My, how life has changed from when we were growing up. Many of us may not have even had TV’s for some time into our childhood, video games like Pac-Man and Asteroids were around and the internet was hardly even on its feet. Consider for a moment what your kids are exposed to now… with social media, TV, computers, gaming, mobile phones, tablets and more. It’s tough keeping up with this ever-changing technology, but as a parent you have to. You need to educate yourself and your kids about the potential dangers of some of these channels, as well as too much screen time. It’s up to you to set the rules and make sure your kids are healthy and safe. In this article, we’ll arm you with everything you need to know about this new electronic world around us.
Many of you may be fairly proficient at Facebook, but there is so much more to it than that. Right, let’s get started…
What are the potential dangers of social media and screen time?
Firstly, if you’re a parent that has to pry your child away from their screens like glue, you’re not alone. Plenty of parents suffer with this problem. But, here is one seriously scary fact for you – according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, kids between 8 and 18 are spending more than 7 hours EACH DAY consumed in the world of electronics; whether it’s TV, gaming, internet surfing or social media. Seriously, that is frightening if you even consider the amount of hours that they go to school! There is certainly no time for exercise or engaging in other ‘healthier’ activities based on these figures. Now sit down for this – if you factor in what’s called ‘media multitasking’, which is using more than one media at a time, this can go up to nearly 11 hours a day!
So just in reading this, we know instinctively that it’s wrong, but let’s take a look at some of the actual dangers of spending this much time in ‘sedentary’ activities.
If your kids are spending this much time on electronics, it is cutting into important family time, exercise, socialising in person and other activities that spark brain development. Being consumed for nearly 11 hours in the electronic world… Houston, we have a problem! But, and this is a big BUT, walk the walk yourself, don’t just talk the talk. Having a half-hearted chat with your child while gazing into your phone or answering texts isn’t really going to send the right message, is it?
It can affect their health, and not in a good way
- When kids are in front of their ‘screens’ all day, they are just sitting in the same position for usually quite a while, and they’re often not sitting straight, which means – you guessed it, a poor posture. This ultimately causes an imbalance between muscles, which can’t hold the joints in place. This puts a huge amount of strain on the soft tissue and joints, which means they become inflamed and start to hurt. Even more alarming is the fact that bones can actually fuse in the wrong position, which can cause curvature of the spine in later years.
- Also, if you watch your kids playing, they’re performing repetitive movements of the hands and thumbs the whole time, which can cause repetitive strain injury. These injuries, believe it or not, have their own names like, “Game-boy back”, “Nintendonitis” and “Playstation thumb” and they can easily get Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, which puts pressure on a nerve in the wrist and causes numbness, pain or even loss of movement.
These injuries can cause substantial problems over time and your kid’s will carry these right through to adulthood where they can then expect to experience increased back, neck and shoulder problems.
No media multitasking allowed
If your child is texting with friends, listening to music, watching a show and trying to do their homework all at the same time, there is absolutely no way that any of those activities are being done very well. Most of us can’t concentrate on more than two things at a time; each activity requires focus, and multitasking means that those hours of indulging in screen time creeps up, as by doing all these multiple activities will take far longer than they would when done on their own. It kind of seems obvious, but when your child is focusing on an important task, especially homework -no other distractions should be allowed – no TV on, no cell phones in reach – it’s important to teach them to focus on what they’re doing.
Screen time before bed, a big no-no
It has been proven that consuming electronics just before bed will disrupt your child’s sleep as it stimulates the brain and they actually aren’t resting properly. If they’re not getting the right amount of restful sleep, this will then affect their performance at school as well as their behaviour. You know what it feels like to be tired, well it’s the same for kids – not good for anyone! It’s best that electronics be turned off at least an hour before bedtime to allow those young brains to start the resting process. It’s a parent’s choice, but keeping TVs out of the bedroom is a good idea as well. Try to keep computers and TVs in common areas of the house so that you can monitor the usage. The trick is to make sure you’re setting healthy boundaries from a young age with regards to electronics and media, so that those healthy habits stick with them.
It’s not all bad, educational programming can be a good thing
There is some media out there that can have a positive effect on your kids and where there is an educational aspect to it. There are heaps of shows, apps, games and social media sites that do allow your kids to learn, think, reason, use their logic, communicate effectively and develop their social and emotional skills. But even though this is the case, you still have to try and keep screen time down to a maximum of about 2 hours a day. There are actually some cool time management tools available through sites such as Net Nanny and Safe Eyes. Again, you need to help your kids make good choices when it comes to screen time and teach them how to be mindful of media.
But, there is one thing to remember – you are not going to keep your child away from electronics completely, as this is the 21st century and they need to be equipped for our modern world. It’s all about balance and striking a happy medium.
What more can you do?
- Teach your child about respect – that goes for respecting themselves and respecting others too. Give them the skills to make good decisions first and foremost.
- Never, ever use social media to humiliate your child. You may think it will stop them from making poor decisions, which it probably will in the short-term, but the long-term ramifications can be more devastating if you think about trust and building good relationships with your kids. In this age, these two things are incredibly important in helping them navigate their way through life.
- What goes online stays online, and your kids need to know this. You don’t just post something, or even text it, and it just disappears; it stays there for good, and it’s not always private. If they post a picture on Facebook, it’s there to stay and can certainly land up in the wrong hands, like a bully for example.
- They also need to understand that one day when they’re older a potential application for a job or college could be ruined by a simple social media mistake. Pretty much all potential employers screen social media to get an understanding of who that applicant is! Teach them to also share the cool stuff they’ve achieved academically, sporting wise or even volunteering.
- Explain that communicating verbally is extremely different to communicating online. Once you’ve said something online, you can’t take it back, it won’t disappear.
- Even though your child might be slightly young for this topic, it is VERY important to discuss the birds and the bees with them about the harm that anything to do with something sexual is completely out of bounds, which may even be about inappropriate ads that pop up, drinking, drugs or anything else illegal. Try to make this conversation age appropriate.
- Make sure you know what they’re up to. Don’t give them a laptop, a tablet or an iPad and let them wander into the deep depths of their bedrooms and be left to their own devices. Know what apps they have and know their passwords. Remember though that there has to be an element of trust to allow your kids to make good decisions, some space is a good thing. If you show that you trust them, they will be far more likely to come to you if there is a problem as opposed to blocking you out.
- Make sure that they are only dealing with people online that they know personally, except of course if they’re following a favourite sports star or singer.
- Check the privacy settings of each app with your child and make sure they’re not sharing their location. This can be dangerous. Take a look at this video and see how easy it is to actually find the exact location of people. It’s quite scary actually.
- Let your child know that you are there for them no matter what and they need to come to you if there is a problem. Things can get out of hand quickly and they should know that you are there to help.
Bottom line is that you need to be very aware of what your kids are up to – on social media channels as well as monitoring their TV time for healthier kids all-round. You make the decisions and set the boundaries around this, and their experience with this new technological age we’re in, will be a positive one.