Internet and social media are becoming a nightmare for many parents but that need not be the case. Though this article has been written keeping in mind younger children who are being introduced to internet, the principles outlined are equally valid and helpful for all age groups.
- Evaluate the need critically: Don’t be in a hurry to introduce gadgets and technology to your child. Many schools suggest using internet in conjunction with what is being taught in schools to aid learning but take a moment to critically think “Is my child really going to be left behind if I teach him/her ABC’s in notebook rather than on Tab.” American Association of Pediatrics (AAP) still recommends zero daily “screen time” for kids under age two, two 30-minute sessions of “screen time” for kids age 2-5, and perhaps up to two hours per day for slightly older children. In my own experience I have found posters to be a good visual aid and accompanied by our voices it surpasses any video learning. If there’s a tough spot, look up how it can be taught and then use the concept hands-on rather than the Tab/smart-phone.
- Follow your child’s curiosity: If they ask a question and you do not know the answer offer to look it up together. For example: When my Son asked “Does Mars have a moon?”, I accepted I didn’t know and offered that we could search together. It took only a minute and I learnt a lot along with him. Don’t limit the use to assignments and projects by schools. Spark creative thinking, an essential for success. For those who are interested in knowing what sparked the question, read “Can you spot the aliens” on my Facebook page (Parenting Mantra).
- Time bound sessions: Don’t try to find out too many things in a single time frame. Cap the time and say further questions for next day. Kids are always ready with a next question and you will have your own. It can get addictive and that’s not what we want our kids to learn. A 10 minute time frame for a 4-5 years would be a good idea. Time can increase according to child’s age. Capping the time will restrict mindless clicking and teach them dissociating when required; a skill set we are not even aware of.
- Deciding Search Terms: Take it as an opportunity to let them know that internet is a collective field of information which shows on our screen according to the keywords we use. If your kids are older you can also teach them about authenticity and the critical appraisal of the information being accessed. Teach them to use different “Search Words” if relevant information doesn’t show up rather than just scrolling down. If the question is complex or have too many elements, break them into parts; and then look them up not necessarily in the same time frame. Important life lessons imparted.
- Balance with offline activities: Thank your child and praise them for new learning. Start a dialogue on the information gained. Dialogue could take the shape of a story, acting, quiz or maybe a picture drawing. Display it on study table or post it as new learning. One could also have a weekly quiz (handwritten). This allows for the information to be synthesized. Pass on the information to other family members and ask if they would like to participate. And before sharing the information if you say “ I learnt something excitingly new today because of …(name) ”; watch the kid’s confidence soar.
- Limit distractions: Avoid meandering to checking Facebook, WhatsApp and other social media app during or just after the sessions. Turn off the notifications to limit distractions. Child learns to focus and taking steps to limit distractions; both crucial for an achiever. If kids put questions which needs an internet search during study hours, tell them to note and get back to the books. Allotting two different time slots for internet use for academic activities and creative curiosity can further reduce deviations from the task at hand.
- Unplug: As gadgets and smartphones become multi-purpose; subconsciously we are transmitting the signal “Be Online” to our kids. Since it’s easy to disconnect from a desktop/laptop than phones; their use is advisable where possible. Try to switch off your net connectivity when not required especially at night. Use a book instead of gadget for bedtime stories or you could churn up stories on demand like me. Message of disconnecting easily percolates to their young impressionable minds. It’s essential for parents to unplug from their devices and nurture the emotional bond with not only their child but other family members as well. Secure relationships are the best safeguard against stress, anxiety and depression.