In previous decades, children spent their days hopping between grassy yards, local swimming holes, hanging out at the mall and at times, watching too much TV. Now, they often seem glued to digital devices. The same concerns of kids spending too much time in front of a glowing screen and absorbing inappropriate content continue to plague parents from generation to generation. However, unlike the simple analog boxes of the past, the content channel and title complexity of today’s digital screens can paralyze parents. The good news? With a little bit of advance planning, schools and parents can easily curb children’s digital screen time and ensure internet safety for kids.
The Digital Nativism of Generation Z
Although cell phones and computers have been around for decades, digital media consumption is very different among Generation Z, compared with Generation X and even Millennials. Children born between 1995 and 2012 have been surrounded by digital devices since birth. Smart devices aren’t just seen as entertainment or educational devices used occasionally; rather, they’re often considered essentials in daily life.
The average age at which a child receives their first smart device—10.3 years old—trends younger with every research study. However, exposure to the internet begins far earlier, at around three years old. As teenagers, that jumps to nine hours a day. Statistics like these concern parents about exactly what kids are experiencing on the internet.
Safer, Smarter Ways to Navigate the Internet
Just as the public feared too much TV would morph Gen X kids into couch potatoes, today’s cultural stewards worry about Gen Z’s ravenous digital media consumption. Many studies and articles detail the negative effects of too much screen time. This includes depression, anxiety, addiction, obesity, and a fear of missing out (FOMO).
But while too much screen time taxes kids’ mental health and development, it can also bring identity thieves, sexual predators, and bullies easily into kids’ lives via online platforms. With so much inappropriate content readily available, it’s important to give kids the tools they need to stay safe.
Tip 1: Be honest and open about the potential dangers of the internet.
This doesn’t mean being a scaremonger. Rather, approach issues in an educational, upfront manner. Discuss cyberbullying, sexual predators, stalking, identity theft and overall digital citizenship guidelines. Emphasize that people aren’t always who they say they are online. Encourage them to find a trusted adult when they encounter someone or something online that scares them or makes them uncomfortable.
Tip 2: Teach them not to provide any personal or identifying information online.
This includes using identifiers in usernames, talking about hometowns in chat rooms and names of schools, etc. Sexual predators and bullies can use this information to identify a child.
Tip 3: Set limitations on how much time kids can spend online to combat FOMO and online addiction.
Set designated online time in the classroom or “internet-free” zones around the house to incorporate technology into their day in a balanced way. You can also suggest screen-free activities like being outside with friends, taking up a hobby, or playing a sport.
Tip 4: Warn kids not to click on any links, download or open any files from someone they don’t know in person.
The sender may be tricking them into installing a virus, or exposing them to highly inappropriate, even illegal content.