Since the outbreak of the global COVID-19 pandemic, most households have been forced to lean towards the warm embrace of technology to get through the long and boring days. In addition, parents now have to work from home in compliance to the regulations set help reduce spread of COVID-19 and some parents have resorted to the internet as the only way to keep their children occupied. It may seem like a genius idea to keep your child glued on the screen at an arm’s length where you can keep an eye on them, but just how much screen time is too much?
According to parameters given by the World Health Organization (WHO) pre-Covid, parents were advised that children below the age of one should have no screen time, children between the ages of one to five should have a screen time of 30 minutes a day supervised by the parent, those between the ages of six and nine should have an hour and those above nine should be given two hours and not more than four depending on what they are doing.
Looking at how the pandemic has affected and changed our interaction and collaboration with technology, adhering to these parameters seems almost impossible. Children all around the world are not only using the internet for entertainment but also to attend classes. According to Evelyn Kasina, a family IT consultant and founder of EveMinet Communications, parents can still supervise how their children engage with technology to do their productive and nonproductive activities.
“The good things in life are used and enjoyed in moderation, technology is one of those things. Currently the internet provides a source of joy, we are able to communicate with relatives and friends without meeting, it has created job opportunities and many other things, and children are able to study online.” Says Kasina.
Kasina further explains that the internet can become a challenge when parents fail to investigate ways their children can harness the opportunities within this space.
"We don’t know what to do past the things we are told to do and for children it becomes an avenue to pass time, because they have so much down town and they don’t know what to do with all that energy.
“When you are unable to engage your child in productive activities, it’s at this point that you will feel they are indulging too much on their screens playing games and connecting with strangers on social media,” Kasina explains.
If all your child wants do is sit on the screen and play games or chat, this could be a sign that they are addicted to the internet. This negative addiction can have adverse effects not only on their behavior but on their social life in general.
“When your child starts exhibiting aggressive behaviour when you ask them to do other things other than be on their screens, you need to check them. Your child will start missing growth milestones, sleep deprivation related problems amongst many other things. ”warns Kasina.
Being an easy target, children are likely to fall prey to social media pressure and they will want to act and dress like their favourite celebrities to fit in society. Furthermore, the internet being the vast place it is, they might be approached by sex predators or get cyberbullied. Some of these encounters can have lifelong effects on your children like low self-esteem and in some cases depression.
Like any other addiction, when children are deprived of what they want the house will become a combat zone, this is because you will become the nagging parent in their life and you will find yourself in a position where you are always fighting your children. They will start developing coping mechanisms like hiding when busy on their screens to avoid house chores and socializing.
“Children are becoming more tech savvy than us, which means they are innovating ways to get ahead of us and that could involve ways to clear their browser history. This could mean they are accessing sites they are not supposed to be,” elaborates Kasina.
The first thing you should determine as a parent before reducing your children’s screen time or taking away their gadgets is the nature of what they engage in, whether it is productive or nonproductive. As established before, due to the pandemic children need the internet to study and catch on with classes.
“For online classes, be updated on how long the classes last and when the breaks are given. Ensure all breaks given are non-screen breaks for your child, which should be at least two hours. This time should not be spent playing games or checking social media updates,” advises Kasina.
At night, parents are encouraged to ensure that they put off all screens at least an hour to bedtime and have a central place where portable devices are kept, this way they can have enough time to relax and prepare for a good night sleep. It will be hard for them to fall asleep when they feel anxious about the things they could be missing online or replying to their friend’s messages.
“ When children know gadgets are taken an hour before bed, they get used to the routine unlike when they are allowed to browse until the last minute or sleep with their phones in bed. To ensure this system works, you can also take away their phones at night or disable the Wi-Fi connection so that you are sure they won’t stay up at night,” explains Kasina.
Since the world is moving towards a more technological based system, you could engage your children in more productive activities like coding or robotics and not just playing online games or socializing. Furthermore, parents can invest in books, board games and outdoor activities to help children debunk from the screens and creatively limit their screen time. It is important to give children an alternative when they can’t use their screens.
“Personally I work with a schedule. My children use their gadgets for educational purposes except on Friday evenings and Saturdays when they can play games and engage in other activities. On Sundays they have no screen time to prepare them for the week,” shares Kasina.
Kasina further explains that parents should be the watch dogs of what their children do not only on social media platforms but also on online games. Some of these games allow personalized chats and your child could be engaging in unhealthy conversations with adults.
Another thing to note is that various social media platforms have different age limits, it is up to you as a parent to ensure your child accesses areas that are age appropriate. If not, let them access the sites under supervision.
“Allowing children to be on social media entirely depends on a parent, but inform them of the consequences and how you expect them to carry out themselves while online. Being children you can never guarantee how far they will go. You can allow them to be on platforms that allow children’s accounts to be linked with that of the parent so you are able to monitor their activities and ensure their safety,” advises Kasina
It is important to use the internet as a force of good because seeing the capabilities that it has and the boundaries it has broken, it is up to us to take full advantage of what it can offer and not the other way around.