Stick to sensible limits

Technology is all around us; it’s changing the way we think and act, opening up new opportunities for us all. Used in the right way, it can also have huge educational and social benefits. Many parents, however, are concerned about the amount of time their children might be spending online.

A new point of view…

A few years ago, a lot of advice given to Digital Parents was about how to reduce the amount of time that children spend using internet-enabled technology. More recently, however, there has been a shift toward emphasising the quality of the time young people are spending in the online world.

The internet is now a significant element of everyday life for most people in Qatar and around the world. It is part of our social lives, education and work. Although some of us might like the idea, it is unlikely that life will change back to how it was. It is important, therefore, that Digital Parents help their children to think about not only the amount of time they spend online, but also what they do while they are there.

Some simple questions that parents can ask may help to show the difference between quality online time, and when it might be time to turn the screens off.

1. How does my child respond to what he or she views online? Is it positive or negative? Are my children inspired and motivated, or uninterested and disengaged from what is happening?


2. Is there a strong, positive social element to my children’s online life? Does that social engagement carry on into the offline world? Are the relationships supportive and fun, or do they seem to lead to unhappiness and low self-esteem?


3. What is the content like? Does it build on the good in their day-to-day lives and their culture, adding new perspectives and ideas? Do they seem to be influenced by fake news and negative opinions?


4. What is the impact on my child’s physical and mental health? Does what they watch make them want to get up and do something, or is it always passive? Are they eating enough (the internet can affect children – particularly girls – in the way that they think about their weight and appearance)? Do they sleep well at night?

If the answers to the questions above are mostly positive, then it is likely that the quality of your child’s online time is good. If your answers are negative then you may need to take more active control of how much time your family is spending connected to the internet, as well as helping them to reconsider and change their activities when they are online.

Why is ‘balance’ important?

If children enjoy their digital, internet-enabled technology so much, why should Digital Parents try to control how long they spend online?

Well, there are a number of very good reasons. Our children’s health, physical abilities, imagination and social skills are still developing all the way through to adulthood, and beyond. If there is too much emphasis on digital skills, other aspects of life will suffer.

If you’re in a hurry, look at the list below and see if there are some ideas that might help your children to find that balance. If you have more time, read on for more details.

Sensible limits – the 60-second guide for Digital Parents

Set an example – think about how much time you spend online each day and try to stick to the same limits as you set for your children in the evenings and at weekends

Monitor – ask yourself, is the time they spend online growing? Is it interfering with other aspects of life such as family time, schoolwork or sleep and exercise?

Balance – organise offline activities to balance online time; family days out and creative activities are ideal

Support – involve your wider digital family; ask the people your children spend time with – aunts and uncles, grandparents, childminders and nannies – to make sure that the limits stay the same when you are not there

Consider – setting a cut-off point in the day where online activity ends. Some Digital Parents have the rule that smartphones and tablets stay downstairs at bedtime; that way children will not be tempted to stay up watching videos or talking to friends when they ought to be sleeping.

24/7 connectivity

Young people are surrounded by digital technology and, more and more, it is part of them; their digital life and ‘real’ life cannot be separated.

The 2015 Arab Youth Survey, which covers 16 countries in the Middle East and North Africa, found that 82% of young people aged 18-24 years are using the internet every day. With each generation the numbers increase, and our under-18s are just as connected.

Did you know?

A 2012 survey of children aged 5 - 13 in the UK showed that:

- 57% could log on to the internet

- 50% played on games consoles

- 42% use smartphones

However:

- Only 19% can read a map

- 22% can build a campfire

- 13% can repair a puncture in a bicycle tyre

Do those statistics sound familiar? It is clear that the amount of time today’s digital children spend online is affecting the development of other skills. Although life is busy, it is important to take time together as a family to do something practical together, whether it’s indoors or outdoors.

Why not:

- Head to Aspire Park for a walk?

- Have a family day at Fuwairit, or Katara Village beach in Doha if time is short?

- Buy some string and beads from a mall and make some jewellery with your daughter?

- Use cardboard, glue and paints to make a great mask with your under 10s?

Health and wellbeing

There is one health problem facing Qatar in the 21st Century which outweighs all of the others:

Type 2 diabetes…

Diabetes is a disease where your body is unable to control blood sugar levels in your blood. This can have disastrous effects such as nerve damage, kidney disease and loss of sight.

In Qatar, nearly 300,000 people have diabetes. There is a direct relationship between an active lifestyle and a reduced risk of diabetes. This is a compelling reason for Digital Parents to make sure that their children are balancing time spend online with time spent on their feet, being active.

Another consideration is children’s emotional wellbeing. Young people’s sense of identity is linked closely to their digital life. Keeping a balance is important in order to help them to gain self-confidence and maintain a positive self-image.

Use your imagination!         

With messages coming from all directions, it’s sometimes easy for both children and adults to spend a whole day multitasking and have no time to step back and think.

We’ve all had the experience of being at home with our kids, with everyone on their own devices. Home should also be a place for meaningful moments with the family, which is why switching off for a few hours can really help.

Taking the time to engage in other activities, or even just let our minds wander, are excellent ways of engaging our creativity and imagination.

Social networking vs social skills

The other great benefit of switching off is that it enables children to develop the different communication skills they need when they meet people face to face. Social networking tends to draw together like-minded groups. Switching off means reconnecting with different generations and with people whose lives are different from ours.

All Digital Parents want their children to be well adjusted, good at all kinds of relationships and able to concentrate on different types of activities. We can help them to develop in this way by helping them to switch off for a few hours a week.

Whether it’s cooking a meal together or taking part in a sports team, Digital Parents need to show their families that they can also have a lot of fun away from tech – and that when they go back to it, they’ll also have a better perspective on what’s happening in their digital world.