It’s August, which means many students across our nation are starting a new school year — virtually.
Because of the Coronavirus (Covid-19), school systems and private schools throughout the country have had to adopt new modes of learning. While some have chosen to open and provide options for onsite or online learning, others have delayed opening, choosing online learning to kick off the year. And while technology certainly has its merits, it is not without its pitfalls.
As parents and guardians, we have a responsibility to help our children navigate media well, especially now that they will be spending a significant amount of time online.
So, how can we wisely guide the children that have been entrusted to us?
1. We need to be aware of our own media habits.
According to a 2018 report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), children ages eight to 10 spend approximately six hours per day consuming media; children ages 11 to 14 spend approximately nine hours per day consuming media; and children ages 15-18 spend approximately seven-and-a-half hours per day consuming media.
While as adults we may be tempted to roll our eyes at these statistics and look down on younger generations, we need to recognize we are no better. A 2018 Neilsen report found that adults in the United States spent nearly 11 hours per day consuming some form of media.
Pause for a moment and consider the role of media in your life. How often do you pull out your phone and scroll each day? How many hours of television do you watch a week? We need to honestly examine ourselves and consider why we devote so much time to media and what we can do differently. It’s never too late to start practicing new habits.
If we want our children to be mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually healthy, then we need to have media boundaries in place in our own lives and explain to our children why those boundaries are important. We also can’t simply rely on movie, television or video game ratings to tell us what our children should or shouldn’t watch. And just because content is labeled “educational” doesn’t mean that it is. Internet locks and video censoring systems, while helpful, are no replacement for meaningful interaction and discussion.
2. We need to be aware of our children’s access.
In 2018, Pew Research Center published a study, “Teens, Social Media & Technology,” that found 88% of teenagers had access to a laptop or desktop computer at home, 95% had access to a smartphone and 45% indicated “they’re online almost constantly.”
Clearly, it's very easy for children and teenagers to access anything they want online. And while these mediums of entertainment and information can allow a lot of good to enter our homes, a lot of impurity can also enter our homes — and our heads and hearts. Apps and social media sites can allow children and teenagers to enter into conversations with people they don’t know, as well as view pornography.
A March article by Fight the New Drug — a nonprofit organization committed to spreading factual information about pornography and its effects on our hearts, minds and bodies — called pornography “the king of the internet.” The article also cited the fact that children are often exposed to pornography before they reach the age of 13.
Moms, dads and guardians, you need to engage with your children. Observe how much time they are spending online. Be intentional about discussing the dangers the internet can pose and create a culture of age-appropriate, open discussion in your home. Although it may be difficult or uncomfortable, encourage your children to come to you with things they have questions about or may be struggling with.
3. We need to be aware of what media consumption does to our children’s brains.
Over the years, researchers have discovered consuming media has a profound impact on our brains. Unbridled media usage by children and teenagers can have an effect on their brain development, their moods and their sleep. For example, a 2019 Mayo Clinic article explains how higher rates of depression and anxiety and other mental health issues have been observed among “tweens” and teenagers who spend significant amounts of time on social media.
As often as possible, encourage your children to read, spend time outside, create, exercise — activities that healthfully engage their brains. Better yet, set time aside to engage in these activities with your children. They will never forget the time you took to converse with them or be present with them.
We parents and guardians are called to protect our children’s innocence. It is a sacred calling — one that’s not prone to popularity with our children in the short term. But in the long term, they will thank you for it.