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How to manage your kid’s screen time and social media use

15 Jan 2021

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Technology, social media and digital devices are now part of our everyday lives – and during a year which saw us spending more time indoors and juggling working from home with parenting, you may have found yourself leaning on them more than usual to keep your kids occupied.

For anyone who has struggled with the impact these technologies have on their children, it may be welcome news to know you’re not alone.

Our second annual State of the Nation Parenting Survey has revealed that 87% of parents surveyed are concerned about their children’s use of technology and screen time and, 84% are concerned about the impact of social media – making these the two leading causes of concern for Kiwi parents.

Findings also revealed that around three in ten parents gave their children unrestricted access to devices during the nationwide lockdown (a six percent increase from pre and post lockdown levels) and only around half of parents have any limit on screen time use for their kids at all.

So, as some of the biggest concerns facing parents today, what can we be doing to better navigate the impact of technology in an increasingly connected world?

Tips to limit your child’s screen time

1. Implement non-negotiable time to be ‘unplugged’

This goes for everyone in the family! The parental control “do as I say, not as I do” approach might be tempting, but it can easily spark a dispute and lead to conflict. Modelling healthy device use will encourage the same behaviour in your children. For example, you could set in place a two-hour device-free window around dinner time and make it a ritual to sit down together as a family.

2. Have some clever alternatives to keep them entertained

We’re all guilty of using devices to keep kids occupied from time-to-time (and that’s okay!), but the more you can encourage your kids to engage in other activities, the less likely they’ll develop a reliance on the device.

Try organising a sports day with their friends, or get in front of the camera and let their creative minds run wild as they develop their own content. Having other fun and exciting options on standby, and not having standard screen time as the default option will encourage healthier habits around device usage.

3. Bedrooms = device free zones

This includes TVs, computers and any hand-held devices. Making their bedroom a screen-free zone means you can keep an eye on how much time they’re really spending on devices (and makes it a little easier to monitor what they’re doing on them). It also prevents children from using them late at night, which can have a huge negative impact on sleep patterns.

4. Give your child control

This doesn’t mean letting them run loose with unlimited screen time – but getting kids to adhere to the rules can be a lot easier when they feel they’ve been able to have input. And in the process, you’ll have taught them something about compromise too. Once you’ve got agreement on some general rules, give kids the freedom to choose how and when to make use of their device time, and make them accountable for it.

Tips to manage the impact of your child being online

5. Communicate the importance of online safety

Most kids will be aware of ‘stranger danger’ but it’s crucial they understand the potential impact and long-term consequences of being online. Ensure children (especially tweens and teens) apply the same caution around ‘stranger danger’ across online platforms, as child predators often use false personas to lure and exploit children.

Make sure they understand that once content is digitally shared, there’s no way of deleting or removing it completely. This includes sharing of any texts, images and video content – even via the ‘stories’ function on Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat that are designed to “disappear” after 24 hours.

6. Make adjustments to privacy settings

Take the time to familiarise yourself (and your children) with the privacy settings across devices and online platforms. Stay across app updates to ensure you’re comfortable with the information they’re asking your child to share - most apps now have automatic location sharing, so be mindful these need to be disabled manually.

There are also a number of settings that can be applied to restrict inappropriate content. Sites like YouTube offer a ‘kids channel’ to minimise this risk, but still check in regularly to keep across any content and / or changes to privacy that could be a concern.

7. Be accepting and supportive – social media isn’t always bad

The use of the internet and social media are now typical aspects of a child’s development. Social media can be a great channel for children to explore and discover more about themselves, as well as socially connect with people beyond their immediate circle.

Be supportive of your child’s explorations and appreciate that these are the tools of the modern world. Accept that they’ll make mistakes, let them learn from them and be there when they need you. Warn them about the potential for problematic online behaviours such as bullying and sexting, and let them know that if they have any questions or concerns, your door is always open.

Professional help

If you have serious concerns about your child’s online behaviour, seek professional help. Below are a number of free resources you can access:

NetSafe provides advice and information on cyber-bullying, the latest online scams, guides to social media platforms, as well as a dedicated advice area for parents.

• The New Zealand Police provides advice on keeping your child safe online, as well as information on organisations preventing online child abuse.

YouthLine provides a number of free resources for youth and anyone supporting youth, as well as a confidential and non-judgemental telephone counselling service. Call 0800 37 66 33 anytime or text 234 between 8am and midnight.

The Mental Health Foundation has a dedicated section for depression in youth. The site contains a lot of information regarding symptoms, support groups, brochures and helplines you can access.

Lifeline’s helpline and textline offers confidential support from qualified counsellors and volunteers. Call 0800 543 354 or text HELP to 4357

Rainbow Youth provide non-judgemental and accessible support around gender, sexuality and mental health. Call (09) 376 4155

• For those living in rural regions of the country, the Rural Support Trust Helpline offers support from other locals, who understand some of the unique pressures of living rurally. Call 0800 787 254

• The Ministry of Health offers advice and provide a list of services you can access to help with any situation.