Marta Peral Ribeiro
– Communication Consultant –
It possible to create good habits?
Presently, children’s access to the digital space is inevitable. So it’s better to face reality and anticipate this situation instead of letting them dive on their own into the Internet.
An overview of children’s relationship with technologies
Some data we know…
- Overall, children spend at least 2 hours a day in front of mobile devices, and the trend is to increase as they grow;
- Most children (5-12 years) use the smartphone and tablet as a device, often owning one themselves;
- The main activities are: play, watch videos, listen to music;
- From the age of 10, they also start communicating with friends and searching popular profiles on social networks;
- In Portugal, many parents are not sure what their children do on the internet.
What is a healthy interaction with the digital world?
An interaction with the media is healthy when technology is used consciously, without jeopardizing ones mental or physical health – be it ours or that of others.
In the case of children in particular, it means that the fundamental aspects that favor their healthy development (positive connection with adults, play that stimulates cognitive abilities, motor coordination) are not brought into question with the use of technologies.
Finally, it is necessary to ensure a balance between time spent online and physical activity.
When is this no longer the case?
Overall, most children can handle technology reasonably well. The problem is that some children are more prone to the effects of the media:
- Alteration of sleep
The brightness of the blue light emanating from the screens, directly in the eyes, affects the pineal gland in the brain, impairing the production of melatonin. This is the main reason why sleep is affected, either because it is insufficient or because it is a little invigorating.
However, the contents themselves tend to produce an excess of stimuli, generating stress that affects sleep.
Because of the time they become inactive in front of the screen, children lack physical activity, and gain weight.
It has been found that children are more susceptible to the advertising they see (often related to sweets and snacks), preferring this type of food – apart from the fact of being distracted to eating constantly.
- Autism, anxiety and attention deficit
Children with challenging behaviors, anxiety, attention deficit or autism are more vulnerable to the negative effects of technologies. Especially when they see scenes of violence.
Ironically, they are also the ones who usually spend the most time with gadgets (possibly because they require the most attention and it is the most efficient way to keep them quiet).
The digital sphere is made to be additive, based on what is known about the functioning of the brain.
The devices themselves are designed to give us a pleasant experience: they are easy to manipulate, usually portable and fast. In turn, Apps are intuitive and made so that children (and adults too, as we know) get distracted for hours, over days.
When the relationship with peers or family is affected, when disinterest in school and other activities increases, it is time to stop.
Another warning sign is when the child has an explosive reaction when the tablet or other device is taken from their hands.
Is there a more appropriate age to use digital platforms?
Not exactly. But the later, the better.
Especially when a child asks for a smartphone or tablet, the golden rule is that they are already able to be responsible for their use. For example, it implies not losing it, not breaking it, knowing when it needs to be charged and using it under the conditions agreed with their parents.
Moreover, it is worth considering the effective value of technologies: how much and what do they contribute to the child’s development? Some contribute, such as when they hear stories or play on didactic platforms, but many are totally unnecessary.
What does all this mean for parents?
The presence and active role of the adult
Especially in the first 12 years, the greatest influence that children have on their interaction with technologies comes from their own parents.
For example, if we spend too much time in front of the TV or with gadgets, if we often expose selfies or photographs of children on social networks, they are naturally expected to do the same.
Maintaining the presence, not only physically but also by monitoring the child in the use of the devices, is crucial for healthy habits in the digital world.
In addition, sharing your usual actions on your smartphone with your child helps them understand what it’s for – paying a bill, checking the weather, searching for a translation, etc. This approach not only gives the child transparency but also a conscious use of what they are doing.
Trust and digital literacy
It is irrelevant to incite fear to children about the dangers of the internet, or to pretend that technology does not exist.
Unlike many of us, who have seen the internet and gadgets enter our homes little by little, the new generation has already been born in a digital environment. Inevitably their behaviors will be different.
By the way, now that online teaching is a reality, it has become a necessity to explain step by step how Word or digital platforms work, although this requires some of the parent’s time (which they do not have).
But this is the most effective way to help the child use technology intelligently: sharing knowledge, side by side, showing what can be learnt, how to search, which sites are reliable, etc.
It is not only what children learn through technologies that matters. It is also a concern what digital media can get to know about our children and their online behavior, and what they will do with that information.
- Access to content or Apps
Your child should always ask for parental permission to download Apps. In addition, there are features associated with parental control that allow you to limit the content they access and manage the time of use of the App.
- Ensure Privacy
Teach them how to create strong passwords and identify a secure Wi-Fi network – they’ll know if when accessing a network, a WPA or WPA2 password is requested.
- “Once on the Internet, forever on the Internet”
It is essential that children understand that even when they publish something visible only to some friends or even in private through chat, it will remain on the internet and can even be seen by people with the skills to do so.
- Set parental control
Limit newer access to specific web content using parental control. There are settings and applications for this purpose, such as:
– Family Link, made available by Google (Android system);
– Control of downloads and purchases in the App Store, made available by Apple devices themselves (iOS system);
– Dashlane App, the purpose is to protect passwords and other digital data that can go to the dark web, just log in (in dashlane account) to access any website or App instead of logging in for each one. This App has a family plan, so there is greater parental control.
Create healthy digital habits
Establish screen time
Those who have consulted the “screen time” setting, which records the time we spend on a smartphone, found that their perception of that time was unrealistic. Why is that?
Because when we are surfing the internet, we lose the notion of time – especially in confinement periods, when that interaction is proven to be superior. Therefore, set usage time limits in the device settings menu.
Anticipate the events
Be prepared when your children or students come to ask you questions. When the adult is familiar with the digital world and knows how to use it consciously and safely, the child understands that he can count on the adult.
Take the time to get to know the App, game, or website that children want to access, studying their settings and limiting some access that is unnecessary or inappropriate.
Because I think, so I filter
It is healthy to instill a critical thinking
Often children do not know how to filter what they see, not being able to distinguish, for example, when it comes to advertising. They immediately click and accept everything that appears. Because they’re curious by nature, and advertisers know it well.
Therefore, it is healthy to instill a critical thinking by teaching the child to distinguish organic content from sponsored content and talk about the importance (or not) of the number of “likes” or followers one has, as examples.
Finally… do not underestim
Although it is fictitious – and therefore somewhat exaggerated – one of the aspects we see in the movie “Chef” is the dexterity with which a 10-year-old is moving in the digital sphere – particularly in social networks. The son of a chef who recently opened a food truck, publishes the places they will pass through on Twitter on a daily basis, marking his location for consumers to find them.
Any resemblance to reality is not a total coincidence. There are many cases that reveal that it is children who teach parents how to deal with technologies – particularly in the current circumstances where parents are teleworking.