Technology has become an inevitable part of daily life. An Info-communications Media Development Authority (IMDA) survey in 2014 showed that most Singaporean households have Internet access and are increasingly using their smartphones to go online — turning to social media for communication, leisure and also as an information source. While technology has enhanced our lives in many ways, there is a valid concern about the potentially harmful effects of media too.
Our challenge is in raising children who naturally embrace media and technology, while protecting them from the dangers that come with unrestricted use, including premature exposure to media, cyberbullying and media addiction, amongst others.
These are some strategies to help our children safely and successfully navigate a tech-saturated world:
Equip them with age-appropriate safeguards
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to technology and media. Parents need to carefully consider the age and emotional maturity of each child, and tailor an approach for them.
In 1999, the American Academy of Paediatrics (AAP) issued a statement recommending that parents avoid screen time for children under the age of two years. Beyond this guideline, parents should set age-appropriate limits and boundaries on the media consumption of their older children to prevent unhealthy overuse.
Children can also stumble across unsavoury content while online. A 2016 Straits Times report revealed that at least 9 in 10 teenage boys and 1 in 10 girls in Singapore have watched or read sexually explicit materials in the past year, mostly through their mobile devices.
It would be wise to restrict laptop or computer use to the living room only and install software to block pornography. Installing web filters on their children’s mobile phones is one way about it, but this may only work for younger children. The most important thing we can do for our teenagers is to have open channels of communication and heart-to-heart talks with them. Regardless of age, gently remind your children of any safeguards that have been put up for the sole purpose of protecting and helping them.
Educate them on media discernment
Just as you wouldn’t let your child into the pool unsupervised before taking swimming lessons, we need to prepare our children to navigate the World Wide Web, before letting them surf and explore online. Teaching them ‘netiquette’ will make them responsible and cautious users, with the people they respond to as well as the information they share online.
One of the most pervasive problems in the media today is fake news – does your child know how to spot it? Teaching your child to evaluate information for authenticity and accuracy is a valuable critical thinking skill that will serve them well even in adulthood.
Embrace media as a learning and entertainment tool
Some parents make the mistake of adopting an ‘all or nothing’ approach when it comes to technology and media. However, a moderate response is more constructive.
As a general rule, try and make your child’s media consumption ‘active’ rather than ‘passive’. Active engagement involves your child learning new facts and practical skills, and this becomes a productive use of their time. Encourage your child to translate what they have learnt into real life. For example, if your child enjoys reality TV cooking shows, cook a meal with them for family dinner one evening.
Your children’s technology and media use will not be static; it will change over time. Beyond having a media use agreement in place, make time to talk and understand what they are viewing and playing. This is a great opportunity to gain insight into your child and understand their likes and dislikes, and build a lasting ‘IRL’ (in-real-life) relationship with them.
© 2017 Focus on the Family Singapore. All rights reserved.
Written by Judith Xavier