By Esther O Ochieng
Being a mother of two young girls I often debate with other parents or at times with myself about the effect of internet and digital gadgets on our lifestyles as opposed to the older times when we were raised. Gone are the days when parents had a lighter time raising children. Parents were the main source of information that nurtured a child’s character apart from peers, teachers and the community. Enter now, the digital age, myriads of information are flying by every second making parenting a daunting task. From a young age children are exposed to a lot of material online that may impact in their behavior. Have you seen a toddler trying to finger swipe a television or ‘analogue’ phones much to their frustration? I have seen many, I have even seen my children try it. It can be daunting.
Raising a child in the digital age needs parents to have guidelines on internet usage for their children. It’s not possible to just make a blanket decision and deny children especially teenagers access to online sources because they develop a stronger desire to access internet from other areas like peers, at school or cyber cafes. This alternative sources turn out to be unsafe as it isn’t regulated and possibly exposes the child to explicit or violent content.
A study by Pew Research Center revealed that 92% of teenagers are online on a daily basis. This has become possible through the ever increasing availability of smartphones and its ease of access into the internet.
It is literally difficult to deny your child access to a phone moreover the internet, I haven’t succeeded and my children are only just preschoolers. Today, a lot of practices children have developed come from the internet and not to fault them even adults’ lifestyle choices are affected by ease of access to the internet. Of all age groups, teenagers are most vulnerable because they are at a point in life where they’re easily impressed. There is an enormous amount of pressure to fit in which most of the time influences how they eat, dress and behave. Google, YouTube, streaming channels etc. just to mention a few have opened another world to them, albeit positively and negatively. Did you know that most of your children have watched pornographic materials at least a few times before they turned 18? This might be a shocker but according to statistics 92% of boys and 62% of girls have watched porn before their 18th birthday. This is according to a study by covenant press as seen in the image below.
Nonetheless, there are many potential benefits of the internet among teenagers when it is used productively. For instance, children can access educational material online which can be useful with studies. Gaming is also important for brain growth provided the amount of time taken in plating should be regulated and the types of games carefully chosen. They may use media channels online to connect with peers across national divides and create cross cultural friendships. There are many parents who have used new media positively and are having great results with their children. I have used media available online to teach my child various activities, learn colours and shapes, even to show her she can brush her teeth independently and successfully. See the video below also used by Fastrack Kids Kindergarten in Johannesburg to enhance social learning in class.
Social media and the internet are very useful tools to advance sustainable social and economic development. New technological advancements and milestones have been achieved during this digital age making it almost impossible to regulate this tool which is a double edged sword, it has its benefits but is also harmful. Researchers continue to look into way of making the internet safer to use to increase productivity for children. Parents are encouraged to teach their children on safe internet use in order to encourage responsible habits. This is no easy fit owing to the millions of information online. For starters, as a parent you need to be fully conversant with internet. Some parents are technology savvy and do not take much interest using internet. It becomes difficult to regulate someone from using a tool or service while you aren’t aware of its benefits and risks. Understanding internet usage enables a parent limit access to only appropriate content and interactions on social sites.
On a lighter note there’s an interesting video on you tube showing a toddler conducting CPR on a dummy. Amazing, right? The toddler must have observed someone doing it, right? It is an arguably cute video but on the flip side it demonstrates how easy it is for a child to pick up a habit or behavior just by being exposed to it. You may watch it here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JRoSAkeV_Qc Parenting is full time duty that requires a parent to be very observant of their children’s activities especially online. Psychologists encourage open communication between parents and children so that they’re able to guide on best practices of internet use and safeguard them from harmful retrogressive digital age cultures.
Here are a few simple procedures to guide internet usage for your child;
- Constant supervision of internet use through computers or mobile phones
- Initiating parenting controls on websites with obscene content like porn sites
- Purchase of internet software that regulate internet browsing and safety
- Educate your child on the dangers of accessing harmful websites especially clicking on those pop advertisements
- Some may call it stalking but try to interact with your child while they’re online