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How to Raise Healthy Kids in a Digital Age

Raising Healthy Kids in a Digital World

Parenting has always been a challenge, and it’s only become more complex as children are born into and grow up in the digital age. We don’t understand all the effects of social media, online gaming, and other screen time activities on children, and we continue to receive conflicting information.

Sometimes the kids understand tech better than their parents. And how can parents monitor what their kids are doing in the digital world? There’s a lot to think about, but fundamental truths haven’t changed.

As with any other aspect of life, raising healthy kids in the digital age calls for flexibility, creativity, openness, and leading by example. Create space for a digital presence in your child’s world proactively so you can shape it rather than it taking over. 

Aim for compromise

Screens are ubiquitous. Even if you don’t allow them at home, kids will be exposed to them at school or at friends’ and relatives’ homes. So strive for balance, rather than complete restriction. Decide when you’re ready to let your kid have their own smartphone or tablet, and have some conversations with them ahead of time about what they’ll use it for and how often. Some parents make a contract with their kids. If you do this, check in regularly to see what your child is doing and address any violations to your agreement in a timely manner. If you remember that it’s probably a matter of when, not if, they break one of the rules, you’ll be able to keep a calmer head when that time comes. 

Educate about cyberbullying

No one wants their kid to be bullied, online or off, and what’s more, no parent wants to find out their kid is bullying someone else. Before screens, the rules could be learned in social settings and at school. But with the relative lack of oversight and anonymity digital tools offer, it’s easier for kids (and adults, for that matter) to be mean to each other. Have a direct conversation with your children about what cyberbullying is and how to respond if it happens to them or they witness it. Hint: It’s better to respond and seek resolution in person than online. 

Use video chat

It’s no secret that sitting in front of a screen for hours on end isn’t the best for kids. But do we really know just what the effects of screen time on developing brains are, especially on young children? A review of various studies out there found that there are cognitive costs to too much screen time, but certain uses, such as video chatting with relatives, can be more helpful than harmful. Video chatting allows for a true conversation that includes nonverbal communication and can help support relationships with people who may not live nearby. 

Be a good role model

It’s not just our kids who need a healthy relationship with tech—we do too. The first thing to do if you want your kids to spend less time on screens is to set a good example by putting away your own devices more. Don’t want them to have phones at the dinner table? You better not either. And not only that, but talk with your kids about what you do on the computer and why. Engage them in conversations about the benefits and drawbacks of Instagram or online gaming. Be thoughtful in your own habits of picking up and putting down the phone. Even when you’re not discussing it with your children, they’ll notice what you do. 

Watch media as a family

Sharing media can certainly include movie night, but you might also consider viewing TED Talks or YouTube videos, or listening to podcasts with your kids. Kids use digital tools in their homework and to learn about the world, so encourage that behavior by consuming educational media with them. Here are a few TED Talk suggestions to get you started. By making this an activity you do together, you’ll contribute to family bonding. 

Maintain tech-free zones

Make sure you create time that doesn’t involve screens. The dinner table, an outing to the park, or the drive to/from school are all good options. This goes back to the idea of balance. When you allow kids time to connect with their friends online as well as take them out into nature, for example, they learn to appreciate the various ways they can interact with others. Rather than simply telling them to put down their devices, take them out and show them what the world has to offer.

Respect social media

Much of the concern about digital has to do with how much time kids spend on social media. And while there’s lots of grousing about the risks of social media, we sometimes overlook its benefits. Sites like Instagram and Twitter can help kids stay connected with friends and discover new interests. For LGBTQ kids or others with marginalized identities, digital platforms can offer a way (and sometimes the only way) to find community. Have conversations with your kids about what they’re doing on social media and make sure they understand that what they share online never really goes away. Keep track of who they’re connecting with, so you can find out early if a questionable stranger is interacting with your child. 

Keep the conversation going

Remember that contract mentioned earlier about tech use? Don’t treat it as a set-it-and-forget-it kind of thing, but something you discuss regularly—there’s a better chance of it working that way. In order to not let the digital world distract your child from the physical world, make it part of your regular conversations rather than just bringing it up when something might be going wrong.

Be curious about what your child does on the computer and why. Ask to see the pictures they’re looking at on Instagram. And discuss with your child why everything they see on the Internet isn’t always as it appears. Just as with advertising in the old days, curated online personalities can produce insecurity around not living up to impossible standards. Help your children understand that what they see online isn’t necessarily a reflection of reality.

