"Who took my charger?" is becoming a pretty common phrase in my household these days. With four digitally connected people in the house, those chargers seem to missing more often then they're in the place they were left. I can say from experience that parenting in the digital age is not easy.
I also have to admit that I struggle with this as a parent myself. My own children, age 15 and 12, are pretty much glued to their devices (primarily iPhones) daily. My wife and I have tried it all in an effort to manage usage. From designating screen time to locking out the wifi, to more radical measures such as taking phones away and "grounding" them from the phones, we still seem to be looking for the 'just right" solution.
As a school principal, I am being asked on a regular basis to assist parents who are equally as frustrated with similar concerns. Specifically, the questions are about amount of screen time, exposure to questionable content, activity on specific apps, cyber-bullying, lack of sleep, and even addiction. If you are experiencing some of these concerns, just know you are not alone.
Alberta educational researcher, Phil McRae, has been part of a team looking into the impact of the digital age on our kids. Here is a summary of some of the findings in Growing Up Digital:
1) 67% of teachers say the number of students negatively distracted by digital technology is growing
2) 90% of teachers indicate the number of children with emotional challenges has increased
3) 56% of teachers say the number of students reporting cyberbullying has increased
4) 66% of teachers are observing students coming to school tired, with decreased ability to focus
5) 76% of teachers frequently or very frequently observe students multi-tasking with technology
Dr. Michael Rich, the Mediatrician, and The Centre on Media and Child Health, have a wealth of resources to assist parents of children of any age. Some of the most consistent tips to parents include:
- Help you child manage their time online
- Establish an evening charging station so your child does not bring their device to their bedroom
- Set time limits for screen time, and give them reminders such as "you have 5 minutes"
- Watch for warning signs that device time interferes with sleep or even eating
- Model your expectations by putting your own advice away at family times such as dinner
Paul Davis, is a Canadian presenter who specializes in Social Networking Safety. His TED Talk offers "real talk" and many helpful tips to parents. Some of Paul's key points include:
- The parent is the owner of the phone / device / internet account and are responsible for it
- There is always a trail of internet/online/App activity no matter if you think it's anonymous (it's not)
- Your online activity as a youth follow you into your adulthood and can impact your employability
For many of us, we feel a bit out of our element in dealing with these technology issues and we are not digital natives like out children are. We are being asked to navigate these deeply impactful issues through a rapidly changing landscape. Throughout it all, I have to keep reminding myself that I am the parent, and that I have to not only establish the boundaries, but model the way for my own children. Being open and honest, and educating my children about their digital identity is part of the process. I also know that doing nothing is not an option, and that in some way I think my children are looking to me to help them make the right choices, as they always do.