All parents need to know about their child’s digital life

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Many parents bemoan their children’s obsession with digital technology, and yearn for the ‘good old days’ when kids used to play outside and sometimes get bored.

In their new book Parents and Digital Technology, parenting expert Suzie Hayman and psychologist John Coleman point out that as well as many perceived, and some real, threats from children becoming immersed in the digital world, there are also numerous benefits that can enhance young people’s lives.

“Part of the solution is to grasp the positives and help your children to benefit from those, while also saying, ‘These are the rules’,” says Hayman.

“We hear about the nasty side of the internet, the trolling and the bullying, but what you don’t hear about is the number of times an unhappy young person goes on a social media site and gets sympathy and suggestions on how to make it better.”

Digital benefits include:

Keeping in touch.

Gaming: While the drawbacks may be that young people get obsessed and neglect other aspects of their life, the upside is that games, unlike watching television, are active and demand a response – thinking, reacting, and finding solutions.

Education: Digital devices can be used at school to release creativity, sustain interest and provide intellectual challenge.

Not being bored: according to the Office for National Statistics, half the number of girls under 18 become pregnant now than did 25 years ago. Over the same period, consumption of illegal drugs has also halved, teenagers drink a third less alcohol, and most don’t smoke.

Hayman and Coleman suggest the main, real threats are addiction and cyberbullying

Hayman stresses that to maximise the digital world’s potential, parents need three things: knowledge, understanding and skills. The knowledge and skills are to be aware of what children are encountering on the internet and help them manage it safely and positively; the understanding is of the positives and the negatives of digital technology and negotiating rules and sanctions. Rules can include limiting screen time. The authors say the consensus is to aim for: 0-2 years of age, never; 3-5 years, no more than one hour a day; and 6-18 years, no more than two hours a day.

Hayman and Coleman suggest general household digital rules should be:

Everyone turns off all technology when they get home for a period, and at mealtimes.

Don’t let screens be the only entertainment or source of knowledge at home – read books and enjoy other activities.

Allow ‘check-in times’ to social media in the evening for everyone, at an agreed time, for a specific time. Have something definite to move on to afterwards.

Parents and Digital Technology is published by Routledge, £12.99.

Sarah Champion MP

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