By Morgen Henderson

Parenting has always been a challenge, and it’s only become more complex as children are born into and grow up in the digital age. We don’t understand all the effects of social media, online gaming, and other screen time activities on children, and we continue to receive conflicting information.

Sometimes the kids understand tech better than their parents. And how can parents monitor what their kids are doing in the digital world? There’s a lot to think about, but fundamental truths haven’t changed.

As with any other aspect of life, raising healthy kids in the digital age calls for flexibility, creativity, openness, and leading by example. Create space for a digital presence in your child’s world proactively so you can shape it rather than it taking over. 

Aim for compromise

Screens are ubiquitous. Even if you don’t allow them at home, kids will be exposed to them at school or at friends’ and relatives’ homes. So strive for balance, rather than complete restriction. Decide when you’re ready to let your kid have their own smartphone or tablet, and have some conversations with them ahead of time about what they’ll use it for and how often. Some parents make a contract with their kids. If you do this, check in regularly to see what your child is doing and address any violations to your agreement in a timely manner. If you remember that it’s probably a matter of when, not if, they break one of the rules, you’ll be able to keep a calmer head when that time comes. 

Educate about cyberbullying

No one wants their kid to be bullied, online or off, and what’s more, no parent wants to find out their kid is bullying someone else. Before screens, the rules could be learned in social settings and at school. But with the relative lack of oversight and anonymity digital tools offer, it’s easier for kids (and adults, for that matter) to be mean to each other. Have a direct conversation with your children about what cyberbullying is and how to respond if it happens to them or they witness it. Hint: It’s better to respond and seek resolution in person than online. 

Use video chat

It’s no secret that sitting in front of a screen for hours on end isn’t the best for kids. But do we really know just what the effects of screen time on developing brains are, especially on young children? A review of various studies out there found that there are cognitive costs to too much screen time, but certain uses, such as video chatting with relatives, can be more helpful than harmful. Video chatting allows for a true conversation that includes nonverbal communication and can help support relationships with people who may not live nearby. 

Be a good role model

It’s not just our kids who need a healthy relationship with tech—we do too. The first thing to do if you want your kids to spend less time on screens is to set a good example by putting away your own devices more. Don’t want them to have phones at the dinner table? You better not either. And not only that, but talk with your kids about what you do on the computer and why. Engage them in conversations about the benefits and drawbacks of Instagram or online gaming. Be thoughtful in your own habits of picking up and putting down the phone. Even when you’re not discussing it with your children, they’ll notice what you do. 

Watch media as a family

Sharing media can certainly include movie night, but you might also consider viewing TED Talks or YouTube videos, or listening to podcasts with your kids. Kids use digital tools in their homework and to learn about the world, so encourage that behavior by consuming educational media with them. Here are a few TED Talk suggestions to get you started. By making this an activity you do together, you’ll contribute to family bonding. 

Maintain tech-free zones

Make sure you create time that doesn’t involve screens. The dinner table, an outing to the park, or the drive to/from school are all good options. This goes back to the idea of balance. When you allow kids time to connect with their friends online as well as take them out into nature, for example, they learn to appreciate the various ways they can interact with others. Rather than simply telling them to put down their devices, take them out and show them what the world has to offer.

Respect social media

Much of the concern about digital has to do with how much time kids spend on social media. And while there’s lots of grousing about the risks of social media, we sometimes overlook its benefits. Sites like Instagram and Twitter can help kids stay connected with friends and discover new interests. For LGBTQ kids or others with marginalized identities, digital platforms can offer a way (and sometimes the only way) to find community. Have conversations with your kids about what they’re doing on social media and make sure they understand that what they share online never really goes away. Keep track of who they’re connecting with, so you can find out early if a questionable stranger is interacting with your child. 

Keep the conversation going

Remember that contract mentioned earlier about tech use? Don’t treat it as a set-it-and-forget-it kind of thing, but something you discuss regularly—there’s a better chance of it working that way. In order to not let the digital world distract your child from the physical world, make it part of your regular conversations rather than just bringing it up when something might be going wrong.

Be curious about what your child does on the computer and why. Ask to see the pictures they’re looking at on Instagram. And discuss with your child why everything they see on the Internet isn’t always as it appears. Just as with advertising in the old days, curated online personalities can produce insecurity around not living up to impossible standards. Help your children understand that what they see online isn’t necessarily a reflection of reality.

By Morgen Henderson

Around the World Online With Kids

The world is a big and exciting place, filled with adventure and ideas. The world is also more and more online. Even though you explore Earth with your fingertips, the reality of kids in other lands and their online experiences may surprise you.

