Patriot-News: Op-ed: Prioritize your family’s digital wellness this holiday season
The holiday season presents parents with unique challenges. From festive celebrations like office parties, holiday light displays, last-minute shopping trips, and concerts, most families’ schedules are jam-packed with activities right now.
After navigating through the COVID-19 pandemic, the hectic pace of the current holiday season, is for many, a welcome return to normalcy. However, this time can also serve as a catalyst for stress. According to a Dec. 1 poll from the American Psychiatric Association, 31 percent of adults admitted that they expect to feel more stressed this holiday season than last year.
When adults are stressed, family routines often fall by the wayside. As a father, I understand that adhering to structure can be very difficult this time of year, especially when children get extended time off from school for the holidays.
A recent survey released by Common Sense Media found that children between 8-12 years old already spend five hours and 33 minutes on screens each day, while teenagers between 13-18 years old spend eight hours and 30 minutes.
With parents having busier schedules, it is often easier to just allow your children to spend more time on digital devices and ignore their social media usage. After all, devices like smartphones and iPads can keep your children occupied and serve as distractions. It’s in times like these, when we, as parents, need to pay very close attention to our children’s digital behaviors.
At the Pa Family Support Alliance, our mission is to provide education, support, and training programs to ensure that Pennsylvania’s children can grow and thrive in an environment free from abuse. For the first time in history, parents now have to parent in both the physical and virtual worlds. That’s why it is imperative parents are equipped to recognize the warning signs of digital threats and digital predators, as well as foster healthy interactions with digital technologies on behalf of their children.
Because it can be problematic to find alternatives to screen time during this time of year, here are eight tips that can help protect your children from harm online.
1. Take a few minutes to have a meeting with your children to discuss what your family’s upcoming holiday schedule will look like. As part of this discussion, parents should be clear about what the rules—if any—for screen time will be. This will help to establish boundaries and set expectations for what the days ahead will bring.
2. Consider having your family take a break from social media over the holidays and do a “digital detox.” A “digital detox” could mean completely limiting screen time or simply limiting the number of hours your children are on devices.
3. Encourage and model the use of technology as a tool for information gathering, task completion, or creating something positive. This is generally a healthy use of our digital devices that allows users to maintain productivity.
4. Set up parental controls and filtering software on your child’s devices. Once you do this, make sure you are checking your child’s privacy and filter settings in social media apps regularly.
5. Remind your child to assume that whatever they post online is public and to not overshare. This means that they should not reveal personal information like where they live or check-in at locations. While many children want to upload images of them ice skating or post in live time about the holiday light display, it’s best to wait until after your family has left a location before they share that type of information. If possible, removing or deactivating the physical location feature on your child’s devices is best. That way, digital predators won’t know where your child is.
6. Unfortunately, social media platforms can be a safe haven for child predators and hate speech. Encourage your child to tell you immediately if anyone is making them feel uncomfortable, if a stranger reaches out to them online, or if they become aware of any violent threats.
7. Monitor your child’s mood and behaviors and look out for signs of depression and anxiety. Countless studies have proven that increased use of social media and screen time can negatively impact a child’s mental health.
8. With the New Year approaching quickly, many people are contemplating resolutions and how they can be the best version of themselves in 2023. As part of this self-reflection, I’d encourage you to utilize our Family Digital Wellness Hub, a free, inclusive, comprehensive tool that is designed to strengthen families who want to raise healthy children in a digital era. Use the New Year as motivation to examine your family’s relationship with technology, and make a concrete, realistic plan.
Justin Donofrio is the Prevention Services Manager at Pa Family Support Alliance, a non-profit organization dedicated to child abuse prevention through education and programming services.
From Patriot-News, December 24, 2022
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