The forces of change brought about by the Internet age can be overwhelming for parents today. Having a child in these times means that our children grow up in a world that is fundamentally different from the one we knew in our childhood – they are digital natives.
Fortunately, there are things that we can do to make the Internet work for our children’s positive development, and minimize the potential hazards that can inhibit their healthy mental, social, spiritual development and even at times physical well being.
Some of these issues were addressed at the Singapore Parenting Congress 2014 held in August. Featured speakers at the event included Mr Scott Steinberg, #1 bestselling author of a high tech parenting series, “The Modern Parent’s Guide” and Mr Chong Ee Jay, Assistant Manager of Touch Cyber Wellness and a trainer for parents’ workshops and youth programmes dealing with cyber wellness.
Both Mr Scott Steinberg and Mr Chong Ee Jay, point to parents’ willingness to learn as being the key to parenting our digital natives.
Mr Chong recommends at least some parental participation on Facebook, Instagram, or even online games, to understand the phenomenon of children asking for “5 more minutes, please” to indulge in their virtual world. From his experience in counselling thousands of parents, educators and youths on cyber wellness issues, Mr Chong lists the potential risks that young people face on the Internet:
- Secret languages and abbreviations used on social media.
- Sharing of personal details, and how our digital trails can be used against us. Here a YouTube video showing how this can be done.
- Overuse of the Internet may be detrimental to critical life stages (eg. during exam periods).
- Disruption to family communication, where the use of devices take precedence over how family time is spent and communication is impeded.
Mr Steinberg said that statistically, more than 50% of children below the age of 8 would have experienced an unpleasant situation while online. Surprisingly, the number one threat to children was lack of supervision when children were surfing and using social media.
What Can Parents Do to Keep Children Safe Online?
While parents need to play a protective role in providing some measure of online safety for their children, Mr Steinberg said that parents will not be able to completely shield their children from negative influences. Parents need to proactively educate and prepare their children for the inevitable situations that they would face.
It is also important to build trust and your relationship with your children. This will allow them to turn to you as their first source of help when they encounter any unpleasant experiences.
Mr Chong lists some tips for ensuring online safety:
- Be present and available for your children.
- Make use of online filters and parental controls to help sieve out inappropriate content – but note that it does not become a replacement of parental supervision.
- Place computers in living areas – not in private areas of the home.
- Set and agree on appropriate time and duration for internet use.
- Embark on a process to educate your child on the positive use of the internet.
- Be a role model in how you use technology in your life.
Wayne’s Story: Recovery From Cyber Addiction
Wayne was a regular kid who enjoyed soccer, hanging out with friends, computer gaming and watching anime. However, by the time he was attending a polytechnic, Wayne could often be found spending up to 15 hours a day on playing computer games.
Fortunately, he met Mr Chong, who took him on for counselling. Mr Chong spared no effort in trying to reach out to Wayne, often travelling from the eastern part to the western part of Singapore to meet Wayne and listen to him. In doing so, he began to understand the root issues of Wayne’s gaming addiction.
Excessive gaming became detrimental to Wayne’s academic results. He failed two modules which meant he had to delay his graduation, completing later than the rest of his cohort. It was a rude wake-up call for him. Eventually, Wayne was won over by the sincerity of his counsellor who had been so persistent and patient with him throughout this whole time.
Wayne shared candidly with us, “My advice to youths out there facing the same struggle, is to think of your future and the long-term consequences of your actions. You may not feel it now, but it will affect you eventually. My graduation was delayed. Hence, I started National Service later, and consequently work too.”
His advice for parents trying to help their children was, “Help them find something else that they are good at. It could be music, sports … anything that they do well in. Build on their strengths, and slowly, when they realise that they are good in something, they will tend to focus more on this new interest and decrease the amount of time they spend on gaming.”
According to Mr Chong, the messages that a cyber addict needs to heed are sometimes best conveyed by someone other than their parent. Parents need to differentiate between the message and the messenger – they might need to find a strategically better messenger to help a cyber addict. That messenger could be the child’s friend, someone that the child trusts, or a trained counsellor.
How to Deal with Cyber Addiction
Here are some steps parents can take when talking to children who may be suffering from cyber addiction:
- Get involved and connected with your children.
- Discipline in the form of setting firm boundaries is still crucial.
- Select a suitable time to bring up the issue – avoid interrupting while the child is in the midst of the activity or online game.
- When you first broach the subject, be prepared for your child to kick up a big fuss at home.
- Allow your child to “cool down”.
- Find a suitable time to readdress the issue, for example, during dinner or a car ride.
- Acknowledging the addiction is the first positive step.
- Engage help – counsellors, trusted family figures, trusted peers of your kids.
- Schedule time to talk to your kids regularly about their lives.
If you are planning to take your child for further intervention treatment for cyber addiction or excessive gaming, it is best to avoid confrontational statements such as “You have an addiction. You are going for counseling.” Using these terms may result in a breakdown in communication. Mr. Chong advised parents to discuss situations and possible consequences when dealing with a cyber addict.
Mr Chong’s advice to parents of children who are struggling with cyber addiction is to continue to be involved in your children’s lives. “Family values and love for your kids should be constant, and your perseverance and persistence will prevail,” he said.
For more information on how to help your child with cyber addiction, please visit the Media Literacy Council Website.