Children's lives center around school, tuitions and other extra-curricular activities. We need to keep in touch with our kids to assure ourselves that they are safe, and so we indulge them with a mobile phone for convenience. Sometimes it is a smart phone like an iPhone or a tablet. A need becomes a want and wants are never ending!
While some amount of technology usage is necessary and also helpful, there is a tendency to become addicted to gadgets and social media like Facebook. Studies indicate that the overuse of technology and digital input leads to brain fatigue and learning is compromised. Scientists who have studied brain wave patterns of people watching television say that it is very similar to being in a hypnotic trance. The rapidly changing images and the amount of sensory inputs are overwhelming for children to process. In this state they become passive watchers and are unlikely to question the content that is being telecast. However, with some thought, we as parents can limit our children's access to electronic media so that it does not take over their minds.
Restrict Usage of Television and Social Networking
Establish an agreement with your child about how much time he can spend watching his favorite television shows and be on Facebook. If your child is in the habit of turning on the television before taking off his shoes after school, then you need to work on a strategy to discourage this. Put appropriate parental controls on your television and computer settings and make sure your child stays away from Facebook if he is below 13 years, as per the policy. If your child is above 13 years, then educate him on privacy settings and let him know that you must have access to his Facebook friends and account. You might have to battle with your teen about this! Ensure that your child is protected from inappropriate content like excessive violence, sexually explicit programs and subtle promotions of tobacco and alcohol. Make sure that there is no free access to television and computer usage by ensuring that it is not in their bedrooms but in a public area like the dining or family room. Meals should not be in front of the television or computer.
Monitor Internet Usage
We have to accept that technology does help us enhance our knowledge and has multiple benefits. But children may not have the necessary experience to exercise judgment. This is where parents can help them use it judiciously and restrict the amount of time spent on it. It is in their best interest to place reasonable restrictions on internet use. They will not understand your concerns and may well argue with you that it is an invasion of their privacy. But it is in the interest of their safety that you will have to be firm about your decisions. Installing programs like Net Nanny will help you monitor social media sites, block chats and filter inappropriate content. Excessive usage of media leads to attention deficit disorders, eating problems, obesity and sleep issues in children and adults. So you will have to be a role model by restricting your own usage of internet and other media. Try to limit engagement with electronic media to not more than an hour or two per day.
Influence Rather Than Control
Try to watch television shows with your children. This way you can at least throw open the floor to talk about questionable content and clarify yours as well as their opinions about the show. Of course older children might resist this move by giving excuses but you may have to use gentle persuasion to get past their mindsets. Sometimes you may have to focus instead on instilling proper judgment and values by encouraging children to dialogue with you about the content of certain shows or the stereotyping of characters. Help them put the contents into context and ask them questions about why they like a particular show or what they think about the subliminal messages within the program. A more democratic approach might work with your teenager rather than an autocratic style.
Caution Them About Online Dangers
While educating them about not revealing personal details to strangers or entering into chat rooms without caution, do also tell them about the unsolicited pop-up advertisements. Talk to them about not entering details in questionnaires and other contests that tempt them with freebies. Even if a friend forwards a contest form or questionnaire they must be told not to participate. Monitor the pictures your child posts online and explain to her about why you are doing so. Children may not understand the implications of their digital footprint and how inappropriate pictures could impact their college admission or later on even job applications.
Parents keep in mind that visual images are powerful. A lot of the images online are overstimulating for children. You need to be very careful especially about sexually explicit material. Children do not fully understand sexuality and viewing images like that are emotionally and visually overstimulating to them. Their brain does not know how to process it and thus it stays in the mind and the child becomes curious about it. So even if you have to fight a few battles with your kids, it is worth it to keep them emotionally healthy.
Encourage Other Interests
The contents of television shows or games are designed to be addictive. You have to use ingenious tactics to keep your children away from technology driven media. Offer them other alternatives like board games, instill a love for books by reading to them, taking them for book readings and libraries, go for treks or bird watching together, expose them to the arts like theatre, art shows, music and dance recitals. Encourage them to take up sports or other hobbies and creative pursuits.
We cannot wish away technology or the electronic media completely from our lives. But we certainly can make safe and healthy choices for our children even if we are faced with resistance all the way. They may not like all the choices that we make but will eventually understand our reasons for setting limits to their media usage. The need of the hour is to teach them to be prudent and wise, even if it is boring!