It’s time to change our parenting habits around electronic devices

L plateA few years ago, deaths caused by road accidents in Australia rose to an unprecedented level. Deaths and other serious incidents among younger drivers were particularly high. The logical conclusion was that the more inexperienced you were on the roads, the more likely you were to have a serious accident.

State Governments around Australia decided something needed to be done, and so they made a move that would force behaviour change in an entire generation of parents. They mandated that before a teenager could go for their license, they had to have clocked at least 100 hours of driving experience accompanied by a licensed adult (up to 120 hours in Victoria). The outcome of these laws was that they essentially forced parents to spend quality time with their teenagers teaching them how to drive. No longer could parents pay a driving instructor to give their child a few lessons and then send them off hoping they’d pass the driving test. They had to do the long hours teaching and guiding their children through experiences in all types of situations before setting them off on their own. Now when teenagers drove for the first time they would be highly experienced and so far less likely to come to grief.

I’m mentioning this because I believe its time to change our parenting behaviour around electronic devices in a similar way. As parents we spend lots of time with our children, but they can be very demanding and at times we get exhausted and just need a break. From the earliest age, electronic devices like phones and iPads serve as fantastic baby sitters in times like these. Where traditionally the TV gave parents a solid hour or so of peace and quiet, its now more frequently the tablet or phone serving this purpose. They are also great to turn to in emergencies. Having difficulty keeping your child quiet in a waiting room or restaurant? Out comes the iPhone.

Now, I’m not saying this is terrible behaviour and it needs to stop. But the danger is that this behaviour forms a habit in our parenting as we see electronic devices as ‘break time’, which leads to this behaviour being repeated again and again. “They make my child quiet and engaged so I can get some things done.” For most parents, time on the iPad for child = time to yourself as a parent. And just like with Australia’s road toll, we’re seeing the cost of these children growing up without any parent guidance in their online activity.

How much shared screen time (or ‘co-viewing’) time do you spend with your kids? Spending even 5 or 10 minutes with them on whatever activities they are doing each day can tell you so much about where they are at, both educationally and in terms of their digital literacy. If you make frequent efforts to do this, as they get older it becomes a normal parent/child time. There’s not that sudden suspicion or resentment when mum suddenly wants to see what I’m doing online when she’s never shown an interest before. You are there beside them to help them intelligently navigate things like social networks and messaging apps for the first time, rather than trying to spy on them when you eventually clue onto the fact that they have become the centre of their social life.

You will also likely see some things that will genuinely blow you away. For me it’s been amazement at my 5 year old son’s phonics knowledge during literacy games, witnessing my 8 year old daughter’s incredible creations in Minecraft, and watching on as both of them have moments of fantastic creativity using music or photo editing apps.

And if you don’t know your way around the online world, what better way to learn than navigating with your child, growing your intelligence of the digital world with them from the very first time they pick it up.

Its time that we stopped seeing electronic devices just as baby sitters that allow us to switch off from active parenting. Just like with driving, there is a generation of children that desperately need those quality hours of supervised guidance before they navigate the online world completely on their own.