How to Become an Effective Digital Parent

Today, almost every individual is a citizen of the digital world. Let’s look at how parents can make the best use of technology to aid their parenting skills, and, in the process, become digital paren

By Dr Sheetal Bidkar

How to Become an Effective Digital Parent

While technology has made our lives easier, parents are often found complaining that they are finding it increasingly difficult to handle children in the digital era. With almost everything, from education to entertainment to shopping, happening in the digital world, we are using the Internet and digital devices more and more. But, with the increasing use of digital technology, we have also started becoming aware of its adverse effects, especially on children.

Most children nowadays spend a good part of their time glued to smartphones and computers that are hooked to the Internet. As a result, a lot of children are developing the tendency to avoid these - eye contact while conversing, mindfulness while eating, and involvement with goings-on around them.

As a result of children’s attachment to the digital world, parents have begun to feel worried. They are concerned at not having much control over the information accessed by their children and how it is influencing them, the people they are engaging with on social media, and what they are being exposed to on the Internet. Most parents report feeling helpless, anxious and even frustrated by all these.

But, not all is lost. Parents can still turn the ship around by being innovative and using digital technology to aid them in their efforts, or, in other words, by becoming a Digital Parent. Let’s read on to know how.

Who is a digital parent and what is digital parenting?

Moms and dads need to learn new ways of parenting in today’s digital era. Parents can use digital technology to aid them in various ways – for example, giving instructions through apps like WhatsApp, or monitoring the child through a video call, or following the child on social media sites. Doing all these allows parents to be alongside their child in the digital world and shape his development through technology. Such parents can aptly be called digital parents and their parenting technique digital parenting.

Need for digital parenting

With the use of technology on the increase, children are being exposed to technology both inside and outside the home. As a result, most children of the present generation are quite familiar and comfortable with using digital devices. However, the adeptness with which children use technology shouldn’t blind parents to the dangers lurking on the Internet. This is one of the compelling reasons why parents also need to familiarise themselves with technology and be aware of the goings-on in the digital world.

How digital technology adversely affects children

  1. Kills productive time: Spending increased time on smartphones or other such devices is preventing children from experiencing the joy of learning through experience. Also, being hooked to the Internet makes children lose track of time, thus preventing them from managing their time well.
  2. Makes them victims of cyber bullying: While social media helps forge connections and propagate ideas, it also lends itself to various malpractices, common among them being bullying. Nasty comments on posts, making fun of photographs, criticism on social media handle, etc., are bothering a lot of children who are active users of social media. Unfortunately, while a child may be going through all these problems, her parents may not even be aware of the issues she is facing.
  3. Leads to accidental sexting and watching porn: Many teenagers who chat through social media end up sexting someone. Also, sometimes, children accidentally click on pop-ups and advertisements which lead them to adult sites, and they get addicted to porn. Smartphones and Internet availability has led to a substantial increase in the viewership of porn in recent times.
  4. Exposes them to online gambling and the availability of illegal substances: While shopping online is a pleasant and comfortable experience, many individuals also indulge in illegal activities on the Internet, like selling drugs or running online gambling dens. Children can inadvertently come into contact with such individuals, which can cause them immense psychological stress, monetary loss to parents, and disrupt harmony in the family.

What can a parent do?

  1. Have open communication channels with children: Parents should initiate a discussion with their children to try and understand the various reasons that makes them feel drawn towards digital platforms.
  2. Learn about safe use of the Internet: Parents should learn about the various ways technology is used to understand the dangers it can pose and learn about preventive measures like parental control to protect the child from getting exposed to unwanted individuals or content. All the major operating systems, search engines, cell phone providers and gaming platforms provide either free or inexpensive parental controls to help you manage your child’s online experience.
  3. Establish common rules for using the Internet: Before parents allow their child to use gadgets and connect to the Internet, they should prepare a list of dos and don’ts – for example, restricting use to one hour a day, and no usage during dinnertime and bedtime. Along with the rules, parents should also set consequences for breaking the rules like losing the privilege of use.
  4. Be a virtual protector: Follow your child by adding yourself as his friend on social networking sites. This way, not only would you be their friend but protector as well, while your child explores and experiences the wonders of the digital world.
  5. Preach what you practice: Children learn a lot from watching their parents. Doing things like chatting on the phone during meals, checking the phone often while your child is sharing something with you, or shooting selfies during family time can convey to your child the wrong message. As parents, we need to overcome the temptation to engage with the screen often and model good digital behaviour. Be a digital role model for your child to instil good digital habits in him.

Technology is an inseparable part of our lives and we cannot avoid using the digital platforms; however, we need to protect our children from its unhealthy effects. Balanced and judicious use of technology is the key to protecting our children while allowing them to enjoy the experience.

Dr Sheetal Bidkar is a Clinical Psychologist & Addiction Therapist – Suasth One Step Clinic, Mumbai

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