Dr Fiona Pienaar, director of clinical services at children’s mental health charity Place2Be, explains how your own behaviour can support your child in the digital age
To be your child’s digital role model, it’s important to get to know the world your children are growing up in. Your openness, knowledge and attitude to all things digital will play a major role in maintaining your child’s mental health and emotional wellbeing as they navigate an exciting but challenging new world.
How can you ensure your children grow up emotionally and mentally healthy?
A lot has been written about the negative aspects of the digital world, particularly social media. Online bullying, children becoming addicted to gaming and the potential consequences of trying to create a perfect online image are all well-documented. But the digital world has also had an enormously positive effect on society.
So how do we find a balance? How do we ensure that our children grow up with an objective, sensible and well-adjusted approach to life in the digital age?
As a society, we have fairly recently moved to acknowledge how important it is to protect our children and young people from the real and potential challenges associated with life in the digital world.
Make time to talk to each other and, just as important, to listen to each other
If you want your child to have a balanced approach to the technology in their lives set a good example. Eat meals together at a table without any technology turned on. Make time to talk to each other and to listen to each other. Show interest in their daily lives, and explain how you decide which TV programmes you watch. Equally, explain how you decide when not to engage in digital technology, how and why you turn your devices off, and how you can use time to engage with others.
Why not create family traditions early in life that become so well-established and loved that they will always want to do them? Get outside, play games, walk in your neighbourhood and take your child to a favourite café for a milkshake.
In these ways you can support your child to use digital technology in a safe and knowledgeable way – and try to have fun together doing it.
Children pick up habits and attitudes from the significant adults around them
Nothing is more important than the example we set for children from the start of their lives. Children pick up habits and attitudes from the significant adults around them. Thinking about what we, as adults, present as normal in our homes, and in society in general, is crucial. How we manage digital devices dictates how our children and young people absorb early learning and how they develop their personal attitudes, beliefs and values.
Young people today not only have to manage their lives in real-time, but also in a parallel digital-time. If we want them to navigate that parallel world from a strong base of emotional wellbeing and mental health, we have to provide them with the guidance, education, tools, skills and support to do so.