Today’s parents find themselves facing a new concern in a growingly connected world where the internet is deeply embedded in our everyday lives. As much as we want our children to be exposed to the learning opportunities and conveniences that technology brings, we’ll also like them to keep a healthy distance, such that technology does not overtake their lives. When it comes to exposing our children to digital technology, should we set limits? And how can we ensure responsible usage?
What does digital responsibility mean?
According to the Media Development Authority (MDA), 65% of 1,200 children between ages 0 and 14 used social media in 2015, representing a significant jump from about 50% in the preceding year. In another survey, 12-year-old Singaporean children are spending about 6 hours a day on mobile phones or computers – equivalent to spending about half their waking hours using technology. If anything, these figures are worrying and telling of how much our children are absorbed with technology.
Given that schools and workplaces are embracing technology like never before, simply preventing our children from using technology for fear of the repercussions can impede their learning progress or ability to engage others now or in future. In this digital era, the key is then striking a balance. It is up to us to help our children navigate the perils of digital usage and nurture them to become responsible digital users.
But what does it mean to be “digital responsible”? For the most part, it means engaging the online community in an acceptable way – one that is safe and ethical. This includes not infringing on other people’s online work, hack, or post disrespectful comments, amongst others.
Ways to teach digital responsibility
1.Be role models ourselves
Our children often mirror our behaviours and actions. For this reason, we can do simple things to give them a head start in learning digital responsibility. This includes limiting our screen time, and only watching meaningful content when we are in front of a screen, keeping mealtimes digital-free, and using social media with discretion.
Considering the number of hours that children spend in front of screens, we need to help them strike a healthy balance between online and offline times – the digital world cannot consume them to the point that they neglect face-to-face interaction.
2. Teach consequence
The online community can be very harsh and unforgiving. Any slight missteps can put one in the limelight for the wrong reason. Your child needs to learn that there are consequences for being disrespectful, infringing online intellectual property, or posting comments, photos or videos that might be questionable or misconstrued. It is also important for you to tell them that online users are real people with real feelings, and that they should be treated kindly; cyberbullying is real and should not be tolerated.
3. Teach privacy
It might seem harmless to share personal information with a stranger. But your child needs to know better. He or she needs to be warned that personal information should not be freely shared, if at all. If your child is using a smartphone, turn off the location services; it is equally important for you to share why you turned it off. This is all part of teaching and informing them about digital responsibility.
4. Be Discerning
There is a lot of information out there. Your child needs to learn that not everything should be taken at face value, and that not everything is true.
Build a positive bond with your child. Let your child know that he or she can turn to you when advice is needed. If your child encounters something that disturbs him or her online, let your child know that you are there to offer support.
A young toddler wouldn’t know any better how much screen time is appropriate. But a pre-teen is more likely to understand boundaries and limitations. Depending on your child’s age and temperament, set reasonable rules that have been discussed and mutually agreed upon.
Today, we face a problem never encountered by our parents’ parents. For now, we can try to monitor our children’s online activities through parental monitoring software. But there will come a day when they will break free from our reins. For their best interest, our children need to master the intricacies of online engagements, and learn not to become slaves of the digital world as early as possible.
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