“10 more minutes!” A common phrase which parents hear from their children, and a frequent trigger of frustration and irritation. Sadly, for some parents, this also prompts feelings of helplessness and hopelessness – disappointment that they have failed as parents to manage their “out-of-control” child.
How so? Their child is perpetually lost in the virtual world, constantly connecting with their peers on Tik Tok and Instagram. From dressing and behaviour, to values and beliefs, their child mimics the latest trends from social media influencers they follow. Nearly all their leisure time, and moments of social interaction, play out on the arenas and battlefields of Fortnite, Among Us and Roblox. Unsurprisingly, their parents look on with resignation at having lost their child to the virtual world.
As a counsellor who has helped parents, children and young adults navigate cyber issues for years, I’ve had the privilege of guiding many families through difficult seasons with digital devices. Their journeys of endurance and perseverance have taught me one thing – parents who are willing to learn and adapt reap the sweet fruits of fostering a deeper relationship with their child and building up their child’s character and wisdom.
What are the key steps parents have taken to successfully manage their child’s screen time? The honest answer is: no one-size-fits-all solution exists, because every family, parent and child is different. Here are a few principles and steps you should consider.
A. Build up discipline and routine from young
Inculcate healthy digital habits from a young age. Out-of-control usage of digital devices do not happen suddenly. Excessive device use develops when parents have not set consistent and age-appropriate regulations on screen time.
Mutually discuss and agree on a healthy schedule for screen time between parents, before exposing your child to electronic devices. These guidelines have to be periodically adjusted to suit the child’s needs and maturation over time.
American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends:
Children until 18 to 24 months, no screen time at all except for video chatting.
Children aged 2 to 5, 1 hour or less of screen time per day. Parents also need to co-watch interactive media and high-quality education content.
Children aged 6-10, 1 to 1.5 hours per day. Their screen time should not affect their sleep, exercise, or other behaviours.
Pre-teens and teens aged 11-13 years old, under 2 hours per day. Parents should also aim to teach their children how to balance their media use.
Actively engage your child to discuss changing expectations, as your child reaches different life stages. This is important in empowering children to build up a responsible sense of autonomy, with accountable obligations and delayed gratification.
B. Be a lifelong learner of online trends and applications
Keep up with the latest developments in digital technology so that you are aware of the online trends and applications your children are engaged with.
Technologies are tools and are like double-edged swords: when used appropriately, they can protect and aid a child’s development; when used unwisely, they can become sources of addiction. Understandably, a child may initially lack self-control and competent decision making. Parents should therefore actively engage their child at the start of his or her digital journey. Over time, with proper guidance, their child will hone their capacity to exercise delayed gratification and astuteness in their online behaviour.
Use appropriate Parental Control Tools to support you in your supervision. Popular parent control software includes Qustodio Parental Control, Symantec Norton Family Premier and Kaspersky Safe Kids.
In my work with youth gamers, I am intrigued by the gamers’ passion, expertise and camaraderie displayed in their gaming activities and behaviours. The gamers willingly impart their knowledge to me. They also appreciate and are receptive to the mentoring and counselling from me.
Technology and social media trends are rapidly evolving. There is tremendous potential for personal growth as well as significant risks of addictive abuse. I encourage parents to courageously jump in and navigate it adventurously with their child.
Written By: Lam Wai Mun, Counsellor and Cyberwellness Educator, Fei Yue Community Services