Let’s be honest; the weather hasn’t exactly been great over the past few weeks and the early summer holidays have been a bit of a washout. The temptation to let the electronic babysitters take up the slack and keep the kids out of mischief for a few hours is strong, and when the children are quite happy ‘plugged in’ there probably doesn’t seem any harm in it.
The Children’s Commissioner for England has warned that we shouldn’t be complacent about the amount of screen time our kids have, though. She has launched a ‘Digital 5 a Day’ campaign to encourage parents to think about the amount of time their offspring are spending looking at screens and look after their mental and physical health while they are online.
The internet wasn’t designed for kids, even though they make up a third of its users. Children’s suggestible minds can’t always tell the difference between reality and online life – to them, it’s all just ‘life’. With the demands and challenges of social media to worry about, some parents feel a bit out of their depth with online rules for kids, so the Digital 5 A Day guide has been developed to help parents show kids how to enjoy online life without letting it rule their lives.
Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield OBE says, ‘It doesn’t have to be about restriction and control – which is unlikely to win over any child anyway – but something children will often love: working out together a good way to be online.’
The Five elements of a good digital diet are:
- Be active
- Get creative
- Give to others
- Be mindful.
The internet makes it easy for us to make friends and keep up our friendships and family relationships. Although young children should not be using social media, in reality, many are, and careful monitoring of how they are using it is vital.
Children love to chat with their friends online, and that’s great. Most kids have grown up with being able to connect electronically and it’s important for parents to understand that. Make sure you have a chat with older kids about their privacy settings, keep an eye on their accounts and let them know that they can always ask you if there’s something or someone they are unsure of.
Staying active is important for children’s mental wellbeing as well as physical health. It’s not all about sport or the gym, most kids can find something they enjoy doing that gets them running around – playing in the park, swimming, dancing or even just going for a walk.
It’s great for kids to learn how to use the Internet to learn interesting things and get creative. You can teach kids how to create their own videos or build things in Minecraft and there are plenty of learning apps online – they can learn to speak a bit of another language or you could set them a challenge to find out fun facts online. It doesn’t all have to be mindless surfing or social media.
Give to others
Kids can find out how to get involved with local and national charitable schemes, and find ways to ‘give back’ and use the Internet in a positive way. Teach them to give positive feedback on videos and other things online, and advise them how to report negative behaviour or anything they think shouldn’t be happening online. Stress that if it’s used well, they have the power to help make the Internet a positive place for more people.
It’s bad enough for adults – we all find it hard to resist the constant ‘connectedness’ of our online world, with notifications going off constantly and things needing our attention.
Children can feel this pressure too but might not have the tools to cope with it. Talk to them about ways they can be more mindful about the amount of time they spend online, and how it this makes them feel, and encourage ‘unplugging’ time where they can just ignore their notifications and do other things.