With many kids at home or soon to be at home, public events cancelled, and ‘social distancing’ on everyone’s minds, it’s fair to say young people will be spending a lot more time at home. For many families, this means more time spent on devices, which raises concerns about cyber bullying and other problems online.
But there are simple steps we can take to help make this a positive time.
1. Make a plan
This is a good time for families to sit down together and agree on how everyone will use their devices over the next few weeks to make life easier, calmer and happier. Steps might include:
- Adjust the settings on your smart devices and social media accounts for the highest level of security.
- Go through your alerts and apps and think about how many of them you need right now. If some are more stressful and distracting than helpful, this might be the time to turn them off.
- Agree when and where it’s OK to use devices. For example, you might agree to switch off during family meals, in bedrooms or after dinner.
- Use tech to enhance your family routine – for example, gaming with school friends for an agreed time in the afternoon and Skyping grandparents in the evening.
- Agree on how you will balance your time to include offline activities, such as board games, looking after pets, cooking, exercise and chores.
2. Be smart in your media consumption
When young people are stressed or bored, it’s tempting to keep checking headlines and social media, but too much of this can leave you feeling worse. Make a pact with your family – maybe you will agree to check trusted news sources a couple of times a day, and steer clear of rolling news and scary things on social media.
For reliable information about COVID-19, check the World Health Organization and the Australian Government Department of Health. Your state emergency services may also put out official alerts through apps like Vic Emergency.
This is also a perfect time to encourage kids to think critically about the ‘news’ they are seeing. You might remind them :
- Some news footage gets shown over and over, around the world, so it feels like it’s happening right here all the time – but it’s not.
- Breaking news is put together in a hurry, and sometimes they don’t have all the information yet.
- Social media will suggest ‘news’ items for you based on what you’ve looked at before, but some of it will not be balanced or accurate.
- Many social media posts are based on people’s opinions, not facts, and you don’t always know who created it or paid for it.
To learn more, check out Common Sense Media for great tips for raising tech-savvy kids during COVID-19.
3. Use technology for good
Let’s encourage our families to use technology to spread kindness and make people feel better. This might involve:
- Checking in with relatives and friends who are isolated or vulnerable.
- Contacting someone who’s been bullied online to offer them support and encourage them to report it or tell a trusted adult.
- Checking out fun, age-appropriate apps which teach kids about staying healthy through meditation and physical exercise at home.
- If necessary, contacting a free, confidential counselling service via web, phone or text – e.g. Kids Helpline, eheadspace, Beyond Blue or Lifeline.
Finally, this is a great time to sit down as a family and take the Dolly’s Dream DigiPledge, a fun and simple way for parents and kids to learn about communicating safely online, social networking, privacy, gaming and much more.