As parents, we all want what’s best for our children, whatever their age. But given that there’s no definitive guide to parenting, getting to grips with what actually is ‘best’ can be tricky. There are so many mixed messages out there, that it can often feel overwhelming. It’s not always easy to know what the right thing to do is – especially when faced with the uniquely modern challenges of parenting in the digital age.
The world has changed a lot since we were little; our parents didn’t have to think about things like screen time and social media, so we can’t always turn to our own caregivers for advice on how to tackle these issues. That’s why we’ve come up with a few tips and tricks to help 21st century parents deal with the dilemmas that they’re likely to come across.
One of the main things that parents face today is information overload; with so much advice (and not all of it helpful) just a click away, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for parents to trust their intuition.
Where once of a day we’d gather advice from our families, friends and neighbours, we now look to the internet for all the answers – and why not? It’s easily accessible, it’s immediate and it’s free. The problem is that information overload tends towards over-thinking; 21st century parents are goaded by a stream of social media ‘shoulds’ and ‘shouldn’ts’ that would leave anyone feeling anxious.
It’s important to learn to sift between what’s valuable and what isn’t; we need to be able to acknowledge fads and fiction from fact, and teach our children to do the same. Look at the source of your information; does it come from a reputable publication? Does the website look credible? Does it read more like a sales pitch than a piece of journalism? These are the things you should be thinking about whenever you search.
The truth is that parenting does involve intuition; learning to trust this without heading straight for the search bar every time you have a minor query will leave you feeling empowered – and definitely less confused.
Screen time stress
Screen time – i.e. any activity done in front of a screen – is unavoidable today. Whilst it may feel alien to see your children use computers, mobile phones or tablets with such ease, the fact remains that you can’t shield them from the digital world. Actually, trying to do so would leave them in a vulnerable position later in life. Today, people are expected to be tech-savvy; an inability to interact with technology is disadvantageous.
The question is, how much is too much? A recent report by Ofcom showed that 3-4 year olds spend about 7 hours 54 minutes using the internet, and 5 hours 54 minutes gaming; they also
spend over 15 hours a week watching television. In total, it means that infants are spending almost 30 hours every week in front of a screen.
Before the age of 18 months, experts advise that babies should not be exposed to screens at all. Older children can benefit from digital technology – it can be educational, and help to improve their communication and fine motor skills – but there should be limits to how much screen time they get each day.
It’s also important to remember that the positive effects of this are dependent on:
- The age of the child
- How long they’re spending in front of screens
- The way the media is being used
- The type of content being consumed
Once of a day, duration seemed to be the main cause of concern for experts, but recently, those strict guidelines have become less concrete. Studies have suggested that any developmental issues associated with screen time have more to do with how electronic devices are being used, as opposed to how long a child might spend using them. Obviously, excessive screen time will have a lasting impact on an infant’s mental and physical wellbeing, though it’s now generally assumed that it’s more important for parents to ensure that what their children are watching, playing and reading is high-quality, educational, age-appropriate and safe. Where possible, parents and children should watch, play and browse together too.
Though inevitable, screen time should never take the place of sleep or physical activity. For their health and wellbeing, it’s crucial that you keep your baby or toddler active and encourage them to settle into a bedtime routine. According to HSE guidelines, children and young people should be physically active at a moderate to vigorous level for at least 60 minutes every day.
Alongside this, balance is important. At the end of the day, digital devices have their limitations; you can’t replicate the feeling of the sun or your skin or the sensation of swimming in a pool. Babies and toddlers need these sorts of sensory experiences to aid their cognitive development, so make sure that you and your family are sharing more real-life experiences than screen time together.
Try not to be swayed by digital versions of activities that can still be enjoyed in their primitive state. Rather than turning to the tablet for a bedtime story, teach your little one to appreciate the joys of reading a paperback book; kick a ball about with them outdoors instead of investing in an ‘active’ video game, or inspire their imagination by recreating the premise, sets or costumes of their favourite TV show at home.
Misgivings about social media
One of the biggest game-changers that has sprung from the digital age is social media. Despite the fact that most major social networking platforms specify a minimum age limit of 13, few of them have any checks in place to ascertain a user’s age; it’s estimated that more than three-quarters of 10 to 12-year olds have social media account.
There are major concerns for parents, politicians and charity organisations around the subject of children and social media. From mental health to online safety, the dark side of social networking is well-documented. One study from the University of Sheffield concluded that ‘spending more time on social networks reduces the satisfaction that children feel with all aspects of their lives...one hour a day chatting on social networks reduces the probability of [them] being completely satisfied with life overall.
Despite the controversies surrounding social media, it’s popularity amongst young people won’t wane any time soon. In fact, the above study found that the one thing that hadn’t been negatively affected by social media was the way that the children felt about their friendship groups.The key to ensuring that your child stays safe on social media is to educate them. They shouldn’t need an account on any of the major platforms at a very young age; when they do create one, it’s crucial to teach them about online privacy and staying safe. Be transparent
about ‘stranger danger,’ and the fact that it extends to the virtual world. If you’re worried about who your child is talking to online, you might want to apply some parental controls or filtering software; there are also plenty of apps available which help parents to monitor how their child is using social media.
If you’re posting images or videos of your baby or toddler on your own social media account, be smart about who you’re sharing them with; be knowledgeable about who you accept as a friend, and regularly check your privacy settings