Helping children to build a healthy relationship with technology, and knowing how much of what is enough, is challenging for parents under the best of circumstances.
Exam time however throws a whole new spanner in the works, an education expert warns.
“While some parents might want to introduce new house rules or impose a total ban on screen time during important periods such as exams, that approach could be counter-productive,” says Nola Payne, Head of Faculty: Information and Communications Technology at The Independent Institute of Education.
“However it is necessary to review and agree on how devices and especially social media will be used during this period,” she says, “and parents and guardians should play an active role in assisting young people to strike the right balance.”
Payne warns that parents will face a lot of resistance if they implement a total ban on social media interaction, which will not be conducive to a positive studying environment.
“Matric and other exams are already very stressful, and social media can help learners and students unwind and let off steam by sharing their concerns, clearing up study material confusion and encouraging each other.
“A better approach would be to rather restrict social media during focused 1-2 hour study sessions so concentration is not interrupted, and allow it during breaks – preferably away from the desk – in conjunction with a healthy snack and some fresh air.”
Payne says that in general, parents should assist their children to build a healthy relationship with technology from an early age, noting that technology has become an integral part of children’s lives.
“While there are of course dangers and concerns, technology has also brought many advantages and opportunities. Our children need to build a set of skills – hard skills and common sense ones – around technology as it will always be a huge part of their lives, whether when researching school work, investigating higher education options or searching for career opportunities, or whether for entertainment or engaging with social media contacts.”
She says that approaching technology positively and pragmatically right from the start can help families engage better.
“It can improve their resourcefulness, open up new avenues for learning and help them better understand how to manage social interactions. Parents need to be honest about their own concerns and should support and mentor their children by creating the right environment in the online world, as they would in the offline world.
“Encourage the learning, whether it is online or offline, but set boundaries and time limits on digital engagement, study methods (which should also include pen and paper and not just digital learning) and also digital social interactions during exam time.
There are thousands of mobile apps and software applications that support learning in a fun and constructive way, and that can ensure that study time is in fact study time, and not Facebook time in disguise.”
Payne says there are 4 simple things parents can do to ensure healthy technology habits for life:
1. Create and schedule fun offline activities and spaces where the family can interact without technology.
2. Spend time with your younger children sharing your “tech time”. You can sit with them and create study notes or play an educational game together. This form of interaction can open up interesting discussions, in a natural way, and not feel like it is a forced conversation. The interest you show in your young child’s technology interactions will build a feeling of trust between yourselves and technology will be seen as a constructive tool for learning.
3. Respect your children’s privacy. This could be as simple as asking for their permission before you share and tag pictures of them online. If they don’t want you to do it, then respect their wishes.
4. Set boundaries (which the adults need to adhere to as well), for instance not interacting with technology during dinner or if someone is talking to you.
“Parents need to embrace our changed world and work with their children to encourage a balance between technology and the physical world,” says Payne.