Digital is life
To our kids, the digital world is a deeply entrenched component of their life. It’s not only their education, but also their socializing, entertainment, shopping and more. Each of these communities is its own unique environment with its own unique social structures. From their point of view, it’s not one place, but many.
Screen time is rising
As parents, we often struggle with how much screen time is too much. And due to the pandemic it feels like this has dramatically increased. Your feelings are right, screen time has increased by 500 percent per the child advocacy group Parents Together due to the pandemic!
A recent survey from Pew Research of U.S. teens shows the majority (72%) said they played online games for the fun of it, over half (51%) said playing online helped them relax when they were stressed out or upset, and for over a third (34%) online is where their offline and school friends are, so it is an opportunity to meet and play.
From a parent’s point of view
To us parents – visually – a head buried in a phone is not multiple environments. It’s one place to us – a screen – and we often want them out of it, so that they engage with us. We might not immediately see the potential value, purpose or nuance of digital from their point of view. This can lead to chasing the “correct” or ideal amount of screen time, and since we have these conversations so frequently, they can quickly turn frustrating and negative. Often, we’re not asking positive inquisitive questions like we do for their off-screen experiences. But what if we did?
What if we treated screen time like we did offline time?
6 screen time suggestions:
- Online = Real Life – When you pick your child up from a school activity, common questions are “How was it? What did you do? Did you meet any nice kids? Where are they from? Did you have a good time?” The same should be true of their online activity. What are they watching? Is it right for them? Are they interacting positively and being treated well?
Engage kids in the conversation instead of dismissing the activity simply because it is in a virtual space.
- Every Family is Different – Keep in mind – what may be an exorbitant time of screen usage to one family may be incredibly low to another. Not every family is the same and parenting styles vary and this is the same with how you will judge what is right and wrong for your kids interacting with technology.
- Quality – Not Quantity – For what reason are your kids using their screens? If your child is online watching short videos for five hours a day, most likely the lessons and interactions they are seeing could leave something to be desired. Conversely, if your child is using their technology for interests that could benefit them (e.g., team / role play games, or YouTube shows that focus on how best to treat friends and siblings) that is a vastly different experience and should be treated accordingly.
- The Struggle is Real – For parents, keep in mind that as difficult as the pandemic was for them, emotionally it was just as hard if not harder for children. As many of us tire of online meetings, imagine having to do the same at 11 years old.
- Keep the Connection – Children have used technology to stay connected with friends who they could not see through apps such as Snapchat, iMessage, Facebook Messenger, Kik and Discord. This interaction, although ‘different’ is still incredibly important.
- You Have Help to Keep Your Kids Safe – Once their kids are online, parents also need to remember they have help. Content moderation systems or active community management is another way that parents can feel some assurance that their child is having a positive online social experience.
We’re parents too
At Two Hat, we’re focused on creating healthier, thriving, and safer online communities through what we call a holistic approach to community management, implemented via a five layers approach – but we’re parents first. We know first-hand the vital role parents can have when positively engaged in their child’s online environments.
There is no easy answer, but there are improvements we can make
Asking “how much is too much” is a great question, but “what did you learn” – treating digital like the offline world – is also a great question.
The right discussions vary by family, but knowing what our children are viewing / playing, why they’re viewing it, and how they’re interacting is paramount. Quality – not quantity is the key while your interest and interaction make the difference for both your child’s physical and online activities. For our kids, their time and experiences online are just as important to them as their offline-life experiences. It’s important for us to support them wherever they may be socializing, learning, and having fun.