How can you raise healthy and well-balanced kids in a digital world?
That was the question on the lips of over a 100 parents last night at Raising Kids Wisely in a Social Media Generation organised by Trainium Academy and Facebook with the support of the Media Literacy Council (MLC).
At the kind invitation of Carol Loi, I participated in a panel discussion on safe digital parenting moderated by Eugene Seah of Trainium Academy. The session was attended by parents who were mostly Parent Support Group (PSG) members in schools.
As member of the Media Literacy Council (MLC) and parent of a 13-year-old, I am an advocate of positive parenting habits. However, it can be challenging when my work as a content marketer requires me to be constantly plugged into the online world.
So what did we talk about?
Teenage Technology Use and Abuse
Iris started the session by sharing her insights as an experienced youth counsellor at Fei Yue Community Services.
It was sobering to hear stories of teens who literally fought with their parents over the use of smart phones, and how parents were so distressed that they cried. This was especially prevalent amongst teenage boys who were more susceptible to Internet and gaming addiction than girls.
In one of the cases shared, a teenage boy bolted from his home when his technology privileges were curtailed. The first place he went to was a LAN Gaming Centre!
Peer pressure was a perpetual problem. Cyber bullying was on the rise. Often, parents were oblivious to what their kids were encountering in school.
A mother of two teenage girls in the audience shared how her daughters complained about her use of parental control apps at home. Apparently, their peers did not “suffer” such restrictions.
To prevent such situations from happening, parents should practice positive digital use at home. Inculcate positive habits amongst your kids from young.
Iris expressed that it was still possible to pull back the reigns on lower secondary kids. By the time they reach the upper secondary to tertiary years, however, it might be much harder to reverse the situation.
In extreme cases, you needed to physically remove digital devices from your kids (aka the “Digital Cold Turkey” treatment). When doing so, you need to steel yourself for the ensuing storm that will definitely arise. However, it is a necessary pain if you wish to get your son or daughter back.
BCDs of Digital Age Parenting
So what can parents do to avoid their teenagers becoming Internet zombies?
Sharing our perspective as parents whose work revolved around social media, Alvin, Eugene and I came up with the 5 Bs, 3 Cs and 3 Ds of digital age parenting.
It was interesting to see how our approaches complemented each other. Eugene’s three kids range from primary to secondary one in age. My son is in secondary two this year, while Alvin’s adorable kids are four and two respectively.
Let’s go through each of these.
#1 Be-Friend / Bond
Befriending and bonding with your child is very important. A good way to do so is to anchor your relationship in topics that are of mutual interest. This also means that parents should take an interest in what’s hip and happening in the teenage world.
For me, I inculcated common interests with my son like watching anime movies, going for evening walks, and talking about “boy topics” like military warfare, American politics, and cool technology stuff. Sometimes, this also means kicking him in the butt (metaphorically) to get out of the house and exercise!
#2 Buddy Parenting
Both you and your spouse needs to be completely in sync when it comes to parenting.
This will include having a singular viewpoint when it comes to setting boundaries for digital device use, becoming role models that your children can emulate, sharing of information, and responding to online situations.
Try to avoid the good cop/ bad cop approach to parenting. Kids are highly resourceful and will know how to exploit “loopholes” in leaky parenting.
#3 Breaking News Discussion
Call me old school but my family still subscribes to physical (paper and ink) newspapers. We try to make it a habit to read the morning papers together over breakfast, discuss hot topics, and share what our thoughts and feelings are about these issues.
When doing so, we try to get our son to share what he feels is morally right (or wrong) about how these challenges are handled. We also share our perspectives without imposing them on him.
Oh yes, you need to keep yourself update on what’s happening in the online world. This helps you to speak with knowledge and authority on issues like cyber bullying, online predators, loss of privacy/ security, fake news, and other social media shenanigans.
#4 Boost Confidence
Beyond setting boundaries and role modeling, you need to also bolster your child’s confidence.
Support them when they are doing something positive. Lend your support when they put in their effort but fail to achieve a desired outcome.
My son is a steam punk fan and an otaku who loves to play chess. He also loves to build things using all kinds of scrap material – dead leaves, twigs, old pieces of cardboard, and toilet paper rolls.
While his creations may not be suitable for exhibiting at the Museum (not yet at least), I take an active interest in what he does and nudge him to develop them further.
#5 Borrow Books
Finally, make it a point to borrow books for your teen. Our public libraries are excellent, and you can borrow up to 20 books during the school holiday period.
Numerous studies have shown how beneficial reading physical books can be. It stimulates the mind, triggers the imagination, and builds concentration.
What if you aren’t a reader yourself? Well, get off your couch and go visit your nearest library now! Trust me, the time you invest in reading a book is always well worth it.
In today’s world, it may not be feasible to go totally digital free. However, you can set clear boundaries on digital device use for your kids.
One way to do so is to interest your child in other activities. In Alvin’s case, it meant bringing them to outdoor installations like the Art Zoo at Marina Bay.
You could also delay the use of digital devices by your kid or restrict their usage. A good way to do so is to set data limits for their devices, and establish “no device” zones at home.
Choose the kind of content which your kid consumes. Use that as a way to introduce life lessons.
Alvin shared how his 4 year old son loved a book on cars, and how he brought both his kids along when he had to change a flat tire for his car. By doing so, he made the learning experience more vivid and real.
As a parent, you’ll also need to practice “safe” consumption. Avoid clicking on, liking, commenting or sharing negative content on social media. Doing so would actually “train” their algorithm to serve you more of the same!
Finally, it is important to demonstrate care for your kids.
I love how Alvin puts shaving cream around his face so that he can transform into a larger-than-life persona while playing with his kids. Such make belief methods of play are great ways to strengthen the love and relationships between parent and child.
Sometimes, caring for your child requires you to practice tough love. As parents, it also means that you need to be enforce the same standards on yourself as you do on your child.
Ultimately, positive parenting begins with discipline at home. As a parent, you need to set the benchmarks and be exemplary in how you use digital technology in a balanced and positive manner. Only then will you gain the respect and willing participation of your child or teen.
#2 Data Plan
Limit the amount of data which your teen consumes. This can be done by sharing mobile data plans with them – a practice which we do in our household.
If your teen is severely addicted to the Internet, you may need to take the drastic step of cutting off your WIFI at home. The momentary pain will be well worth it.
To prevent the need for such draconian measures, you could start with mini-disconnects. Bring your family out for walks in the parks, or to explore new neighbourhoods together. Participate in physical projects together.
Over to You, Parents
I certainly learned a lot last night in the 3 hours I spent at Facebook. It also reminded me of the areas where I’ve slipped up, and how I could further improve as a parent.
In case you missed it, here’s a nifty short video capturing the highlights of that night (hat tip to Eugene Seah).
If you’re a parent, I’d love to read your thoughts on this topic. Drop me an email message or comment in the box below.