For parents and teachers alike, children’s screen time can be a source of worry and guilt. Are our children becoming too dependent on technology? Are they at risk of being exposed to inappropriate, potentially dangerous content online? Have they forgotten how to be offline?
In many ways we’re stepping into the unknown - today’s parents and teachers grew up before the internet existed. There is no model, no “how to” guide and certainly no blueprint, which explains how we should teach children about the online world and technology use. In parallel, it’s obvious to most people that this new digital dawn brings tremendous opportunities; the sheer breadth of information that children have at their fingertips is wonderful so it is imperative that we look beyond just reducing the time our children spend on their laptops, tablets, phones, and instead think of methods to manage screen time.
With technology developing so rapidly, many of our children’s future jobs don’t exist yet. We need to prepare them for this – teach them vital 21st century skills along with implementing healthy habits online so they know how to use tech to their advantage and browse the web in a safe way. In schools and in the home, we should be teaching kids important digital skills such as coding as well as a knowledge of how to communicate safely and sensibly online, whilst always making sure that they have fun!
Apps such as Azoomee, our digital entertainment service for primary school-aged kids which offers a diverse mix of TV shows, games and audiobooks, alongside parent-approved messaging in one safe app, allow kids to have fun, learn new skills and generally be curious. Our mission as a company is to create a safe space for kids to develop key 21st century skills whilst being entertained – and to remove the guilt so many parents associate with allowing their kids be online. Aided by our partnership with the NSPCC, we have curated a platform full of content that is best described as “fun learning” and we don’t use algorithms so parents know everything is age appropriate. We have also worked hard to develop Search It Up, our free resource that shows kids how to navigate the web in a safe, kind and smart way.
Even more important is encouraging an open dialogue with older children about their online activity, particularly if they come across content that makes them
uncomfortable, worried or distressed. In my experience, certain key messages are worth stressing; for example children need to know that once something is on the web, they no longer own it; or why it’s dangerous to share personal information online (everything from contact details to school uniforms).
It is vital for kids to form healthy digital habits from an early age; it needn’t be a dangerous space, provided they understand how to navigate it within certain boundaries. Explore the internet together, have fun, make using the internet a positive experience. Introduce your children to sites (entertainment apps, games, drawing apps, news sites etc.) that you think they will like and that you know are safe. Try to make this a joint discovery so you build up an online experience that reflects their needs.
If kids are using screens alone, there are number of other measures you can implement to ensure they are protected from harmful content. Use a time management app such asTeenLimit, which lets you set device hours – when it can be used during a particular day, maximum daily and weekly time limits. For younger children try Guided Access (available on any Apple phone or tablet) or pinning on Android 5.0 Lollipop to add further safety to the experience. This lets you “lock” children in to a single app, which they are unable to exit until you input your PIN code.
As a parent myself, I know how difficult it can be to get the balance right in navigating screen time with kids. However, knowing the value of a good digital education means getting it right early in a child’s life is the best course of action.
Douglas Lloyd, Founder of Azoomee