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Children ages 8 to 18 use digital media on average of 6.5 hours a day, more than 40 hours a week, according to Steve Barreto, PhD, psychology coordinator of the children's program at Bradley Hospital. With no signs of it slowing down, it's up to parents to catch up to the technology. Below are four key points to help parents in this digital age.
With so many options in new technology, your child's involvement does not have to be all or nothing. Parents should examine each piece of technology and determine what aspects are appropriate for their child. For example, internet access can be restricted, both in time spent online and in what websites are available. Cell phone use can also be capped and features like the camera can be disabled.
Peter Gillen, PsyD, director of children's residential programs at Bradley Hospital reminds us that with certain features of digital technology, "there is status attached. Children don't necessarily need the specific function." Parents should keep that in mind as well when purchasing new technology or providing it to their children.
Children respect authorities because the authority has the information the child does not. At this stage, most parents have to play catch up to try to learn the technology their child has already mastered.
"We have to acknowledge, as parents, that we don't necessarily understand the technology fully" says Barreto. "We have to listen to our children to fully engage with them around the media and not pretend to know things that we don't but rather to talk with them and exchange and learn with them."
Parents should take advantage of any educational opportunities available to them to learn about digital media and how to keep children safe with its usage.
While resiliency is a fairly complex concept, it is a valuable and necessary skill to teach our children. Margaret Paccione, PhD, director of the department of behavioral education at Bradley Hospital describes resiliency as "the ability to adapt to change and deal with adversity when it comes along. It's the ability to face adversity and believe at the end of the day its going to be ok."
Children can build resiliency by being exposed to adults who are nurturing and consistent. Mentors, coaches, teachers and other adults who can teach a child life skills are important to building confidence and thus building resiliency.
A resilient child can be buffered from engaging in risky behavior. Because internet activity is anonymous for the most part, the opportunity for risky behavior is very great.
With resiliency, children can associate consequences with their actions and therefore make better decisions.
Parents should engage their children in constant communication about digital technology and how to use it safely. Have them talk to you about the technology.
"The key discussion is privacy," says Barreto. "The internet gives the illusion of privacy; but nothing is private." Parents should find ways to discuss privacy and ask questions of the child: "is this something that you want to say about yourself?" or "What will other members of your family would think about this?"
At the same time, parents should encourage their children to help them understand the technology; the conversations should go both ways.
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