There are so many practical things we as parents can do to raise safe, wise and kind digital users. Filtering and monitor software is a must. Clear rules and boundaries are vital. But the one thing I believe bears the most long-term fruit is the building of a healthy digital culture in our homes: an established and consistent way of seeing and doing things which becomes part of the fabric of our character and family. This is not easy and takes time. Here are some tips to start you on your family’s journey to digital wellness:
‘C’ is for consistency
Consistency is key. This is the secret to establishing a culture and it can be so hard. When we are tired, worn down, feeling guilty and second guessing ourselves, we need to stick to the agreed rules and behaviours This is important in all aspects of digital health including time on screens, where in the house screens are allowed and what can be viewed.
‘U’ is for Understanding
Sometimes as parents in a digital world we can feel like our children are growing up in another room with the door closed. We need to GET INSIDE THE ROOM and understand the online space our children are engaging in. We need to be online with them, trying out the games they play, finding out who they are communicating with, what they are consuming and what they are putting out there.
‘L’ is for Leading
As a parent, our children’s digital lives are out responsibility. We need to be the ones setting the boundaries, authorizing downloads, setting up apps, controlling restrictions and passwords and keeping track of where the devices are in our home. We also need to teach and model healthy digital behaviour including balance, kindness, respect and integrity.
‘T’ is for Talking (and listening)
Make time for conversations about devices and social media. Not just to interrogate or lecture but to understand and really listen. Ask questions out of interest and show your children you care. Here are a couple to get you started:
- How do you like spending your screen time?
- Who are your favourite You-tubers/gamers? Why do you like them?
- Whose social media posts/stories do you like and why?
- Do you think you are getting your self-worth and identity from social media?
- What do you hate about social media?
- What can you do if you see something you find disturbing?
‘U’ is for Unity
As parents we have to be on the same page, regardless of whether we are married or even live in the same house. In blended families the same rules need to apply to all children in the house. We also need to be united as a family. Screens can easily disconnect family members from each other as we get absorbed into our own personal digital worlds. Fight for connection: eat together, play together, hang out together. Talk about family values. The values we live by in the concrete world we live by in the digital world.
‘R’ is for Release (them gradually)
The goal of raising healthy digital users is a gradual transition from micro-managing their digital lives to giving them complete freedom to the online space, having given them the tools they need to do it well. Train them to manage their freedom. We should give our children more freedom as they show more responsibility and trustworthiness. Give them increased responsibility and comment on good decisions and behaviors. Empower them to ultimately lead themselves.
‘E’ is for Establish (the ground rules)
Each family should have a set of clear ground rules. Here are a few examples of rules you may include:
- How much screen time – when screens are allowed and the length of time.
- No cellphones at the table, during family activities, in the car and in restaurants.
- iPads are for home use and phones used sparingly in public.
- All phones and devices only used in communal areas.
- No phones at bedtime. All devices plugged into a communal charging station an hour before.
- Devices are a treat, not a right. Make sure all chores, homework, packing of bags are done first.
- No deleting of texts or posts.
- Open phone policy – parents can ask for devices at any time.
‘E’ – is also for (be an) Example
As parents it is our role to model healthy digital behaviour. Integrity is everything. Are we watching inappropriate content? Are we venting online? Are we digitally distracted? If we are to raise healthy digital users our own online lives need to be healthy first.
Establishing a healthy digital culture is a day-by-day, incremental process. Sometimes we feel like we are winning and sometimes we feel like complete failures. But keep going, have grace for yourself and your family, learn from your mistakes and keep your eye on the prize: raising adults who are free from digital addictions, add positively to the online space, and use and enjoy the online world for the useful tool it is.
You can connect with Christy on insta @thechatdurban or via her website www.thechat.co.za