Do our children need to manage their relationship with tech?
As adults, we're often found guilty of overprotecting our children. Until recently, we could bubble wrap them to make sure nothing untoward and inappropriate reached them until the time they were ready to receive it. We can't do that anymore. Yes, there are parental control settings on iPads, passcodes on mobiles and the child lock option on televisions. Yet, they're exposed - to conversations interspersed with foul words, discussions on sensitive topics, episodes of adult humour, inappropriate forwards on WhatsApp, adultrated shows on YouTube, and more. And, it's not just cyber exposure for which we need to be wary - our environment, in general, has changed; it's more casual, open and relaxed. Add to it the fact that the young adults today have a mind of their own - leaving us with limited decision-making powers to help them make correct, age-appropriate choices. "We are living in an era where our children have access to multiple devices at home and school, and therefore, are exposed to content much earlier than is developmentally appropriate. So, our ability to control what they consume is limited. These influences can lead our children to react with behavioural and emotional responses that are at odds with their environment and settings," says Dr Tara Wyne, a clinical psychologist. This, once again, opens the door to the age-old debate: What can we as adults do in this situation? We find out.
We're in this together
"It's important that parents realise that the need of the hour is for them to take collective action towards bringing up a better generation," says Meenakshi Natesan, a senior technical manager and mother to two daughters. "I feel it's important that the discussion on the topic continues. We're in this together; the changes I bring about in my home will be successful only if they're supported by other homes (as a society).
It's not about judgement
"It's important to regularly review with whom your children keep company. It is also a parental task to screen for age and the interface used in case of potential red flags. You must ensure that you have literally seen these friends in action - at your home, their homes, at the malls, etc. You must not rest assured unless you do your due diligence as to the influence they might be having on your children. This is not an exercise in judgement, but in protection. This can result in great, educational and influential conversations with your children about values and help you to really understand their templates for making friends and how to have healthy friendships," says Wyne, clinical director, The Light-House, a Dubai-based centre for well-being."It is increasingly difficult to shield children from exposure to inappropriate words or actions. At home, I have limits on what they watch. I keep an eye on their playgroups as well. Any usage of inappropriate words is corrected immediately, irrespective of the place. Many parents have reservations about correcting their kids in front of others; I feel it is important to make them understand immediately instead of putting it off. At a young age, most children lack the awareness to differentiate between what are acceptable and unacceptable words," says Natesan.
An open dialogue
"Young adults are so tech-savvy that parents sometimes feel out of their depth or get overwhelmed. We have to be aware that some of them are viewing content that is not age appropriate - sometimes consciously, sometimes unwittingly. While a few service providers like Etisalat, and programmes like Net Nanny, are able to put in place filters that block unsuitable content, we have to regularly have an open dialogue with the youth. We need to discuss the pros and cons of technology and caution them about the hidden dangers of the Internet. They should be taught not to download unknown/random pro-grammes or click on links from emails that are of unknown origin," says Rema Menon Vellat, director, Counselling Point Training & Development, Dubai. "We must create values in our homes around how much of the digital world enters our environments. We should not have children behind closed bedroom doors with electronic devices. Phones and tablets must be removed, especially before bedtime, to protect sleep and keep children's curiosity in check," says Wyne.
"The best practice is to regulate from an early time; however, whenever you become aware, set limits for the amount of time on devices, download the best parental controls and regularly check what content the settings allow through the filter. Ensure device usage only in the communal areas of the home. We need to ask ourselves how conscious we are being of the dangers of smartphones before we gift them to our kids. They can't be relied upon to be moderate or not explore freely. They will run into inappropriate content for sure. Also, keep in mind that children end up using their devices under the influence of friends and school peers," shares Wyne.
A circle of trust
"The most important thing is to have open communication and impress upon the young that they should be careful and vigilant. We should make it possible for them to confide in us if one of their friends is dabbling with inappropriate content or experiencing cyberbullying. They could be labelled a 'snitch' among peers so such sensitive matters should be handled discreetly both by parents and the school administration," advises Vellat."I find that empathy and a healthy trust between the adult and child do wonders for a relationship, and ultimately a world-view. It boils down to the sense of morality you instill in your child while portraying yourself as a parent who's willing to understand a child's perspective," says Kaavya Ranjith, 18, student.
Set a good example
As the old adage goes - practise what you preach. "We as responsible adults should be able to set good examples," says Vellat. Wyne adds, "Parents, and adults in general, must model device usage and content choices. Kids are always watching our behaviour with keen interest, and they end up doing what they see us doing."
Can we meet midway?
"Sure, devices can be good babysitters - even teaching aids - but, how directly do our children need to manage their relationship with tech? Parents should not confuse tech and content oversight with a lack of trust. It is a matter of child protection as, at worst, the Internet or social networking platforms have content that can destabilise children and cause emotional difficulties. What children cannot tolerate or understand typically transforms into acting out," says Wyne."Parents are advised to keep computers in common areas, but today, the material is available even on handheld devices with inappropriate content that pops up on YouTube, Facebook or Snapchat. Natural curiosity can get the better of a child, and then it may become a regular pastime. A few kids may accidentally download content or post personal data that makes them an easy target for predators. Whatever the scenario, we need to be mindful of the potential dangers associated with this and equip youngsters to be discerning," advises Vellat.
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