IN a world where a smartphone or a screen is never far from our hands and gaze, and where we are increasingly plugged into technology, the issues of how to manage children’s digital behaviours is becoming a universal dilemma for parents, says Dr Kristy Goodwin
“It’s the number one issue parents tell me they are facing as I travel through the country,” says the digital parenting educator, researcher and mum of three.
“People from all walks of life are struggling to navigate it and are given conflicting and confusing advice,” says Dr Goodwin, author of “Raising your Child in a Digital World”.
“Coupled with the fact that most adults don’t have a reference to what it’s like for children growing up in the digital world… We stared at the sky not at a screen!
“We just don’t know what the long-term impact of technology, like the Ipad, is on children. We are a living experiment and don’t have longitudinal data,” she says.
“In broad strokes, technology impacts upon children’s vision, hearing and sleep and that in turn impacts on their learning and mental wellbeing.”
Anecdotally, Dr Goodwin says that technology is displacing sleep, physical movement and relationships.
“My core message is that parents need to be the pilots of the digital plane,” she says.
But Dr Goodwin says she is the first to say that a “digital detox” is not the answer.
“There’s no need (or time) for ‘techno-guilt’. We face a digital reality and banning or avoiding technology isn’t a viable solution,” she says.
Becoming the pilot of the digital plane means that parents need to set boundaries from a young age with their children regarding how much and what digital content they consume.
“Do the hard yards when your children are young, as it will be easier to implement. ‘Future You’ will thank you!” says Dr Goodwin.
And while there is a big focus on how much screen time children have in a day, Dr Goodwin says that we should also be setting boundaries regarding what they are doing during their screen time.
“There needs to be a more nuanced conversation about what our kids do… how can they be more active and interactive on a screen? With high-quality, age-appropriate content they are more engaged,” she says.
Dr Goodwin warns that the education-themed section of app stores doesn’t have rigorous screening or testing of what apps make it into the category.
“There’s a big difference between a child watching a David Attenborough documentary and watching other children play a video game online,” she says.
“We also need to be aware of our children’s basic needs. Is the time that they are spending on a device compromising the time they need to sleep, play and have human interaction?”
“It is okay for kids to be bored. It’s so easy to reach for a digital distraction such as passing over a phone but it means that kids are always plugged in,” she says.
“We need to unplug and still have pockets of boredom time.”
Sydney-based Dr Goodwin will be presenting a parenting seminar “Digitalised Childhoods” on March 11 at Trinity Christian School to arm parents with strategies and ideas to help kids develop healthy technology habits.
While Dr Goodwin acknowledges the “spectacular” work happening in schools to teach children about cyber safety, under the leadership of e-safety commissioner Julie Inman Grant, she encourages parents not to abdicate their responsibility.
“There can be a reservation for parents to come (to my seminars). They are worried that I’ll tell them off or they’ll be ‘should-on’. I provide evidence-based information that people can apply to their family situation.
“There’s an awful amount of burying of heads until there becomes a crisis… And there’s not a lot we can do once a child has seen pornography online,” she says.
“Digitalised Childhoods’ ‘, Trinity Christian School, 4 McBryde Crescent, Wanniassa. 7pm-9pm. March 11. Tickets via trybooking.com