- The digital wellbeing of younger generations begins truly with older generations that set an example for children on how to navigate the digital world wisely.
- Just as parents and carers play an essential role in raising their children to become good citizens, in today’s digital age, parents and carers must embrace the digital age and learn how to raise positive digital citizens.
- Importantly, raising positive digital citizens is a community effort. The roles of both parents and educators are equally important and complement one another.
- The fundamental challenge is that the older generations are usually less aware of digital innovations,slower in adopting them, and less adept at using them.
- It is only natural that the consumption of technology by children and younger generations is a major health and wellbeing concern especially for older generations of parents who were not born into the digital age.
- Given that younger children were born into the digital age, it is also quite natural that they are more comfortable using technology. Growing up with Wi-Fi and being accustomed to the hyper-connectivity and digital overload, younger generations are clearly savvier with technology and digital innovations but….are children using technology appropriately? Do they understand their roles and responsibilities in the digital society?
- While new technology has opened many doors and created plenty of positive opportunities for children and youth to learn, connect, establish businesses, and more, it has also brought upon serious risks if not used well.
- Another big challenge parents face in the midst of widespread digital content and entertainment is ensuring that the content their children are exposed to is age-appropriate and high quality.
- So what can we do as parents and carers to help raise positive digital citizens, enhance digital wellbeing, and cultivate positive digital communities? As safety is at the heart of digital wellbeing, what can we also do as parents to protect our children from online harm and safety risks, and equip them with the knowledge and skills to prevent these challenges?
Raising Positive Digital Citizens
- First and foremost, we must begin with ourselves. As parents and carers, digital wellbeing begins with us at home. We must raise our own awareness and educate ourselves on the concepts of digital wellbeing, digital citizenship and digital ethics, in addition to the laws governing the digital world.
- Explore the concepts of digital wellbeing, digital citizenship and prominent digital challenges on our platform as a first step to raising your own awareness, to later be capable of raising your children’s awareness.
- We must also learnabout the prominent challenges posed by the digital world to teach our children about them, how to handle them, and report serious incidents. These challenges includemanaging screen time, online social networking, gaming, cyberbullying, online harm, online privacy, digital footprint, and more.Learn more about eachdigital challenge you or your child might be facing here, and know what signs to keep an eye out for. Remember that as technology changes everyday, new challenges can come up.
- It is essential to have a high level of awareness, to becomewell equippedand capable of role-modeling positive digital behaviorfor our children and the community.
Adopting Positive Approach
- The digital world is here to stay; thus it is quite impractical to depend on using unhelpful scare-tactics andtrying to eliminate children’s access to the digital world completely.
- Rather than always focusing on the don’ts, it is more fruitful to focus on the do’s
- It is completely normal that younger people are both heavy Internet users and more risk-prone; it is their natural mechanism for learning and discovering the world.
- Children cannot be protected completely, but we can gently guide them on how to make the most out of the digital world, live by positive digital citizenship values, and createa positive digital footprint.
- Rather than completely cutting of their internet connectivity, think of ways in which children can use technology in a healthy and balanced way, ensuring that you expose them to other technology-free or Wi-Fi free activities.
- Inspire children to contribute to the digital world in a way that brings out the best in them. Think of ways in which children’s curiosity can be fostered while allowing them to safely connect with the world, and fuel it into purposeful means of creation. Perhaps they may share their creative talents online by sharing an essay, artwork, or a musical piece, or share their progress in a certain sport they are passionate about..
- That being said, it is still important for children to understand the serious consequences of their actions in the digital world and how their actions can impact others.
Raising Children Awareness
- After raising our own awareness, the first and most important step is to raise our children’s awareness using a positive approach and language that suits their age; educate them on the concepts of digital wellbeing, digital citizenship and digital ethics, in addition to the laws governing the digital world.
- Explain prominent digital challenges to your child. For example, what inappropriate content is, why it’s dangerous, the need to avoid it, and what to do if we stumble across offensive or disturbing content. This applies especially for younger children who are unaware of the dangers.
- Key awareness messages to share with our children:
- Technology is a double-edged sword
- Technology in and of itself is NOT bad. It’s how we choose to use it. Our experience of the digital world and technology should be enjoyable, or at least, should not be a cause of distress, negative emotion, and reduced overall wellbeing.
