Recently, I attended a panel session organized by ZooMoo, a television channel for preschool children featuring animals. Topics discussed were about finding a balance in digital parenting and the challenges of raising children in the digital era.
Given the multiscreen era that we are currently living in, it is unsurprising that learning how to 'unplug' is a test for most people, i.e. parents and children alike. To be realistic, keeping away from technology might not be feasible in today's circumstances, so we need to find ways to balance our time spent on screens.
In a recent article by New York Post titled It's 'digital heroin': How screens turn kids into psychotic junkies: Many parents intuitively understand that ubiquitous glowing screens are having a negative effect on kids. We see the aggressive temper tantrums when the devices are taken away and the wandering attention spans when children are not perpetually stimulated by their hyper-arousing devices. Worse, we see children who become bored, apathetic, uninteresting and uninterested when not plugged in.
In our current tech-filled society where screens are ubiquitous, with digital temptations everywhere, plus the dangers of crossing the line into full-blown tech addiction, here's what we can do.
1. Redefine the concept of balance
Technology plays a big role in our lives, so it is impractical to remove screen time completely. The key is mindfulness of using it. Instead of setting parameters on the amount of time allowed, the smarter approach is to know what content our children consumes and how they react to it.
"Parents need to be the gatekeepers for their children's time and activities spent on screens. Similar to any other activity such as play time, children do not know when to stop and are likely to be upset when they are told to. It is about understanding your children and what works for them," said Dr. Shen-Li Lee, parenting expert and author of Brainchild.
"Screen time is not necessarily a bad thing as it can be used as an educational tool or part of bonding time. My girls and I enjoy watching ZooMoo and learning about the animals together," said Aishah Sinclair, celebrity mom of two, radio DJ, and ZooMoo brand ambassador.
The main consensus is that consuming digital media in moderation is key.
2. Parents as role model for healthy digital habits
Throughout the early years of development, children learn through imitation — as we know from Social Learning Theory, "monkey see, monkey do". Watching their parents, i.e. that is us, practicing a well-balanced screen time routine will have a positive impact on our children.
Outside of the allocated screen time, we can set a time to read books with our children or play Lego with them or just be with them sans the screen. We can also bring them out for outdoor activities, trips, getaways, etc. Eat dinner with our children without any electronic devices at the table — just as Steve Jobs used to have tech-free dinners with his children.
As parents, we are our children's role model for them to understand and emulate. Remember, "monkey see, monkey do". We have no one but ourselves to blame if our children turn into screen junkies.
3. Content that matters
Restricting technology may not be the best way to navigate the digital space. Dr. Lee cited an example that although PC/video games are often associated with the negative effects they have on children, there is some underlying value for their development including problem-solving skills and creativity. In addition, depending on the type of game, they can also be exposed to real-life scenarios such as trading.
Similarly, ZooMoo's approach to content aims to provide a safe environment for children to learn through animals and the world they live in. Through collaborations with child and educational experts, the content curated and format of programming is designed to entertain while stimulating young minds and bodies.
"As a channel that believes in the power of technology, we embrace it and encourage children to be exposed to it from a young age. It is not something that can be avoided as a child grows up and conditioning them in the proper use of technology early would be beneficial," said Catherine Nebauer, General Manager, ZooMoo Networks for Australasia.
The consensus is that as parents, we should not let our children watch whatever content they fancy. When it comes to content, we need to play an active role in monitoring and setting boundaries regarding what they watch. In fact, we can watch together with them and this can be great for bonding time too!
In this age of the digital world, there is no way to implement a total black-out on technology. Rather, just like any other activity, there is a suitable time and place, and it is up to parents to find ways to balance quality time both on-screen and off.