The Coronavirus lockdown has steered all of us into uncharted territory, and no one is undergoing more change right now than parents.
Many schools are offering online lessons so your children and teenagers will need to access the online world. They will also need to access the internet to see their friends. For younger children that might mean online “playdates” via an app like Zoom or Whatsapp. For older children parents are having to relax boundaries about the digital world to maintain friendships.
Yet at the same time there are reports that online cyberbullying has increased, so parents need more than ever to manage their children’s time online and avoid allowing children and teens to spend all day (and all night) on their smartphones.
Parents need to set age-appropriate boundaries on which websites your children are visiting, how long they can be online, and whether they can be unsupervised or not. For older children it may be very difficult to accept your control over their screentime and they can be so adamant it is none of your business that it is hard to not wonder if they are right. However, teens are also at risk – of being bullied, or of sexting, or of being targeted by paedophiles, or of accessing hard core pornography online. And you pay for the phone and the broadband.
Remind them that access is still a privilege. Not a right. So take heart and take control.
Here are some top tips for boundaries to set up.
- No smartphones in bedrooms or at night. This is the golden rule, and the rule most likely to prevent some of the biggest dangers. The best way to lead on this is by example. One Fegans Parent Support Worker I know has an a smartphone arrangement with his teenage daughter. They have an agreement. At 9pm she takes his phone off him and puts it on to charge in the kitchen next to hers. And the two phones stay there until the following morning.
- No smartphones at the mealtable – this is a prime time where the family can catch up with each other, and where you have a chance to sense if one of your children is becoming withdrawn – a classic symptom of being a victim online
- Set age-appropriate limits for how long each child can be online Be a role model: it’s hard but set limits on your own use – your children will enjoy monitoring you!
- Talk to your children in a way that is age-appropriate about online dangers and let your children know they can come to you to talk about anything they are worried about – they often hide things from parents because they are frightened of having their smartphone confiscated. Have an open conversation about cyberbullying and let them know you wont punish them by taking away their phone for being a victim of cyberbullying. However you will if you find they are bullying others.
Government Guidelines for Parents to Manage Screen time
Last year, the UK Chief Medical Officer (the UK equivalent of the Surgeon General in the US), released official guidelines for parents on screentime and social media. These guidelines were published following a three month review commissioned by the Government. The guidelines make several recommendations, including banning smartphones from bedrooms and also from mealtimes. They also suggest that parents use parental controls and tracking software to monitor the online activity of their children in order to manage how much time their children are spending online and what they are doing on social media.
Free Parenting Course
At Fegans we have a free parenting course which includes how to set up boundaries and household rules during the Covid 19 pandemic – and how to prepare the ground with your children before you do. If you would like to benefit from our years of front line experience with helping parents through the challenges of parenting, please click here