- If our use of technology is negatively affecting our wellbeing be it physically, socially, emotionally, mentally, or even financially, then there’s probably an issue that needs to be addressed. Don’t hesitate to seek the help of your parents or a trusted adult.
- Stop and Think Before You Share! If it’s something we wouldn’t want thousands of people or even certain family members to see one day, then we should reconsider sharing it online.
- Choose to be respectful and responsible online, and always remember the golden rule: treat others online as you would like to be treated. Also keep an eye on photos tagged by your friends and remove ones that are offensive.
Privacy is crucial
Although account settings may be labelled “private”, nothing is truly private online, as private accounts can get hacked. Moreover, companies can easily choose to change their privacy policies.
- For younger children:
- A basic rule is to never give out personal information such as full name, passwords, address or hometown, phone number, birth date. If necessary, they should get your approval first.
- Check that location services are turned off on devices and apps that your young children are using.
- Change their passwords regularly
- Never to talk with strangers online. Not everyone is who they say they are online!
- For older children:
- Encourage them to think carefully before sharing personal information and images. It is always wise to avoid sharing too many personal details or “oversharing”, even with our close friends as friendships can turn around.
- Once the content is shared, it is no longer in their control who gains access to it, even if they delete it quickly after sharing.
- Only use location services with close and trusted friends, or when absolutely necessary as with food delivery apps or transportation apps.
- Change passwords regularly.
- Remember to at least skim the terms and conditions before signing up for anything online, especially if it’s “free”. “Free” usually means that you are allowing the platform or app to keep collecting your personal data, even if the app is deleted.
- Assume that we are being watched all the time on our devices, so we should always bring out the best in us.
- Immediately block and report other users or (players in gaming) who use disturbing inappropriate language, share inappropriate content
- We should immediately tell our parents or a trusted adult if exposed to disturbing online content or a threat by a stranger.
Monitoring and Protecting Children
- We all know the traditional advice that children should never be left unsupervised, especially at a young age. Leaving children alone AND with digital devices presents a whole new set of serious risks.
- Mentoring children to use technology and digital devices sensibly and responsibly is essential, and arguably more important than only monitoring children. However, children still need an adult’s monitoring to prevent them from making a rash decision, or from being exposed to a serious threat online.
- Especially for younger children, it is advisable that they use the digital devices surrounded by an adult or in common family areas and never alone in their room.
- It is not recommended that children watch or join live streams due to their unpredictable nature with higher chances of having inappropriate content and higher chances of children being abused.
- Ensure that children are using age-appropriate apps, games, and digital platforms only. Many children ignore the terms and conditions of social media channels, and use it in spite of being much younger than the age limit.
- There are many helpful resources to guide parents in understanding and choosing age-appropriate platforms. Visit the additional resources section for more.
- Additionally, there are plenty of tools and technologies devised to help parents monitor their children’s activities online and on their digital devices.
Tools and technology to help monitor and protect children’s activities in the digital world
- Change the default settings on search engines, games, apps and social media platforms accordingly. Most platforms have a restricted mode to filter out inappropriate content.
- Ensure that parental control settings are set accordingly, to track children’s usage of digital media and to block inappropriate websites. For more on parental control guides, check out the additional references section for a comprehensive guide on parental controls.
- Use Internet filters and pop-up blockers to help block inappropriate content. (Try searching specifically for family filtering software)
- If your child plays games on digital devices, ensure that the computer or device in which the online game is played has anti-virus software installed. Games usually increase the risks of viruses.
- Always report any disturbing or inappropriate content to the website or platform administrator through the ‘report’ of ‘flag’ content option, or report to local authorities, to help minimize the amount of inappropriate content out there.
- Search for your child online regularly to check on his/her digital footprint (online reputation) – try using different search engines. Check for the child’s full name along with a piece of personally identifiable information such as a hometown or phone number. Remember to also check common nicknames and misspellings of your child’s name.
- Try searching on Google Image too– watch out for inappropriate content and identifying information in the content of the search results
- Set up Google Alert to send alerts when any content about a specific name is posted online. This is a good way to track our children and our own digital footprints.
Remember that these are just helpful ways to monitor and protect children. Even when both parents and schools take precautions, teenagers sometimes find ways to go around the restrictions. This is why raising awareness, encouraging responsibility, and self-consciousness about the consequences of online harm is key.