CHINA
The largest country on Earth has the most people online. 800 million people in China use the Internet, but that makes sense because it has the most people living there. The Chinese also see a different online world than other people, because the government controls Internet searches and there are some websites that the Chinese government keeps from coming up when people do a Google search. This is a problem that companies still fight about.

Kids in China mostly use QQ or WeChat to connect with their friends. Unlike kids in the US, Canada or most countries in Europe, kids tend to use the Internet for school or to chat with small groups of friends. Kids in China also know that too much Internet can hurt their school marks and keep them from being who they want to be when they grow up.

INDIA
If you are between the ages of 8 and 13 and live in India, you are probably using Snapchat to connect with your friends. Parents of those kids don’t like Snapchat because they can’t see what their children are sharing. Most parents think that they know what their kids do online, but about half of those kids disagree—those are kids who spend time online with activities their parents don’t know about.

To help protect kids, India has passed laws that make going online illegal for children under the age of 18. That has not stopped kids from signing up for Facebook and Google accounts. India is working hard as a country to better watch their children as they enter the online world.

NIGERIA
People in this West African country are quickly becoming huge Internet users. The biggest problem is that electricity isn’t always available. The power can go out a dozen times a day. Children lucky enough to have Internet service tend to concentrate on education, because for many, becoming educated will help them escape poverty. Unfortunately, many who are educated grow up to use the Internet for crime. Pretty much everyone online has come across a Nigerian scam. Hopefully, as more children get a good education, fewer will turn to scamming.

JAPAN
Japan has kids that spend so much time online, they are suffering from physical and mental problems. Many can’t sleep or concentrate, have problems eating and are becoming physically unfit, to name only a few of the symptoms. Doctor’s call this either Internet Use Disorder or Problematic Internet Use. Boys are more likely to have problems due to playing games online. Girls are more likely to have problems with messaging and social platforms.

Parents, doctors and school officials are looking for ways to help bring children back to the real world. Many Japanese parents are turning to camps where kids are put on an Internet “fast.” Instead of going online, children go outside and play, talk with each other and even go into counseling.

YOU
You are very lucky. You are reading this, so, obviously, you have a computer or a smart phone. You also have a good Internet connection. You can learn about our planet and can read different points of view. That isn’t the case for all kids in the world. Remember, life is much bigger than your social platform and friends. We can all learn from each other to better explore the Internet while living fun, happy lives in the real world.

The world is a big and exciting place, filled with adventure and ideas. The world is also more and more online. Even though you explore Earth with your fingertips, the reality of kids in other lands and their online experiences may surprise you.

CHINA
The largest country on Earth has the most people online. 800 million people in China use the Internet, but that makes sense because it has the most people living there. The Chinese also see a different online world than other people, because the government controls Internet searches and there are some websites that the Chinese government keeps from coming up when people do a Google search. This is a problem that companies still fight about.

Kids in China mostly use QQ or WeChat to connect with their friends. Unlike kids in the US, Canada or most countries in Europe, kids tend to use the Internet for school or to chat with small groups of friends. Kids in China also know that too much Internet can hurt their school marks and keep them from being who they want to be when they grow up.

INDIA
If you are between the ages of 8 and 13 and live in India, you are probably using Snapchat to connect with your friends. Parents of those kids don’t like Snapchat because they can’t see what their children are sharing. Most parents think that they know what their kids do online, but about half of those kids disagree—those are kids who spend time online with activities their parents don’t know about.

To help protect kids, India has passed laws that make going online illegal for children under the age of 18. That has not stopped kids from signing up for Facebook and Google accounts. India is working hard as a country to better watch their children as they enter the online world.

NIGERIA
People in this West African country are quickly becoming huge Internet users. The biggest problem is that electricity isn’t always available. The power can go out a dozen times a day. Children lucky enough to have Internet service tend to concentrate on education, because for many, becoming educated will help them escape poverty. Unfortunately, many who are educated grow up to use the Internet for crime. Pretty much everyone online has come across a Nigerian scam. Hopefully, as more children get a good education, fewer will turn to scamming.

JAPAN
Japan has kids that spend so much time online, they are suffering from physical and mental problems. Many can’t sleep or concentrate, have problems eating and are becoming physically unfit, to name only a few of the symptoms. Doctor’s call this either Internet Use Disorder or Problematic Internet Use. Boys are more likely to have problems due to playing games online. Girls are more likely to have problems with messaging and social platforms.

Parents, doctors and school officials are looking for ways to help bring children back to the real world. Many Japanese parents are turning to camps where kids are put on an Internet “fast.” Instead of going online, children go outside and play, talk with each other and even go into counseling.

