How long can my child stay behind a screen?
According to experts, this is the most frequently asked question by parents. At the same time, it is also outdated. After all, one screen is not the other. Is your child only watching Netflix series, or is it also facetiming grandma? Moreover, children differ enormously from each other, both in age and behavior, so adding the same number of viewing minutes would be strange.
So what should you take into account?
Is your child doing enough different things, such as playing outside, meeting friends, exercising? Varied daytime activity is significant for babies and toddlers. Because they have to sleep a lot, there is little time left for playing with blocks, sitting by Daddy’s nose, or singing with Mommy. Therefore, limit screen use for babies and toddlers to a few times a day for a few minutes and not more than an hour until halfway through primary school.
What is your child doing on such a screen? Is he or she creates, building things? Educational apps are educational if your child becomes active and completely understands the first research on this shows. It is also good to watch the programs together with young children. You can then help the child translate the information on the 2D screen into the 3D world, Which young children often find difficult.
Set clear rules and enforce them consistently, but explain where those rules come from. For example, no screens an hour before going to bed, because when you sleep less well. Or: no telephones at the table, because it is important to talk to each other. This is where your own values come into play: what do you think is important? Drawing up rules together sometimes works better than you think. By talking to your children about what is important to them, you (and they) discover that their views on healthy media use are sometimes surprisingly close to yours.
At what age can my child have a smartphone?
Most parents give their child a smartphone when they are ten, often to keep in touch while on their way to school or home. For the youngest, you can install an app for protection that allows you to see where your child is, but you can give that freedom back to most children from the first year.
Again, one smartphone is not the other. It’s about what you let your child do on that. All the apps the child wants to download at once is not a good idea. Not all social media are suitable immediately. Children often only understand the consequences of bullying on Instagram or a clumsy vlog on YouTube from secondary school.
Before handing over the smartphone, agree on which rules apply. That is easier than scaling back freedom afterward by being forced to impose agreements. For example, no smartphone in the bedroom, no exposure to Facebook, and no arguments on WhatsApp.
Should you put babies and toddlers in front of a screen at all?
Small children still learn better from a real person than from a screen, and research has shown. This is called the video deficit effect. Small children do not yet understand what a screen is and does, so they have difficulty translating what they see on it into their own lives. So why would you put your babies and toddlers in front of a screen at all, parents and some scientists ask?
It is also not the case that screens are, by definition, harmful to small children, only if they displace other activities. Moreover, young children have to sleep a lot, so there is not much time to move, talk, watch, and do nothing.
But it is also not the case that screens are, by definition, not educational. The video deficit effect can also be reduced if a parent watches and talks about what is to be seen or if the child is addressed directly by a person who prefers to resemble the child.
Is gaming harmful?
Gaming in itself is not harmful. In fact, gaming improves spatial awareness and problem-solving skills for most young people. It also increases their working memory and makes them more creative.
If gaming replaces other, healthy activities, such as playing outside, doing homework, or maintaining social contacts, then gaming can be seen as harmful, albeit indirectly: it is not the gaming itself that does damage, but the consequences of extreme gaming behavior.
The reason that games can cause damage themselves is explicit violence. Much research has been done into the effect of media violence. Media violence can make children more aggressive. This effect is enhanced if an attractive person carries out media violence. If the violence does not appear to have any negative consequences (such as pain or injuries) or if the violence is rewarded, for example, with points.
On the other hand, only 5 to 10 percent of young people seem sensitive to these effects. Besides, these are often those who have already been aggressive or are already dealing with violence in daily life, such as domestic violence.
The correlation between media violence and criminal (instead of aggressive) behavior is smaller. While mass shooters are often associated with the compulsive playing of violent games, it has never been shown that those games actually induced them to do their thing.
Are educational apps helpful?
Educational apps are educational if they take the development phase of the target group into account. Age is one of the clearest indicators of the suitability of a program or app. An app for “4–12-year-olds” probably didn’t think much about that.
Scientists suspect that apps can better reduce the video deficit effect than “static” screens, such as television. Apps are often responsive: they adapt to the user. For example, it can choose a “narrator” or the main character who resembles the child in gender and age. It is also good to play with young children as a parent.
However, research into which specific elements make educational apps educational is still in its infancy.
What about Sexting?
Sexting is sending sexually explicit photos of yourself to someone else. The problem, of course, is that it can go completely wrong. It will not be the first time that the forwarding of nude images has had tragic consequences.
However, wanting to prevent sexting is not the right attitude, experts say. Sexting is a very normal part of sexual development, comparable to what happened behind the bicycle shed in the past. And you cannot get STDs from it.
By forbidding sexting, you deny some of your children’s sexual development and raise the threshold for them to come to you when they experience something bad. Moreover, prohibition is often counterproductive.
It is better to have a good conversation about the risks of sexting in time and come to several rules together in that conversation: do not do things with strangers, never do things you do not want, and come to mom or dad immediately in case of problems.
So don’t get angry if things go wrong. Point out that he or she is not alone and that the forwarder is to blame in this case. Distributing nude photos of minors is a criminal offense. Keep photos as evidence.
How do I deal with online bullying / cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying is a real social media risk. Nevertheless, the number of young people who are bullied online is about the same level as with offline bullying (around 10 percent). Moreover, it often concerns the same young people.
The difference between offline bullying is that cyberbullying can be more intense. Victims take it home via mobile phone. Besides, some nasty photos will circulate on the web forever.
Identifying cyberbullying is, just like offline bullying, difficult. Parents could recognize it when their child’s behavior suddenly changes: suddenly not wanting to be online at all, or extremely often.
It is best if trust between parent and child is so good that the child immediately shares bad experiences. Discuss together which steps you want to take. Bring perpetrators and victims together as soon as possible, but preferably through a counselor. Therefore, it is preferable to contact the school or sports club before approaching the bullies or parents yourself. Keep photos and screenshots of conversations as evidence.
Ideally, you want to keep your kids off the socials and internet as long as possible. Realistically that’s probably around the age of 12/13. The advice I give all the (future) parents are to keep talking with their kids about their technology and social media use. Whether that is about cyberbullying or sexting, talking about someone with life experience is always good.
I think that’s the only thing we can really do to keep our kids safe.