MAMA.codes is here to help you keep your children safe throughout the year with our free Practical Guide to Online Safety for Under-8s and our Top 5 Practical Tips for Parents.
For many parents, conversations around screen time and the use of digital devices can be challenging and overwhelming.
Questions about time limits, age-appropriate devices and social media accounts are commonplace. For some, recent research has led to more confusion: a 2017 study by Oxford University Institute and Cardiff University found no link between children’s wellbeing and limiting device use. Another study by the University of Michigan found that how a device is used is more important than how much time is spent on it.
Liane Katz, co-founder and CEO of MAMA.codes Creative Code Clubs said: “I meet lots of parents who are paralysed with fear and doubt. They want their children to have a positive and healthy relationship with technology and learn future-proofing digital skills, but they are not sure how to practically achieve this.
At MAMA.codes code clubs and holiday workshops, we teach children from as young as three to use technology in a way that is both safe and empowering. We couldn’t do this if we didn’t also support our parents via our Raising Digital Kids workshops, our free online guide (download it here https://mama.codes/online-safety/) and our Top Five Tips (see below).
1). Be a positive role-model: when your child watches you on your phone or tablet, what lessons are you teaching them? Take a moment to explain that you are using the iPad to book a train ticket, a cinema show or Skype their grandparents. How often do you look at your phone and how much do you share online? Regulating your own screen time will foster good habits in your children - and give you some valuable downtime. Remember, don’t be a ‘sharent’ - think about your child’s privacy and future views about those embarrassing weaning snaps you’re sharing while they can’t complain!
2). Talk about how you use your devices: it might feel a bit silly but expressing your thoughts aloud will support your children to regulate their own usage. “I’ve been on my tablet for quite a long while and my eyes are starting to hurt. What do you think I should do?”
“I’m going to leave my phone outside during our bedtime stories.”
Discuss the science of why anyone in the family using backlit screens in the hour before bedtime is not a good idea. Ask how long do they think they should use screens for per day/week? They may pleasantly surprise you!
3). Every child is different: some children will quickly learn to limit their screen time, while others may need more help. Familiarise yourself with your children’s digital habits and decide on an approach that suit them. Try not to instinctively criticise or limit their usage of technology before taking the time to understand what they are doing, and to talk to them about why they enjoy it. No one learns from banning! Rather encourage them to use positive, educational apps and websites, and offer them more freedom if they show you they can behave responsibly within the current rules and limits.
4). Use parental controls on your devices, search and content apps: your Internet service provider and mobile phone company will have simple online instructions you can follow to set up filters on your devices - search their website + “Parental Controls”. If you share laptops and TV streaming services such as Netflix, ensure different age children have different age profiles set up, so the whole family isn’t limited to a four-year-old’s parental controls and a toddler is less likely to come across unsuitable material or games used by an older sibling or carer. Enabling the Guided Access feature (for iPhones and iPads) and setting up a PIN you don’t share will go a long way towards keeping children on more age-appropriate activities.
5). Empower them with skills to keep themselves safe and happy online: if your child comes across something that makes them feel uncomfortable make sure they feel able to talk to you (see point 3). Teach them how to close an app or tab if they see something they don’t like - or simply turn the screen face down and find a trusted adult. Teach children to add “for children” or “primary school” to fact-finding searches and to consider which websites will provide the most reliable information (bookmark these too). Ensure all your children’s carers are aware of the rules you set - it’s no use being careful at home and not mentioning to close friends’ parents, grandparents and childcare providers. Children must understand the rules agreed and the reasons for them, to be able to follow them wherever they are!