YOU
You are very lucky. You are reading this, so, obviously, you have a computer or a smart phone. You also have a good Internet connection. You can learn about our planet and can read different points of view. That isn’t the case for all kids in the world. Remember, life is much bigger than your social platform and friends. We can all learn from each other to better explore the Internet while living fun, happy lives in the real world.

What Would the ‘Future You’ Post?

future social media posts for kids safety

Adults tell you all the time: “Be careful what you post on social media! The Internet is forever!” Teachers say: “When you apply for college, the school might reject you because of all those pictures and mean posts.”

You hear over and over: “People who hire employees will read your history and you might not get the job you want.” You smile, nod, then roll your eyes. Who cares about what happens in five, ten or twenty years?

Someone just made a post that makes you angry—you feel that you must post some angry comment back. You take a picture of yourself drawing a rude image on a neighbor’s fence and snicker as you upload it to your page.

Stop. Take your fingers off your phone or keyboard. What you are told is true. The Internet saves everything you do today. People can see all your posts five, ten and even twenty years from now. People have lost jobs for postings made years before.

If you want to be, say, the boss of a company or a famous dancer or a doctor or mayor of a city, think about that when you post online. A firefighter’s job is to face danger and save lives—would someone like that make mean posts to a little kid?

Would a great engineer type hurtful words to a person who is different from him or her?  Maybe you won’t become a great engineer if you can’t get into college because of mean comments posted when you were a kid.

Think about what you want to be. Imagine reaching your goals. You could dream of being an athlete, a pop star, a carpenter, a zoologist—whatever it is, think about how The Future You would act online. What would a nurse post when a person talks about being in pain?

What would a great world leader do when he or she sees someone being bullied online? If you act like the person you want to grow up to be, you’ll be on the road to being that person.

Now, look at your social media platforms.

Think about what a firefighter would say to the comments you see online. You have a long way to go before you can join a team of firefighters, but your journey can start when you act smart and strong online. It’s like having a firefighter writing your posts!

Adults tell you all the time: “Be careful what you post on social media! The Internet is forever!” Teachers say: “When you apply for college, the school might reject you because of all those pictures and mean posts.”

You hear over and over: “People who hire employees will read your history and you might not get the job you want.” You smile, nod, then roll your eyes. Who cares about what happens in five, ten or twenty years?

Someone just made a post that makes you angry—you feel that you must post some angry comment back. You take a picture of yourself drawing a rude image on a neighbor’s fence and snicker as you upload it to your page.

Stop. Take your fingers off your phone or keyboard. What you are told is true. The Internet saves everything you do today. People can see all your posts five, ten and even twenty years from now. People have lost jobs for postings made years before.

If you want to be, say, the boss of a company or a famous dancer or a doctor or mayor of a city, think about that when you post online. A firefighter’s job is to face danger and save lives—would someone like that make mean posts to a little kid?

Would a great engineer type hurtful words to a person who is different from him or her?  Maybe you won’t become a great engineer if you can’t get into college because of mean comments posted when you were a kid.

Think about what you want to be. Imagine reaching your goals. You could dream of being an athlete, a pop star, a carpenter, a zoologist—whatever it is, think about how The Future You would act online. What would a nurse post when a person talks about being in pain?

What would a great world leader do when he or she sees someone being bullied online? If you act like the person you want to grow up to be, you’ll be on the road to being that person.

Now, look at your social media platforms.

Think about what a firefighter would say to the comments you see online. You have a long way to go before you can join a team of firefighters, but your journey can start when you act smart and strong online. It’s like having a firefighter writing your posts!

Wally and Wuzzy

Social media can be fun, but can feel strangely cold. Time spent in the real world with friends can make you stronger and happier. See how a furry friend made a difference in a boy’s life even after the puppy was gone.

Wally was tiny,
born quiet and calm.
People made him feel funny,
Made him run to his mom.

Strange kids made him cry
And new places were scary
And any adventures
Made poor wee Willy wary.

His mom and dad wanted to find him a friend,
A buddy to help him grow up.
They went to the pound, took a good look around—
and brought Wally a fuzzy, cute pup.

He called the pup Wuzzy and loved him a lot.
With Wuzzy, wee Wally felt strong.
Other kids came a running,
They asked Wally questions,
And Wally could hang all day long.

Wally and Wuzzy grew up as a team.
Wuzzy helped Wally make pals.
After years little Wally got older and cooler,
He made good friends with guys and—GASP—gals!

