7 The role of adults
In this section you will learn about the importance of adults in mediating the effects of digital technologies on children and find out how to select digital technologies for children.
Earlier in the course the following question was asked: Are digital technologies good or bad for children? You should have noticed up to now that this is a rather simplistic question that requires a nuanced approach if it is to be accurately answered. The answer depends mainly on two factors:
- whether the use of digital technologies is balanced with other physical (exercise, outdoor activities, etc.) and social activities (such as family communication or peer interactions)
- whether adults (parents/guardians) monitor, mediate and support children’s interactions with digital technologies.
The role of adults (e.g. parents and guardians) is key in ensuring a healthy relationship between children and digital technologies. Media-specific parenting can booster the positive effects of digital technologies and mitigate any negative effects. Many parents – at least a majority of them – believe that digital technologies can bring benefits to their children, for example, they can support early learning, vocabulary and language development and social skills. Yet, at the same time, parents’ concerns about digital technologies have been shown to be increasing. This is the reason why they are found to talk to their children regularly about how to be safe online and how to use technical tools, and set rules such as how long and when children should interact with digital technologies. Parents are those who can ensure that children are safe online and they are not exposed to inappropriate content (violence, cyberbullying, etc.). They can also select good quality educational content for children to watch or interact with, and discuss with their children about what they do and learn from digital technologies.
The following guidelines produced by the Children’s Commissioner for England (2017) can help parents and children ‘talk’ about digital technologies and the internet, and get the most out of it:
- CONNECT: Have a discussion with your child about who they are connecting with online, what privacy settings are and whether they disclose any private information. Emphasise that they should come to you, should they need any help or have any questions.
- BE ACTIVE: Encourage your child to start a physical activity such as swimming, walking, dancing or a sport. Check together details or benefits of the activity online. Emphasise the importance of outdoor activities for mental health and wellbeing.
- GET CREATIVE: Encourage your child to use material online that promotes creativity, such as building complex structures in the game Minecraft or creating video content for YouTube. This will help your child develop digital and creative skills. In this way, children will not only consume material online (that someone else has produced), but also create or produce their own online material.
- GIVE TO OTHERS: Encourage your child to give feedback online; positive feedback to good behaviour such as supporting friends or family and negative feedback by reporting inappropriate behaviour. Use the internet together and discuss what constitutes positive and what constitutes negative behaviour. This will help children recognise and respond to it.
- BE MINDFUL: It may be difficult for children to put their mobile devices down or stop using the computer. Give your child practical solutions such as help them download and use a mobile application that can monitor and manage their screen time.