The new wave of digital media such as the Internet and video games is exposing children to explicit content in unfamiliar ways, because of which parents are perplexed as to what they should be doing to protect their children from harm.
Protecting children from digital media and other harmful or offensive data is often taken for granted due to the assumption that children are making decisions for themselves. Now that we take responsibility to monitor them, we shall not restrict data from them either as they need to access tools of media to be functioning members of society. As exposure to these issues will help them develop intellectually. Arguably, censorship is not always a threat to personal freedom and it helps benefit society in regulating what our curious mind consumes. Even though we realize the significance to protect children from open media, the diverge is while deciding upon whose job it is to protect them or how to establish the rules.
Parents being primary teachers are in the best position to know what is best for their children. But, with the extraordinary advancement in technology and digital media, parents have moved away from the position of digital migrant, a person who has grown up in the digital age. Today’s children are tech-savvy. They can't teach their child about the risks of social media unless they understand the dangers. The dangers are not just limited to cyberbullying and social media harassment but include effects on their lifestyles as well. Most people aren't aware of 'advergames', the free games available for children on the web, that promote food or products that the game-production companies would like the parents to buy. Parents may not realize it, but the child’s choices for what they eat and buy are highly influenced by the games they play online. Also, at a very young age, children internalize the concept of an ideal body. The female characters in some of the video games are highly sexualized. They possess unnatural body curves and revealing outfits. The male characters boast of super bulked up muscles, normalizing extremities in the perception of body images. Thus, more than monitoring how much time children spend on media, it is important to monitor the content they are exposed to and how they internalize it.
Parents often forget to talk about how pictures, comments, and social interactions impact children's behavior. For example, the more you ask children to stay away from a hot tub, they are more likely to put their hands in it.
Thus, it is important to create a safe space on the web and not ask them to ‘stay away’ from technology. Here are a few tips we can keep in mind to facilitate the safe space:
When deciding what age you'll let your children use social media, keep in mind that most social networks require users to be 13 or older to create an account.
Avoid using TV or computer time as a reward. When a computer is used as a reward or withheld as a punishment, children become more attracted to it.
Encourage child-appropriate media experiences. Screen time shouldn't always be alone time. Co-view, co-play, and co-engage with your children when they are using screens
Explain Internet technology and safety practices openly. This is where the parental controls on the TV or cable box can be a huge help.
Set aside times for the entire family to become unplugged from technological devices. For example, the dinner hour or an hour before bedtime can be great times for the entire family to have quality time together.
Link TV content to everyday learning experiences. When children engage in TV and computer activities that are educational, prosocial. and age-appropriate, they gain cognitive and social skills.
Look for V-chip (V-Violence) which will indicate if it’s appropriate for your child. V-chip can be used to rethink the foundations of broadcast regulation and the goal of the chip is to allow parents to choose the level of violent TV programming that will be allowed into the home. V-chip is age-specific for example, TV-Y indicates that all children can watch; zero violence or sexual content, and TV-MA indicates suitable only for mature audiences; may contain graphic violence or sexual situations.
Be a role model for your child. Practicing and demonstrating mindful use of technology ourselves will be the best way to teach children the critical skill of unplugging.
9. Lastly, Create “Technology-Free Zones” and regulate TV, Computer, and Cell Phone use. Parents should establish clear rules for cell phone use, including limits on the number of call minutes, text messages, and establish the car is a no-phone-use zone.
It is paramount that we let children explore but it is also our responsibility to protect them from inverse consequences. Media and digital devices are an essential part of our world today. As children grow, their requirements with technology will also grow. It's difficult to predict what the digital world will look like even just a few years from now. Therefore, our view of healthy and unhealthy media usage will need regular updates. But, with the fast-paced society, we can often feel stuck. For times like this one can always turn to a child counselor for specialized attention on healthy lifestyles. The list here offers suggestions which can differ according to environment, behavior, and parenting styles.
"Let's handle errors with empathy and turn a mistake into a teachable moment rather than a restrictive practice."
Nandini is pursuing a triple major in Communication and Media, English and Psychology at Christ University, Bangalore. She is a Research and media strategist with Katharsis Counselling. A psychology fanatic who aspires to explore the diverse field, Nandini holds key interests in positive psychology and mindful learning. Being a dancer herself, she is also inclined towards movement therapy. She is currently pursuing a research project on ‘Music and Socialisation’. Nandini optimistically aspires to de-stigmatize mental health and make it more accessible.