Increasingly, communication is done via a screen, not face-to-face. For social creatures like human beings, this is a catalyst for dramatic changes in the way we develop and the way we interact with the world around us.
Our children are bearing the brunt of this shift in societal norms. While we used to go out and engage with the world, now technology and the media have enabled the world to plug in to us, and our children, with or without permission.
The ultimate parenting challenge in this is the competition for our time and attention.
The amount of knowledge in the world is doubling every 18 months and the number of web pages doubling every 6 months. It is obviously impossible to keep up with this deluge of data.
And if adults feel overwhelmed, what effect is this having on our children? What skills can we pass onto our children to help them cope?
With digital media a constant backdrop to life as we know it, it is inappropriate to overreact and try and ban digital media.
We need to teach our children (and ourselves) new skills. We must help them to learn to discern for themselves the impact of digital media, and the role it should play in their lives. Here are a few tips for parents:
Digital media and technology tips
Create rules about email, SMSing and phone calls
Create family rules about email, SMS and phone calls. Consider phone-free and email-free zones or times. For this to be effective, parents will have to adhere to these family rules too. Watch your own cellphone, media and communication habits. Your children use you as a role model
Enable parental controls on your web browser
Activate the filters that are available through your search engines and invest in software to protect them from inappropriate content
Install the computer in a public space
Install your family computer in a public space, with the screen facing the room, so you can keep an eye on what your children are accessing
Limit access to TV and/or computers
Do not put TVs or computers in your pre-teens bedrooms
Check computer games thoroughly before buying
When buying computer games read the packaging carefully, take note of suggested age restrictions and, if possible, ask for a demonstration of the game
Keeping your details private
Teach your children never to give out their personal details via cellphone, internet or email to strangers or marketers, without checking with you first
Encourage kids to play with games that stimulate the intellect, thinking skills, reasoning and problem solving
Keep your child socially active in the real world
Keep your child socially active. There is so much that children learn through face-to-face socialising that they cannot get from on-screen activities
Encourage non-screen activities
Encourage non-screen activities, especially real concrete play experiences, such as playing with games and toys, gross motor equipment, sport, artistic and musical activities, and hobbies that require commitment, such as keeping silkworms and growing plants
Create face time, make eye contact. Be aware that much time is spent apart and when together we are often next to each other in front of TV or behind another screen somewhere
Concrete learning experiences
Remember that the best learning experiences for children under the age of 12 are real, concrete experiences with people, not virtual ones.
For children and younger teenagers, much more parenting intervention is required to protect them at a stage when they are too young to make some of these decisions for themselves. The digital child is here to stay. Our task as parents is to ensure that they grow up healthy and well adjusted, and ready for the world.