The expression “monkey see, monkey do” was frequently spouted when I first became a parent – and for good reason; children really do learn what’s right and wrong from watching their parents (they also learn plenty of other things that way too!)
And now that my kids are entering their teens, the expression is no less true. Not to mention they’ve added the extra element of saying “but you do it” when it comes to everything from using colourful language to eating your sprouts or drinking milk from the container.
Kids learn from us even when we don’t know they’re watching. And they don’t always have context – for example, if you’re attending to a work email or reading an ebook, they don’t know that you’re not just scrolling through your news feed or watching Carpool Karaoke on YouTube.
So the recently released statement from Early Children Australia (ECA)
regarding children and the use of digital devices is timely– in particular, they note parental use of digital devices is a key factor in how children view their own use.
Kids learn by example
It recommends adults model self-regulated digital technology use during social interactions with children so adults should be having conversations with their children without checking their digital devices - think leaving the phone behind when going on a walk, or eating out, or when sitting down doing arts and crafts
or helping with homework.
The aim is to help children learn that people can make active decisions about how, where and when they engage with digital technologies.
Aside from the importance of setting a good example, the Statement notes other key areas of concern:
- There are privacy and security issues arising from parents and educators posting photos and information about young children on social media and other apps
- Some apps used by children and educators in early childhood education and care setting can record large amounts of data about children without user knowledge and directly target children for continued play and/or advertising and promotional material
- The health risks relating to vision, sleep and reduced physical activity that can be caused by the excessive use of devices
- Being preoccupied by tech devices can mean parents miss cues from their children seeking their attention. Responding to these cues is an important part of child development
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How to set a better example when using your own device
With many of us using our devices to help with scads of parenting moments – for example, apps to record nappy changes and breastfeeding, edu-apps to play games with our kids; and with mobile tech allowing a lot of us to work remotely while spending time with our kids, it can be easy to justify the use while with our little ones.
It's not about a total blockage, rather a setting of boundaries.
Healthy technology use is using it in a balanced, positive and fun way. The statement recommends we show our children that technology can be a fun way to relax, or stay in touch with others, or make our working lives easier and more flexible – but not the only way.
Here’s some simple tips and tricks for parents concerned about the example they are setting:
1. Actively and honestly reflect on what you want your kids’ device and tech use to look like and why
. Also reflect on what their use might look like if they used their devices the same way you currently do (would you enjoy going out for lunch or the park while they sat on their phone and you leapt about for attention?) This helps identify what boundaries are realistic and reasonable for your family.
2. Have a family device station
, and use it – out of hand, out of mind is often the case with devices, so have a “docking spot” where everyone’s devices sit when they are not explicitly in use.
If you need to use it, be sure to put it back when you are done, as many of us are unaware of how often we’ll scroll through our phone simply because it is there. By sharing a spot with the whole family, your kids will see it’s not a case of one rule for them and a different rule for you.
3. Set tech free times and rules for the whole family
– for example, for a half hour after school when you catch up on your days, when the last family member has returned home for the day and everyone is home, meal times or first thing in the morning when everyone is getting ready.
This should be a family conversation, and everyone should be given a chance to talk about what their preferences are (not all suggestions can be met, but this gives you all a chance to problem solve and create compromises.
4. Own your behaviour
– if you find yourself slipping up and mindlessly scrolling when you’re with them, apologise. “I’m so sorry, it’s a tricky habit to break sometimes, but it is rude to focus on my phone and not the people I am with.
5. If your phone rings and you are with your children, unless you are expecting an important call or it is an emergency, make a point of ignoring it.
“I will call them back later when we are finished playing.”
This shows them technology is there for the user’s convenience, not so they must feel compelled to prioritise it at all times.
6. If you do need to use your device, explain.
They will not necessary notice the difference being playing and using it for something necessary, so make it clear.
7. Find fun things to do together with technology.
Kids especially enjoy showing their parents how to play the games they enjoy, and it helps parents understand why kids often get upset if asked to stop a game mid round and be more flexible with a five- minute leeway.
Tech advances have made life easier and more interesting for most of us, but caution needs to be applied so it doesn’t take over your life. Make sure you’re in control of your device use, and that you are setting a good example for your children.