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Like every other concerned parent out there, a lot of my conversations gravitate towards this:
How do I set boundaries for my child in the digital space?
For a moment can I instead challenge you to think about this:
How do I bond with my child in the digital space?
Staying connected with your child is an age-old struggle. As children grow, they are not participating in play dates in the presence of parents and they start spending a lot of time with their peers and friends. Their world starts to feel impenetrable to parents. Technology has only added to these woes.
As much as boundaries are necessary for growing children, it is far more important to really bond and stay relevant in your child’s digital world. I know it’s easier said than done, which is why we have created a list of ways to stay integrated in your child’s digital world.
You ask your kids about how their day went or what they learnt at the end of their day. Quite similarly ask them about what they learnt and what game they have been playing on their digital devices. Normalize talking about your kids’ digital experiences. When they share, listen to them. Keep an open mind to what they are sharing instead of jumping to conclusions quickly.
Do not be afraid of asking your child to show you how to play a game or show you how to navigate a particular tech platform. The tech landscape is constantly changing and at times it might seem alien to us. At the same time it might seem that your child knows about it more than you do. Have them explain to you what they are working on (even though you may already know it). Kids love to share their knowledge with their parents. Take advantage of that and make this a bonding moment. This will also provide you with an insight into their digital habits.
As much as the tech trends may change or it may seem that your kids know the tech platforms better than you do, know that you have the wisdom and the depth of experience from life itself, and your child needs it. Whether or not your child is using technology to learn or interact with their peers they are growing up to be a part of a community where skills like collaboration, kindness and empathy are very important. That is where your life experience will help them guide their path, even though the path might be in their digital space.
Parents have been navigating how to mentor their children through all their questions and aspects of life from time immemorial. Agreed that technology makes it harder but at the same time most of the aspects of real life manifests in the digital world. Think of how you would provide comfort when someone says something nasty to your kid in the school hallways. Kids feel the same pain from cyberbullying and name-calling on the internet. Those are the moments they need you - your love and your support. Be there.
Having established that whether or not it’s the physical or the digital space, kids need you to guide them. It’s important to remember that only you know your kid like no one else does. Advice on the internet about the amount of time that your child should be spending on screens can be very confusing. Do treat them as guidelines while deciding what best works for your kid.
The same is true about accessing how your child interacts with screens or how they behave while they are asked to put their screens away. Another important thing to watch out for are signs of distress or sadness in your child while they have been on screens, or if they are avoiding being online. These could be indicators of cyberbullying or that they might not be having a pleasant experience online. That certainly would be time for you as a parent to intervene and provide assistance.
Childcare is an ongoing challenge, more so now than ever. Screentime can provide the much needed distraction by keeping children occupied while busy parents work or find time to unwind. There is nothing wrong with that but child psychologists say that consistently exempting yourself from your child’s digital experiences can set a bad precedent that these experiences are exclusively for kids only. In other words, you as a parent need to be part of your child’s digital world.
Maybe not always, but you would certainly find a few minutes to sit down with your child, and play with their animal figurines or make some shapes with play dough, the same applies to participating in their activities while they are on screens. This must go beyond just watching a show with them on the iPad, every now and then play an online game with them on the tablet or console. Besides providing an excellent way to connect with your child this will help set boundaries and rules - rules that your child will follow and agree with.
Connecting with your kid is never a one-way street. This is true about the physical space and is equally true for the digital world. The first rule to remember is that rules apply to everyone in the house. Kids learn by watching us, so practice what you preach. It also pays to be prepared to answer a lot of questions - do so honestly and with age-appropriate information. The home should be your children’s safe space where they can share and have any conversation without judgement.
As parents we do want to protect them and the best way to do so in the long term is to provide them with the coping mechanisms they need to navigate their digital world and not by keeping them away from it. Be accepting and open about the fact that cyberbullying happens and that bad content exists on the internet. Having honest conversations with your kids strengthens their trust in you and makes it easy for them to approach you when they need help or are in trouble.
You are already an integral part of their physical existence, now it’s time to become a part of their digital world. Connect with them, have honest conversations, listen to them with an open mind and most certainly have fun with it all. It’s better for their mental and emotional health and so much better for your peace of mind.
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