Helping our kids navigate a digital world: 'information is power'

Stressing about screen time? Here's how to help your kids navigate a digital world

School's back online, giving young people even more time on their screens. But how do parents monitor and control screen time? And how much is too much?

Digital technologies are deeply embedded in young people's lives.

Approximately 95 million pictures are posted to Instagram, five billion Snapchats are sent, and more than a billion Tik Tok videos are viewed globally every day. An average Australian 15-year-old now spends 40 hours a week online.

Images consumed and disseminated online have become the primary text type that young people engage with; it is how they negotiate their identity with their peers and consume culture.

What they see and say online shapes their world view, and as a teacher, I see firsthand how the online world can influence the daily lived experiences of my students.

I am often asked by parents how they can help their kids navigate a smartphone age.

PROTECTION: St Augustine's College teacher Patrick Ell with students.

PROTECTION: St Augustine's College teacher Patrick Ell with students.

There is no equivalent to a driving test when a young person receives their first smartphone, to ensure they're equipped to handle the technology we give them. But as with a car, they will need coaching, supervision, review and feedback to learn how to best use these devices.

  • Firstly, wait as long as possible before giving a child a smartphone.
  • Check in with your children on their levels of screen time, and be open with them about yours. Set goals as a family for the length and type of activity you all do online. Parents that are willing to apply these rules to themselves generally receive the best response from their kids.
  • Use filtering software in the home and on their devices to restrict access to inappropriate content, limit screen time and monitor activity.
  • Regularly review search history to see what content your children are seeking and engaging with.
  • Make sure you are fully aware of what social media they are using and insist on viewing it.

Remember, information is power and the only currency that will enable you to manage your children's experience with technology.

We must try not to discourage young people from using technology, but empower them to use it to benefit and enrich their lives, and to control their own online experiences.

Young people need to grow as both critical consumers of digital content and as self-regulating responsible users of digital technologies.

When they rail against the supervision and regulation we put in place, recognise and remember our role as the primary protection against the entire digital universe at their fingertips. Digital literacy is paramount for their wellbeing.

St Augustine's College teacher Patrick Ell has a background in visual anthropology. He recently presented at the International Boys' Schools Coalition Conference on Life Through a Lens: Empowering Emerging Identities Through Visual Literacy.

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