Creating Healthy Boundaries
- To understand just how much time is being spent on digital devices, start by monitoring your children’s usage. This can be an eye-opener.
- A media time calculator can be used to facilitate the calculation of screen time of family members.
- Other Screen Time tech tools can be used such as the Apple Screen Time feature, or other apps listed in the Screen Time additional resources section.
- It is a good idea to have a family media agreement set as soon as children are permitted to use digital media, to create healthy boundaries around digital media usage.
- Part of the agreement could be basic ethics and values such as kindness, respecting one another, and treating one another like we would want to be treated. The agreement could also include what types of websites are okay to visit and what is not okay, in addition to scheduling digital detoxes, and wifi-free or screen-free timings such as mealtimes, at least an hour before bedtime, etc.
- Engage the children in coming up with the terms of the agreement for the family. Practice committing to it together!
- You can create your own agreement or use one of the many family media plans or agreement templates available online. Visit the additional resources
- Introduce new exciting screen-free activities that may balance out some of the sedentary time children spend on screens. To become a positive role-model, ensure that you join your children in these activities.
- Finally, you can choose to limit certain forms of ‘entertainment” screen time, like gaming or watching cartoons, to become something that is earned rather than taken for granted.
- If we manage to do other activities that are good for our wellbeing, for example, we earn some “gaming time”. If we complete chores at home, then we earn “watching cartoons” time.
- Lending an attentive ear to your children goes a long way. If you haven’t before, now’s the time to start the dialogue with your children
- Have regular conversations with children about their use of digital media, and how they feel about it.
- Show interest in children’s online behavior; engage with them and have open conversations about what they do online, who they speak to, what games they’re playing, and what they find attractive about the digital world.
- There are many conversation starters available online to help you get the dialogue started. Check the additional resources for samples.
- Encourage children to immediately tell you or a trusted adult if they are exposed to a scary or disturbing situation online.
- Reassure your children that you will not punish them or take away their devices if they tell you what they have done, even if they made a mistake like saying something mean to someone online, or speaking to a stranger online.
- Lastly, remember to keep the line of communication open no matter what.
- Right from the beginning, as parents, we can be the ones to introduce the Internet to our children, discover it together, and share experiences as a family. This will make children feel comfortable with coming back to us if anything goes wrong.
- Try to join any platforms, apps, or games your child is on to get a better understanding. This will allow you to get a true feeling of what content they are sharing about themselves and what the content they are being exposed to.
- You can also ask to “friend” your child, or be your child’s online connection, or ask a trusted adult friend or family member to do this. Note that some children create multiple accounts, some that they share with parents, and others for their friends only.
- Try to play with your children or co-view with your children, an excellent bonding opportunity as well. Co-viewing time can also be part of your family agreement.
- Let your children be your guide. Have them show you what they enjoy doing online and teach you how to do the same
Role-modeling Positive Digital Behavior
- Everything discussed so far on raising positive responsible digital citizens, and educating children on digital wellbeing and digital challenges will be futile if parents, carers, and educators fail to role-model. The old parenting excuse of “do as I say and not as I do” fails miserably here.
- There is no doubt that children begin to imitate adult behavior at a very young age. With digital challenges, the same applies. If we are constantly on our phones and computers at home, we should not be surprised that our children are also glued to TVs and iPads. If we only limit our usage of technology to entertainment, then we shouldn’t expect our children to use technology as a means of education or edutainment either.
- Show children examples of how you can use technology for good purposes that benefit yourself and others like listening to an audiobook, or writing a blog post on your favorite recipe.
- Take digital detoxes or breaks from technology together as a family. Lead by an example in this, and be the first to put your phone and gadgets away, and offering to go for a family outing or day at the beach.
- If you have a carer helping with taking care of the children, ensure that they are on board with all the above, and also aware of how to role-model positive use of digital technology.
Keeping up with Digital Innovations
- Clearly, the digital world is a fast-paced world that is continuously changing. This highlights the need for us to try to stay as updated as possible with digital innovations and new technologies, to be able to relate to our children, and keep an eye out for any new digital risks out there.
How to handle situations…
- For more on how to handle specific situations, like how to act upon exposure to inappropriate content, check out the “how to handle it” tabs within the digital domains.
- Alternatively, you may call our Digital Wellbeing Support Line 800-91 to get free counseling services on digital challenges.