How parents can instil healthy digital habits in children


Daily screen time for children has been climbing since at least 2011, according to news website Quartz, citing a media usage survey. — Dreamstime/TNS

SOCIAL media plays a huge role in the lives of many children and teens, serving as a virtual meeting place for friends, a source of entertainment or a learning tool.

But for some, social media can become all-consuming, stress-inducing or even unsafe. It’s helpful for families to step back and take a look at how each member spends time on devices and interacting with social media.

Here are 12 tips for families based on practices that researchers have identified to help ensure children and teens’ use of digital devices remains a healthy and safe way to connect with others and the world around them:

1. Build a family media plan that balances time with and without devices. Work together to set rules about social media use so you and your children agree on how devices fit into your lives.

2. Create screen-free times and places in your home, such as meals and bedtime. Set do-not-disturb times and media time limits.

3. Track online activities and talk about which ones may be problematic.

4. Plan regular screen-free activities your family enjoys. Make a habit of turning off media that isn’t in use. Try music if you need ambient noise.

5. Talk about social media. Start regular, open-minded conversations with your children (even the youngest ones) about their media use, and yours. You don’t have to be an expert on each platform to have meaningful discussions. Ask questions like: What do you like about social media platforms? How do you feel when you’re on social media? And when I’m on social media? Have you seen anything concerning?

6. Help children understand what’s real and what’s edited, how to recognise ads or inappropriate content and how media and emotions connect.

7. Make sure your kids know they can come to you about their experiences online.

8. Set a good example. Include your own habits in discussions about social media usage. When your attention is on your device, tell your kids what you’re doing. Be kind to others online and talk to your kids about how you are using media for good.

9. Optimise your family’s online experience. Choose quality content to use together as a family.

10. Know which platforms are age- and content- appropriate for your children. Set and follow safety rules for who we can chat with online. Set privacy settings at the most secure level.

11. Watch for warning signs, such as if your child is withdrawing from social interaction and hobbies. Another red flag is if screen time interferes with physical activity, healthy eating or bedtime.

12. If you’re concerned about your child’s social media usage or mental health, talk with your paediatrician.

Sometimes the problem is not what children are doing on social media but what they’re not doing instead. All children need time for physical activity, personal interaction with family and friends, nutritious meals and adequate sleep. We encourage children to be involved in creating a plan that balances all those important activities in their day. – American Academy of Pediatrics/Tribune News Service

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