People might joke about BlackBerry addiction, and dub the device a ‘crackberry’, but the fact is we can get drawn into the world of smartphones and laptops to the exclusion of relating to people around us face-to-face. Dr Pieter Streicher dishes out advice on how children – and adults – should use technology wisely.
With 2012 upon us, this could be a good time for you, as a parent, to reflect on the past year. More specifically, to evaluate what progress you and your child have made in terms of technology usage and where there’s room for improvement.
A good place to start is to look at the potentially bad habits that have crept in, despite your best efforts. Here’s a list of improper behaviour that you can use as a starting point for your own evaluation:
· Sending SMS messages while at the dinner table;
· SMSing while family members are engaging socially with each other;
· SMSing instead of doing homework or concentrating in class while at school;
· SMSing throughout the night (instead of sleeping). Talking on your cellphone or SMSing while driving;
· Screen time, be it TV, computer, cellphone, iPad etc, just before bed time;
· Using a computer or watching TV in a private or enclosed area with no adult supervision;
· Giving out personal information on the internet;
· Swearing on social media sites;
· Online bullying or harassment;
· Piracy and illegal downloads of software, music or videos.
It may sound extreme, but it is possible that some of these habits are threatening your family. If you already have a Techno Action Plan in place, take a look at the following and make the necessary adjustments. If you are new to the whole idea, go through the list and take time to discuss these resolutions, rather than rules, with your whole family and then compile your own official Family Tech Resolutions for 2012 and put it up in your living space.
Techno TiPPSS 2012
Set Time limits – lay down restrictions on when family members can have screen time and specify for how long. Doctors recommend two or less hours each day should be spent in front of a screen (TV, computer and video games). It is also important to decide at what time(s) of the day mobile phones, laptops, iPods and other electronic devices should be put away (preferably in an assigned location of the house). This will surely help to avoid having family members’ occupied throughout the day and night.
Set Place limits – encourage family members to use mobile phones, laptops, iPods and electronic devices in a public area by creating a ‘Public Techno Space’. Make it comfortable and user friendly. Most importantly, make sure you have full access at any time of the day. Children who isolate themselves in their rooms are far more likely to get into trouble than children who use techno devices in a common area of the home for a set amount of time.
Set Privacy – children (and other family members) must not give out personal information without your permission. Particularly, addresses, phone numbers, school details, passwords or pictures. Also take care to limit children’s access to credit card and bank information. Warn them to be wary about giving out their email address in chat rooms or when registering for sites. Forbid them to meet anyone in person that they encounter online without your consent and without a responsible adult present. Be active in your child’s electronic media. For most children, it is appropriate for parents to set the passwords and have free reign to check social media accounts when necessary. Explain what viruses and spyware are, what you are doing to prevent them and ask them to come to you if they get an alert while online.
Set Site limits – agree what types of sites are permissible and which are not. Encourage your children to come to you if anything online makes them feel uncomfortable or threatened. Rather make time to research age-appropriate internet sites that you can suggest to your children and then spend time with your children online. Have them teach you about their favourite online destinations. It is also important to find out what computer safeguards are utilised by your child’s school, the public library, and at the homes of your child’s friends. These are all places, outside of your normal supervision, where your child could encounter any number of online dangers.
Set Standards – put rules in place about appropriate behaviours such as no texting during dinner time or will engaging with your family. Decide together as a family what values you hold and cherish and accordingly what can threaten those values. With that in mind, protect your children from temptations by restricting their ability to download software, music or other files without your permission. Agree whether (or not) they are allowed to spend money online. Although you might not give them your credit card, if you have already stored your details at an online store it may be easy for children to spend your money if you don’t take steps to limit their access or agree on ground rules.
Children feel safe within healthy boundaries. By taking these steps and involving your child, you are teaching them to be responsible and you are building their character. Keep in mind that you need to practice what you preach and model healthy behaviours for your children. Teach your children that people can communicate even better in person and can actually spend time doing activities offline together.
Dr Pieter Streicher is founder of ParentsCorner.org.za