Healthy internet usage tips from Zen Internet
If the soggy summer holidays have got your children glued to their screens – you are probably not alone.
Stephen Warburton from Zen Internet says: “I was surprised to read that children’s screen time climbed to an average of nine hours per day at the height of lockdown – nearly double the average prior to the outbreak, in the latest Pandemic Parenting research report*.
“Moreover, although not surprisingly, according to another report1 – lockdown may have permanently changed families’ online habits. This study claims a third (41%) of parents say their child’s lockdown tech habits have not changed back to pre-pandemic levels as things return to normal, and one in three (35%) say they might have changed for good.
“Now with the school holidays and August’s unpredictable weather, it’s not surprising that internet usage is high as children turn to their screens, gadgets and devices for entertainment – instead of more traditional summer holiday escapades outdoors. What is more, many teenagers will have become used to interacting with their friends in the online space, meaning screentime is not necessarily as one dimensional as perhaps it once was.
If screentime is becoming an ongoing battle in your household then do not despair – the experts at Zen have collated seven tips on how to help families strike a healthier digital balance this summer.
- Create a dedicated tech space:
It can be hard to keep tabs on children’s internet usage – especially older children who may have their own devices and will often retreat to their bedroom for hours on end. Creating a dedicated room or space in the house for technology and devices will mean that you are able to keep tabs on what your children are doing online, as well as monitoring their screentime and shutting things down when it has become too much. Rather than having devices spread around the house and behind closed doors, make a compromise that as a family all tech and gadget usage will take place in a designated space in the house.
- Be strict with dedicated tech times:
It can be easier for older children, especially, to fly under the radar during the summer holidays – spending hours on end gaming, watching videos, scrolling social media and content creating. If you are finding that the days are passing in a bit of a screentime blur, then maybe you need to put some set parameters in place. Alongside your set tech space, allocate dedicated times for children to use their technology and gadgets, but also build in time to exercise, get outdoors and interact in the real world. Be strict about no tech, TV or phones at mealtimes too – this includes breakfast, lunch and dinner. If you can get them to agree to a device bedtime curfew then you could find that your children sleep better and are more likely to rise earlier and make the most of their day. Encourage all family members to role model this behaviour to set better habits all round.
- Use the down time of the Summer holidays to talk to your children about internet safety and help to make your children digitally resilient:
Experts from Internetmatters.org say: Use this time to talk to your child about making and managing relationships online – from gaming to online messaging, there is a real risk to anyone who chooses to disclose information about themselves with people they do not know. It is important to reassure your child that it is okay to block someone who is being overly intrusive or whom they do not know. Children should also feel comfortable enough to report anything they feel is inappropriate and tell you if someone has behaved inappropriately towards them. Young people may also be concerned that you will not allow them to continue using social media or online gaming if they make you aware of a situation, so reassure them that they have done nothing wrong, and you would only like to know so you can deal with any concerning situations.
- Double check you have suitable parental security and child locks in place:
Across all your children’s devices, make sure that you have applied secure search locks on any content you deem inappropriate. Additionally, many servers and apps now allow parents to link to their children’s account so they can monitor what they are searching and how long they are spending online. You could also put a password on WiFi settings which results in a password being required to search specific words or sites considered to have content, which is inappropriate for under 18s, advises Internetmatters.org.
- Screen time does not have to be passive:
Rachel Barr, a professor of developmental psychology at Georgetown University in Washington DC, says that it’s important to bear in mind that not all screens are created equal. Children can use technology in lots of ways – to make video clips, music, podcasts, or learn to code. It can also provide valuable opportunities for to children to stay in touch with friends, or even collaborate on projects, from baking cakes to writing a novel.
- Model the manners and behaviour you want to see:
According to Common Sense Media you should be mindful about how your behaviour is rubbing off on your children and role model accordingly: “Avoid texting in the car. Consider narrating your phone use (“I’m looking up directions to the party”) so younger kids understand the utility of the device. Make sure to excuse yourself if you have to interrupt a family moment to attend to your phone.
- Get involved:
From creating TikTok videos or Reels to playing Minecraft or watching online beauty demos – show an interest in what your children are doing online and get involved. Understanding the platforms that they are using and how they are interacting in the online space means that you can easily understand the benefits and any risks, whilst getting creative together turns the activity into family time.
For more advice visit www.zen.co.uk