ReDi Digital Dialogue, an event jointly organized by Responsibly Digital and UNICEF, has sparked an important debate on effective parenting in the digital age. On June 30, the Social Media Day, this event saw experts discussing kids’ digital exposure and the role parents should play to prevent kids from falling prey to digital menace.
Although the event was held in India, it deals with a universal issue of keeping a check on kids’ digital content consumption. As parents, you are responsible for the upbringing of your children. Once you hand smart devices like mobile phones and tablets to kids, you must check the browsing histories and download folders. If you fail to do this, your kids may already have fallen into bad habits. Your duty starts with recognizing the symptoms of too much screen time.
Before you take your kids to task for their over-exposure to digital devices, you should be aware of symptoms of too much screen time.
Symptoms of Too Much Screen Time
Parents with latchkey children usually are not aware of time kids spend with handheld devices. You wish you could use your old device as a CCTV camera, but spying on kids could be embarrassing for any parent.
Thankfully, scrutiny of your kids’ behavior will reveal the truth. According to Vision Council, 30% of parents find their kids experience some physical or mental abnormalities, which include headache, neck or shoulder pain, eye strain, dry or irritated eyes, reduced attention span, poor behavior and, irritability.
Myopia is one of the common ailments deflecting kids’ attention from their academic goals.
“In Singapore, for example, 65 percent of students in Primary 6 are myopic. In the United States and Europe, where myopia rates traditionally have been lower, around half of young adults now suffer from myopia compared with 25 percent in the 1970s.”
Apart from physical and mental hazards, screen time also takes a heavy toll on your kids’ education and social life.
With reduced attention span, kids fail to pay necessary attention to their studies – whether they are in the classroom or home.
“It (mobile phone) was a constant distraction for kids and what it became is a constant discipline issue,” Robin Kvalo, Principal of Portage High School, tells Wisconsin Public Radio.
After confiscating more than 200 phones during the last year, students could perform better, Kvalo says.
Even though restricting mobile phones in schools cannot be the right solution, a study published by the London School of Economics found positive impacts of banning phones at school on exam scores.
Kids, who are overly exposed to digital screens, lack in social skills. The screen time maniacs possess little knowledge of what is happening around. They cannot verbalize their thoughts, ideas, or opinions in lucid ways.
A consultant pediatrician notes, “Often the content, that the children get exposed to, is overtly mature for their age. Parents should act as content mentors to avoid children coming across such mature content to avoid them from becoming aggressive. If the children watch such adverse content, they may undergo some prominent changes in their social behavior.”
The pediatrician further reveals, “The children, nowadays are so engrossed in the world of gadgets that the amount of physical activity, they experience, is compromised which in turn hinders their fine motor skill development.”
With a limited amount of physical movement, children lose face-to-face interaction with people outside. As a result, they become socially shy and turn introverts.
One of the quick solutions schools and parents work toward is ban the mobile devices. Countries like the United States, UK, Canada, Australia, and Israel have banned mobile devices in schools. Recently, France and Sweden also joined this group and banned mobile phones in schools. However, nations like India have not taken this decision yet; perhaps they know snatching mobile devices from the hands of kids won’t solve the issue.
Banning Smartphones is Not the Right Solution
Is this a practical solution? Ask Pasi Sahlberg, former director general at the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture, and now a professor of education policy at the Gonski Institute for Education at Australia’s University of New South Wales in Sydney.
What Sahlberg emphasizes in his argument is that screen time alone may not be the leading cause of declining mental health and inability to learn well in school.
Sahlberg believes, “Blanket bans are rarely the most effective ways to fix human behavioral problems. Today’s children were born in a world where technology and digital gadgets were already a normal part of life. From an educational perspective, banning smartphones in schools would be an easy solution but not necessarily the smartest one.”
Instead of banning mobile phones, Pasi Sahlberg says, “We should teach children to live safe, responsible and healthful lives with and without their smartphones and other mobile devices. Education can be a powerful tool to teach children to exercise self-control and to live better lives. But schools can’t do this alone. “It takes a village to raise a child,” as the old African adage goes.”
Sahlberg also provides some solutions for parents to make kids forget their digital devices.
Staring at smart screens for long hours means holding your sleep back. LED screens of computers and portable devices emit light, which usually does not harm human eyes. However, blue light, which comes from the visible light, can be harmful to the light-sensitive retina of the eye.
Pediatricians say that kids should stop watching at their smartphones and tablets two hours before they go to bed. School children between the age of 6 and 13 should take at least nine to 11 hours of sleep; teenagers should sleep for eight to 10 hours every night.
To make this happen, parents must keep portable devices out of kids’ rooms. Ask them to sleep an extra hour as part of their homework.
Continuous use of laptops and tablets make your kids torpid. Outdoor activities and sports energize them; this not only makes them active physically but also enhances their motor skills.
In schools, it should be mandatory for kids to leave classrooms for fifteen minutes after an hourly session. At home, parents can play outdoor games with kids to encourage them to get out of their couch.
More Physical Books
This sounds more antediluvian in the age of iPad, Kindle, and other eBook readers. But holding those digital book readers would bring your kids back to square one.
Real books – hardback or paperback – give fantastic touch feeling. Children’s books have colorful layouts, and there is a distinctive aroma coming from the pages. All this will entice kids to read more; even if they don’t understand the books, seeing pictures or graphics can elevate their mood after school hours.
When they finish a book, ask them about what they have read. An interactive session with your kids allows them to express their thoughts about the story, characters, narratives, facts & figures, etc.
Frequent visits to book stores and libraries and meeting with authors encourage kids to read more.
Art of Writing Letters is Nearly Defunct
Thanks to the chat apps like Snapchat, kids do not even bother to type. The digital communication has taken a new shape literally; chat apps promote cyber slang, shortcuts, emojis, and alternative words.
Students lack proficiency in writing. As a solution, teachers and parents should ask them to write letters to their friends and the ones they love. Instead of using a digital stylus, give your kids a pencil and paper.
Take Care of your Kids’ Gadgets
You don’t have to snoop on the devices your kids use. If you have gifted Apple devices, you can easily use parental control in iTunes.
Rise of audio and video streaming services poses a new threat for parents as kids might consume adult contents on Apple TV and Amazon Prime; fortunately, parents can control the devices.
Screen Time in Apple devices running iOS 12 and later has excellent features to set App Limit on apps kids use often.
Stay Safe Online
For kids and teens, social media is a place to learn new things and explore the knowledge field. At the same time, they need to identify the threats and dangers of this virtual world. In your attempt to understand this medium, STAYSAFEONLINE can be your true friend. This initiative is taken by UNICEF India to raise awareness among boys and girls on how to safely navigate the online world.
The message is loud and clear for school authorities and parents as well. Kids’ digital exposure may not be a life-threatening issue, but there is a dire necessity to take corrective measures to save them from the perils of the virtual world.
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Suraj is a digital marketing expert on the iGB's team. He contributes to the social media section along with tips and tricks for iPhone, Apple Watch. Apart from blogging, he likes to work out as much as he can in his gym and love to listening to retro music.