taking up some forms of messaging platforms and social media at much earlier ages due to the need to remain connected to their friends. Whilst a sense of belonging and connection was hugely important, the by-product of that is a far greater immersion in some of those social networks that happened at earlier ages and without as much guidance or teaching. Whilst it may feel for many therefore that “the horse has bolted” so to speak, and it is now hard to take back that time and access to those platforms, there are still things we can do to help those young people manage their time and online experiences.
Communication for this age group is all about the reason why we need to maintain some boundaries around screen use. Being honest around the increased role that technology played during recent times, but the need for us to reverse some of those habits now that times are changing again. Having discussions around the things technology could replace as opposed to the things it couldn't replace can be a good place to start. This helps reinforce the benefits of face-to-face interactions, fresh air, healthy pursuits, downtime away from the constant distractions, pings, noise and time for the mind to be left to wander, be curious and think independently and creatively.
Teenagers have also experienced greater reliance on technology as they were forced to work, learn and connect in online environments. Once again, they need to be able to manage the use of technology in ways that keeps them mentally and physically well and healthy.
For our older teenagers and young adults, our conversations can turn to a greater reliance on the self and the need to reflect on the role that technology plays in one's life.
There is no doubt that there are some universal understandings of the digital world that we all need to nurture in order to thrive both online and off. So, for all of us, we need to endeavour to have:
These are the backbones of good development and healthy lifestyles. Good sleep, nutrition, supportive and nurturing relationships, moving the body and getting out into nature. Make those things a priority and the time online will continue to be just one aspect of their daily living that is incorporated with safety, balance and wellbeing at the core.
Martine Oglethorpe is a Digital Wellbeing and Online Safety Educator, Speaker and Author. She has a background in teaching and a Master of Counselling and is a mother to 5 boys. She presents regularly to schools, parents, students and workplaces on healthy ways to navigate the digital world. She has recently released her new book The Modern Parent: Raising a Great Kid in the Digital World, available from Amazon and on her website http://www.themodernparent.net.