What Shall I Do If My Child Is Glued To Their Device?

25/04/2017 15:07

Can you answer this question? Which of the following four activities is most popular with children - watching TV, going online, playing sport or reading books?

According to Ofcom research carried out last year, 'going online' is the correct answer.

But perhaps this comes as no surprise at all for many parents coming out of the Easter holidays wondering whether their children spent too much time glued to their smartphone, tablet or games console.

And further research by Internet Matters found that they aren't alone in their worries - as 60% of mums and dads have revealed they are concerned their child is "showing a lack of interest in other activities compared to going online".

The statistic is reflective of the ever-changing digital landscape and also indicates just how much parents worry that children rely on the internet as their sole source of communication, information, entertainment and development.

As a parent, I believe the figure raises two fundamental questions: How do I intervene and engage them offline and if their main interest is going on the internet; how do I ensure they are making the most of the time they're spending online?

So here's some handy tips to help parents make the most of their family time and re-examine their child's online habits so they don't face the same frustrating issues every weekend or during half-term.

If you're struggling to have a conversation with your child without them talking into their screen - perhaps it is time to talk to them about time limits.

Firstly, you must set a good example with your own device use. Children will tend to model their behaviours on yours. If you take time away from your smartphone and get active outside, they may follow your lead.

With the arrival of the sunny weather, the weekend provides ample opportunity for outdoor family fun.

But if it's not possible for an outdoor activity, it's worth noting that children will also follow your everyday behaviour. If you make an effort to stay off your phone and start to read a book, they are more likely to copy.

Don't shy away from talking about how you have concerns over the time they're spending online. Sometimes talking about screen time can seem daunting as you and your child may differ on what you think is an appropriate amount of time to spend online.

Have a sensible conversation and agree on an appropriate length of time together. Put in place a family agreement, to set some boundaries on device usage and make sure you don't break it either. Childnet offer advice on how to devise a family agreement here.

Help everyone in the family become aware of the amount of time they're spending online by getting everyone to unplug. Set some 'screen free' zones at home or perhaps if attending a family event suggest everyone leaves their phones behind to ensure some quality time together.

If you need some extra assistance, technology can actually help you limit your screen time and encourage activity outside of going online.

For example, the Forest app is a great tool that enables them to grow a beautiful forest of different trees each day when they don't use their phone for a set amount of time. The iPad's 'Guided Access' limits the time you can access any given app, which can be great for younger children.

Secondly, it's not just the quantity of screen time that parents have concerns about - it's the quality of their screen time.

It's important to remember that rather than being anti-social, lonely and isolating, screens can be social, connecting and creative.

A weekend or May half-term could be the perfect opportunity to talk to your children about what they're up to online. Make your time together count by understanding what they're getting up to, the latest apps they are using and share some of these online activities with them.

Playing games together, looking up new places to visit or learning about a new app are great ways to share screen time in a positive way and allows your child to get used to sharing time online together.

Encourage them to use the internet to come up with a quiz for the whole family to take part in after dinner or to look at games they can play outside with friends.

Feel free to be curious about what they're doing - often children are reluctant to share their online world with you but just asking broad open-ended questions or asking them to explain how an app works, can help.

Having conversations and keeping them going is essential to finding out what content they are sharing. It's vital children feel comfortable talking to us when they are worried about something online.

Putting yourself in their online world and having ongoing conversations can help you engage them offline - not to mention, taking an active interest, is the best way to keep them safe.

For more e-safety advice and more tips to manage screen time visit internetmatters.org

**Survey of 1500 parents by Opinion Leader on behalf of Internet Matters - September 2016

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