But his best bud of all was his fuzzy old friend
Who stood by his side those hard years.
But Wuzzy got older and soon life made him tired.
Wuzzy had spent his dog years.

And one hard, dark day, the vet checked Wuzzy’s heart,
And said Wuzzy’s last day had arrived.
With tears and with anger, with a huge aching soul,
Wally kissed his dear friend good-bye.

For the first time in years Wally’s felt all alone.
He tapped out his grief in a post.
“My best friend is gone and has left me so empty,
I feel like a sad, living ghost.”

Replies started coming.
Some typed “Buck up, pal.”
Others said, “Chill.”
Others just wrote, “Feel so bad.”
But the words were just letters
Typed out on a screen.
And they left teenage Wally still sad.

The postings, he thought, were meant to be kind,
But something about them felt cold.
His missed his warm Wuzzy, his muzzle and tongue
And how his dear friend had made him bold.

He logged off his computer and braved the outdoors.
He went to where Wuzzy had played.
A friend ran to him, heard his sad story
And shared his dog—Flip–for the day.

Wally liked his computer and going on-line,
But knew that when life felt this low,
Postings and likes were okay for a while,
But really didn’t ease his deep woe.

Going out to the park, watching other dogs play
Seeing people who loved Wuzzy, too,
Made Wally feel like he belonged in the world.
Their memories, pictures and stories so true
Filled Wally with strength and made him feel bold.
The real world that he shared with his pal
Touched him from his bones to his heart.
Time spent together remembered and shared
Meant that the two would never be apart.

Life on-line was fun, that was true,
But dog breath and tongue licks and
Catching thrown balls
Were better than posting and likes for his wall.

Wuzzy was never on-line in his life.
He never once posted or hit the button to “like.”

But Wally will spend the rest of his days
Remembering the buddy who made him feel brave.

Wally and Wuzzy
By T.S. Paulgaard

Social media can be fun, but can feel strangely cold. Time spent in the real world with friends can make you stronger and happier. See how a furry friend made a difference in a boy’s life even after the puppy was gone.

Wally was tiny,
born quiet and calm.
People made him feel funny,
Made him run to his mom.

Strange kids made him cry
And new places were scary
And any adventures
Made poor wee Willy wary.

His mom and dad wanted to find him a friend,
A buddy to help him grow up.
They went to the pound, took a good look around—
and brought Wally a fuzzy, cute pup.

He called the pup Wuzzy and loved him a lot.
With Wuzzy, wee Wally felt strong.
Other kids came a running,
They asked Wally questions,
And Wally could hang all day long.

Wally and Wuzzy grew up as a team.
Wuzzy helped Wally make pals.
After years little Wally got older and cooler,
He made good friends with guys and—GASP—gals!

But his best bud of all was his fuzzy old friend
Who stood by his side those hard years.
But Wuzzy got older and soon life made him tired.
Wuzzy had spent his dog years.

And one hard, dark day, the vet checked Wuzzy’s heart,
And said Wuzzy’s last day had arrived.
With tears and with anger, with a huge aching soul,
Wally kissed his dear friend good-bye.

For the first time in years Wally’s felt all alone.
He tapped out his grief in a post.
“My best friend is gone and has left me so empty,
I feel like a sad, living ghost.”

Replies started coming.
Some typed “Buck up, pal.”
Others said, “Chill.”
Others just wrote, “Feel so bad.”
But the words were just letters
Typed out on a screen.
And they left teenage Wally still sad.

The postings, he thought, were meant to be kind,
But something about them felt cold.
His missed his warm Wuzzy, his muzzle and tongue
And how his dear friend had made him bold.

He logged off his computer and braved the outdoors.
He went to where Wuzzy had played.
A friend ran to him, heard his sad story
And shared his dog—Flip–for the day.

Wally liked his computer and going on-line,
But knew that when life felt this low,
Postings and likes were okay for a while,
But really didn’t ease his deep woe.

Going out to the park, watching other dogs play
Seeing people who loved Wuzzy, too,
Made Wally feel like he belonged in the world.
Their memories, pictures and stories so true
Filled Wally with strength and made him feel bold.
The real world that he shared with his pal
Touched him from his bones to his heart.
Time spent together remembered and shared
Meant that the two would never be apart.

Life on-line was fun, that was true,
But dog breath and tongue licks and
Catching thrown balls
Were better than posting and likes for his wall.

Wuzzy was never on-line in his life.
He never once posted or hit the button to “like.”

But Wally will spend the rest of his days
Remembering the buddy who made him feel brave.

Wally and Wuzzy
By T.S. Paulgaard