Worried about how much time your children spend on their computers and their phones? Katherine Hill explains how to put healthy technology boundaries in place with your kids.
No matter what your traditions are for the winter holidays, there’s one scenario which is likely to be the same in every household: the hotly contested issue of screen time. Since the invention of the smart phone in 2007, it was ever thus! Even the most laidback parent will feel their blood pressure rise at the sight of their children, oblivious to the world around them, scrolling endlessly through Instagram posts, TikTok videos, or YouTube pranks.
But in addition to worries about the sheer number of hours children are spending glued to glowing screens, and the effect this has on their wellbeing, many parents have bigger concerns. Other dangers surrounding technology – addiction to gaming, the impact of online bullying, and exposure to porn, to name just a few – are keeping them up at night.
It isn’t all bad news, however. There are many advantages to living in a digital world, not the least the lifeline that it has thrown us during the pandemic. In the last two years our relationship with technology underwent a paradigm shift. Professor Sonia Livingstone from the London School of Economics said: ‘We’ve moved, I’d suggest, from seeing technology as a valued addition to our lives, to seeing technology as vital infrastructure. And as COVID-19 has made really clear, for young people especially, life is digital by default.’
As families gather over the winter holidays, perhaps with digital devices freshly gifted to children over Christmas, here are some practical ways for parents to avoid becoming a killjoy, while at the same time not allowing technology to dominate the entire festive season:
- Get everyone together with some drinks and snacks and create a ‘Family Media Agreement’ that sets out ground rules for using devices. The key is for everyone – including parents – to sign up!
- Set a good example – our children take their cue from us, so remember to keep your own screen time under control.
- Enjoy some screen-free activities – play a board game or go out for a walk.
- Sit down together for meals and ban devices at the table.
- Encourage digital creativity – take a fun family photo, make a festive video, or create a family Christmas playlist.
- Keep devices out of the bedrooms, so everyone gets a good night’s sleep.
- For young children, arrange for grandparents or other family members living away to read a story over Zoom.
- Take an interest in your child’s gaming or other digital activity and, where appropriate, join in.
- Finally, take a moment to put your phone on silent, to pause, and to remember the value of family time.