Computers, smartphones and other digital devices are now a well-established part of school children’s daily life – in their education and study, their leisure time, and in helping keeping them connected. We believe that overall, technology is a great benefit to students, but it is also clear that there are potential risks of over-use or inappropriate use of technology that parents and families should be aware of.
#1 Always set clear limits and boundaries around using devices
It is important to be clear with your child that they are not to have ‘free rein’ over their time spent on their devices. You could set agreed and reasonable time-limits on how much they can be online, both on a school day and on the weekend. A useful rule of thumb would be they have to do their daily commitments first, before online time – for example, doing homework and household chores, and that they cannot spend more time online than they spend on ‘real world’ activities and sports. It may be useful to set out an agreement with time limits, when first buying or giving a device to your child.
#2 Make sure your child has a rich and active set of ‘real world’ activities
We know that many people of all ages go online because they do not have other regular activities to engage in – in other words, they are a bit bored and don’t know how to manage their time.
Going online to game, to browse or to watch videos is a very easy option in situations like this. From as early an age as possible, make sure your child engages in a range of face-to-face social activities that they can enjoy and participate in, such as team sports, learning a musical instrument or other regular hobbies. Research has shown that the earlier one engages in hobbies and activities, the more likely will there be a benefit to their future wellbeing and even to their physical health.
#3 Ensure your child sticks to a healthy daily routine
It is very important that children of all ages have a regular, structured and healthy daily routine. This will involve ensuring they go to bed at a reasonable time, get enough quality sleep, eat regular and healthy meals and doing regular exercise ideally at least three times a week.
Experts recommend that all digital devices are switched off at least one hour before bedtime. Ideally, devices should be removed from the bedroom at night time. We also recommend that the child gets all their morning commitments done, before being permitted to use a device - getting dressed, having breakfast, tidying bedroom.
#4 Take time to learn about the things your child does online
The online world that young people engage in can often be bewildering, confusing or even frightening to parents who did not grow up in the ‘digital age’. Nonetheless, it can be useful to learn a bit about the different types of websites, games or online chatrooms that the young person goes on, and to show an active interest in what they do.
You could even play computer games with them, which may be an enjoyable family activity and shows the child that you are interested in what things they like doing when online.
#5 Be a good digital role model yourself
We know that people of all ages, even young infants, are very good at observing the world around them and learning behaviours from others. This is particularly true for children observing what their parents and families are doing.
So, for children of all ages, ensure you are a good role model yourself around your own digital habits. Try not to take calls or go online when you are doing family activities, have ‘no device’ rules when having family meals, and give your children your full, positive and undistracted attention.
Your children will really appreciate this. After all, if you are asking children to cut down their digital usage when you are always online yourself, they are much less likely to respect what you say.
#6 Don’t be afraid to seek help if you are very concerned
Many clinicians and researchers around the world now believe that problems like internet or video-game addiction are real mental health conditions.
If you notice that the problem is getting worse over time, and that your efforts at home to control online time are not working, it may be appropriate to seek professional assistance.
Your child’s school counsellor is well placed to help with the problem, and may also be aware of issues that have been noticed at school, such as a student getting distracted a lot during a class.
An increasing number of clinical psychologists and child psychiatrists are also assessing and treating cases of internet-addiction in young people.
Importantly, in some cases there may also be an underlying mental health condition in the student that will need treatment, such as anxiety, depression or attention deficit disorder.
For an in-depth exploration of these issues, have a listen to our series of free podcasts, ‘The Healthy Digital Diet’ Podcast
. Search in iTunes podcasts for ‘The Healthy Digital Diet’
Dr Philip Tam, Child Psychiatrist and Knox Researcher in Residence, and Mr Michael Beilharz, Knox ICT Integrator