Children have access to technology at an increasingly younger age. That is by no means always good, but fortunately not always a disaster. How do you prevent problems? Who do you make what arrangements with? And above all: what can you do together with your child for fun things to turn screen time into a cosy time?
A lot has changed over the last ten years. Smartphones, game consoles and tablets are now as ordinary as a television. And that means that there are now completely different forms of entertainment available for children. But also new ways of communicating. For parents this might feel like a threat: what is my child doing online? Can it do harm? Is the internet full of child molesters? And what should I do if my child gets into trouble online or develops addiction to games?
Such ghost images are understandable, and not entirely unjustified. Fortunately, it is not as disastrous as the most dramatic headlines suggest. A lot of problems with mobile phones, tablets, game consoles and the internet can be avoided by talking a lot with your child, doing things together, but also by making good arrangements with other parents.
Mobile phones are included, also for children
A smartphone is now so interwoven with our way of communicating that in The Hague a thousand children from less affluent families get a free smartphone. The project is realised through a cooperation between the municipality of The Hague and the Leergeld Foundation. This foundation helps children with less well-off parents to become members of a sports club, for example, or provides (two-handed) computers. According to the foundation, a smartphone is of crucial importance, because more and more communication is going through app groups, and otherwise children will be excluded. Before the children get their handsets, they must attend a lesson about safe use.
01 Early to a mobile phone?
Children are getting a smartphone at an increasingly younger age. And long before that, they can usually play games with the tablet or on the computer. Even though watching YouTube movies with your child to see if playing games isn’t a problem at all, giving your own smartphone is a really big step. It is wise not to do this too early. Research has shown that many children have been receiving smartphones from the age of eight. Often this is the’ little’ of the parents or a brother or sister. Because that thing is only in a drawer. However, eight years old is still far too young, because at that age, children are not yet able to cope with this enormous range of information. This quickly leads to excessive (often surreptitious) use, binge-watching and contacts that take place outside the parents’ field of vision. The greatest danger lies in the fact that you are giving a child with a smartphone access to the whole world, without your parent having any insight into it. Especially if the phone (or tablet) can be used indefinitely outside your field of vision. This is asking for problems with young children.
And although each child is of course different – and some children seem to be ready for Internet access before – it is good to realise that a children’s brain still has important developments to go through. For example, there is as yet no realization that something can be’ too much’. There is also the risk that a child will see things that it is emotionally not yet ready for.
02 Appointments with other parents
One of the first questions is therefore: when is it wise to give my child a mobile phone? You quickly run into the problem of social pressure. Because if everyone in the class has a smartphone, it is often difficult to keep their feet on the back. Mainly because the child’s sole lack of a telephone phone can cause other social problems for him or her: the child feels excluded from all the online activities of the other children in his/her environment.
It is already a regular occurrence that parents make appointments together to give a child a smartphone or tablet at the end of group 8. That is the age at which they are ready. The ideal moment is in the autumn holidays of group 8, because the child learns to use his or her plane with his or her primary school classmates before going to high school. At this age, a child is also perfectly able to learn things about media use, which makes it less likely to fall into excessive use or stealthy behaviour. Don’t wait too long before making these agreements. It is wise to arrange this in group 4 with other parents (in consultation with the school).
03 Does it help to agree on ‘screen time’?
Some parents decide to restrict their child’s use of tablets or cell phones: they are only allowed to spend a limited amount of time a day behind the screen. Unfortunately, research shows that agreeing on a schedule for screen time does not yield much. The studies even show that overly strict rules mean that children are more likely to’ pass on’ at a given moment and become more vulnerable to excessive use. As a parent, it is better to start with’ media wisdom’ from an early age. This means in particular that you’ll be watching with your child and make it a fun activity together: start looking for fun movies together on YouTube. Or play a game together. Because of this, you also teach a child in a very natural way to make the right choices about where they stand and where they do not. And what is scary and what is not. This often happens automatically when you look at it as a parent and discuss with the child:”What are we going to look at now? Oh, we’ll skip it, it looks like that. These kinds of natural conversations help the child to learn to select better.
Does’ Game addiction’ exist?
The term’ game addiction’ is actually not correct. Because although it does happen that children (and adults) play too many computer games, this is not an addiction in the usual sense of the word. It is better to speak of excessive gaming, the cause of which can always be traced back to an underlying reason. So the game itself is not the problem. Excessive use is a symptom that something goes wrong somewhere in life. Maybe the child may be bullied and is looking for friendships online. Maybe it doesn’t go well at school and the progress in the game feels like a kind of success that it doesn’t achieve in the classroom. In any case, it is never a solution to put the game console in the cupboard’ just’. It is better to find out why the child is playing too much game.
Too much’ is defined as’ other aspects of life are in jeopardy’. If the child gets good marks and maintains normal social contacts, there is no question of excessive gaming. A good check is: would you be worried if your child were to read as much as he or she is playing games? If the answer is’ no’, there is probably no cause for concern.
04 My child doesn’t want to look together with me anymore
From the age of eight to nine, children especially want to be on the Internet alone or with a boyfriend. This is not a stealthy behaviour, nor is it directly harmful. It is a sign of independence. Instead of banning it, your child regularly asks if he or she has seen something fun and if you can see it. Ask why he is looking at things and what’s fun about it. This is also a way of simultaneously guiding the child and helping him or her to make responsible media choices independently. Prohibiting it makes no sense, because it only encourages stealthy behaviour.
Instead, it is better to make it clear to your child that you trust him/her, and that you don’t get angry when they see something they don’t have yet. Let them know that it’s better for them to come to tell you so you can explain things or help your child if he’s shocked. Becoming angry is also counterproductive here. On the contrary, it can prevent a child from sharing anything with you about his or her Internet behaviour, so that you can no longer help to put unpleasant things in context.
Unfortunately, there is a risk of children becoming victims of online abuse. These are usually adults who present themselves as peers, and in this way build a relationship. Slowly but surely, they provoke the child to act for the webcam, and those images are then used as a means of blackmail to force the child even more. This process is also called’ grooming’ and can take months. Partly for this reason, it is important to make it clear to children that they should not automatically assume that the person on the other side of the connection is who they say they are. Talk about these topics and teach your child to never do things that it feels uncomfortable about. Make sure your child knows that you don’t get angry when it comes to you after an unpleasant experience. Groomers try to let your child walk in a trap and give the feeling that the child is isolated. Prevent that by talking about who they have contact with online and how it works