1. Keeping Our Children Safe And Healthy Around Screens (PART 2)

Keeping Our Children Safe And Healthy Around Screens (PART 2)

Published on 03 May 2024
General Article
Essential Information
Educators' Perspective
Child Development

Written by Li-Hsian Choo

In Part 1 of our two-part article, we shared how the current constant screen use in schools and at home urgently calls for a reset of the way we manage technology use today. As parents, we need to re-educate ourselves on what we can do to better support our children. 

In this piece, Part 2 of our two-part article, we provide 12 curated tips to consider that could help your children have a safer and healthier relationship with screens.

1. Do not feel pressured to introduce screens and technology early.

Frequently, parents feel that their children will ‘lose out’ to other children if they do not expose them to screens and technology early. It is better to introduce these things at an age when children are more mature and can self-regulate. Do not worry, as most modern devices are designed to be very intuitive, and children of today pick up things very quickly.

2. Technology together, not apart. 

Select and co-view media or co-play games with your child. This way, you can show them how to make the right choices and navigate content in a safe and educational way. In our household, I have watched certain content that was recommended for slightly older children together with my son because he was curious after hearing some of his classmates (who have more unfiltered access) talk about these shows or clips. I did not want him to watch such content secretly without our knowledge and take in the wrong messages without our input and guidance. I have friends who have also set up accounts to play games like Roblox or Minecraft together with their children. 

3. Ensure your child’s online media use does not displace other important activities, such as sleep, family time, and exercise. 

For example, stop children from using devices or screens at least one hour before bedtime. Do not allow children to sleep with their devices (this includes smartphones, tablets, PCs, and TVs), and get younger children to surrender their screens to you before going to bed. Also, ensure that their online media use does not exceed their exercise time or offline playtime. Watch out for any behavioural changes in your child: Do they struggle to get up every morning? Are they suddenly suffering from mood swings? Do you notice a loss in appetite or any sudden weight gain? These could be signs that they are spending too much time with their devices. Speak to their paediatrician if necessary. 

4. Plan media-free or media-limited family time.

For example, plan regular family dinners where you have to have real conversations. Making family meal areas a device-free zone is an easy way to start. Schedule weekly family time to play board games or watch movies together. Also, plan family holidays where limited online connectivity is allowed (even better, plan to holiday at a location with limited internet access!). During these times, set a good example to your children by not looking at your smartphone unless absolutely necessary. \

5. Use good sites to help you make good decisions about your family’s media consumption and use. 

Refer to sites like Common Sense Media to help you decide if movies, TV shows, apps and video games are age and content-appropriate for your children and consistent with your family values. As far as possible, choose media that is interactive, non-violent, educational, and prosocial (Note: Prosocial behaviours are those intended to help other people; characterised by a concern for the rights, feelings and welfare of other people.)

6. Talk at length about stranger danger. 

Help children learn about internet etiquette such as how to be respectful online and diligent about what they share and post on social channels. They need to be aware that anything they post online will forever be part of their Internet footprint. Try to ensure that your child’s privacy settings are set to the maximum. For older children, talk to them about potential sex offenders and how some can hide behind false identities on social networking sites and online gaming platforms. You might like to check out the award-winning “Predator in My Phone” videos together with your older children. They were made by young investigative journalists from The Star’s R.Age Team and can be a good conversation starter about online risks and dangers.

7. Encourage your child’s school to advocate for more consistent online access policies and programmes that promote healthier online habits.

Common Sense Education provides a comprehensive Digital Citizenship Curriculum for each grade level k-12 which is free for educators. Share this with your child’s school. The curriculum covers topics like media balance and well-being, relationships, communication and also cyberbullying. Parents must support and complement these with relevant online safety education at home too. Our local telcos have good resources for families to refer to like CelcomDigi’s S.A.F.E. very informative Internet page and Maxis’ Digital Safety for Families page.

8. Make screen time consistent, not conditional. 

@TheGamerEducator on Instagram has some great tips on managing screen time and behaviour. Their biggest recommendation around screens is to make it consistent and routine. This can mean making screen time available at a consistent time on certain days of the week. They explain that when we make screen time conditional or contingent on other things like behaviour, we risk turning it into a reward. When we do that, we are incentivising the desired outcome with the promise of screens. This puts screen time on a pedestal and makes it like a prize, but it also reduces children’s intrinsic motivation to do what they need to do, like homework, chores, or even exercise.  On the other hand, when screen time is not directly affected by or linked to a child’s choices or behaviour, we can separate these and focus on helping them to work on those choices and behaviours as an important part of their growth and development, not because these are triggered by screen time. We try to follow this recommendation in our home by restricting our children’s screen time during the school week and only allowing them to use screens for entertainment and relaxation (gaming and watching videos) on Friday evenings and Saturdays. So far, this strategy has worked well in our family.

9. Cultivate self-awareness and self-control in children. 

Open and honest communication with our children about screen time is important. Try to share the rationale of certain screen time rules with children so that they can develop a more balanced approach to technology. Explain that you are doing it because you love and want to protect them. Talk to them about the consequences of consuming harmful content. Show them how to discern between good and harmful content. As they grow older, it will become harder to monitor our children constantly, so it is important that you also give them space to develop self-awareness, self-control, and their own set of values to make the right decisions and regulate their own screen time content and consumption. We know of some families that have even let their children experience what unlimited screen time is like to teach them an important lesson, similar to the social experiment that this family embarked on.

10. Emphasise creativity over consumption.

We have sent our children for coding classes with providers like CodeJuniors so that they can have fun learning about how the games they enjoy playing are made. These classes show our children how making games requires creativity and innovative ideas. These classes help our children move away from just being mindless game consumers to mindful creators who can appreciate the games they play even more.

11. Also share the best of the Internet with children.

Guide children to explore what is good about the Internet that can boost their knowledge as well as encourage their resourcefulness and creativity. For example, Google Classroom provides opportunities for students to communicate and collaborate. Encourage them to visit sites like TED-Ed and Khan AcademyWe have also always preferred and liked strategy-based games like Minecraft over other gaming platforms, as it teaches children how to manage a finite amount of resources at any given time and to make good decisions on how to use these in the most effective manner.

12. Show children that screen time does not have to be sedentary. 

According to this Australian article, screens are not necessarily the enemy of exercise. Online content that involves music and dance can get children moving. Digital games like Nintendo Switch’s Sports and augmented reality apps like Pokémon Go also promote physical activity. Technology can also inspire off-screen physical activity. Watching a physical game show can encourage children to build similar obstacle courses at home. Many children also enjoy watching videos of themselves being active and may be willing to repeatedly ride a bike down a path, demonstrate their skills on the monkey bars, shoot a basketball, or do a K-Pop dance when being filmed. Map-related apps can also add an extra dimension to your family’s Sunday morning walk. Spend some time each day talking face-to-face with your children and giving them your full attention. Putting down the phone and taking a walk or playing outdoors as a family increases the happy endorphins in your brain, boosts your mood, and improves your physical health. This makchic.com article also offers some practical tips on how to sneak in some “exercise snacks” and physical movements into our largely digitally-driven days.

We can conclude that constant screen time in the classroom and at home creates passive students with little agency and initiative. Poorly supervised technology use does more harm than good. Device-free distractions like chatting with friends, doodling, or daydreaming are much better because at least they encourage children to connect and interact with other children and their own minds. The key is to find balance, complementing screen time control and management with thoughtful conversations with our children on how to use technology in more meaningful and moderate ways to help make our lives better.



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