By Nancy Gropper, Merle Froschl, and Barbara Sprung, authors, Cybersafe Young Children
“I believe that children will return to school in a very different state. The rules about limited time on technology have gone out the window.” –Early childhood educator
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, parents already had concerns about their children and technology. They set limits as to “screen time.” They “just said no” when they thought their child was too young for a smart phone. They delayed the use of social media and social networking platforms. Advice from school and experts agreed.
Since the pandemic, however, the rules have gone out the window. Children now are required to be online for school. And since many parents are also working remotely, it has become difficult if not impossible to control or supervise screen time. For example, one parent with two young children reports that her children are on screens to keep them busy; there’s no other choice. “What’s a parent to do?” she asks. “My job and home have become one. At home it is like dueling laptops. Everyone’s on their own device.”
While the rules may have changed (or disappeared entirely), the worries remain the same. How much is too much? How do I keep my child safe on line? What can I do about cyberbullying? As one parent says, “You have to be careful. Kids are just one click away from something bad.”
Young children have limited or no perception of online risks, even if they have encountered inappropriate content, pop ups or application purchase offers. And the issue of what is private vs public remains a concern. Even in some of the school platforms, it can be tricky. In one case, a 4th grader didn’t understand that what he was writing was public, and he wrote nasty things about other kids. The teacher took it down quickly, but everyone saw it. Kids may understand how to use the technology – but aren’t clear about who’s listening/reading and who’s not.
On the other hand, it’s important for children to stay connected to their friends, otherwise they may feel too isolated. So here are some things parents can do:
- If you can’t control screen time, you can influence what is watched. Sites such as Common Sense Media have recommended educational games, websites and apps.
- Get a copy of your school’s cybersafety rules and talk with your child about how you are continuing them at home.
- If your school sends a link about cybersafety, watch and discuss it together with your child.
- Organize a virtual lunchtime or recess with your child and a friend.
- Think about how you can use the new family time in positive ways. It’s an opportunity to talk about digital citizenship and use of screen time.
- Take a couple of “story breaks” to relieve the online quality of the day. Just 15 minutes of “real time” can be very effective in counterbalancing screen time. You can dictate a story for pre-readers, or have younger children draw a picture about the story.
There is no doubt we are in unprecedented times, which can seem overwhelming to parents and children alike. But it should not stop us from helping children to be kind, responsible digital citizens. And there might be unintended consequences. As one parent mused, “Maybe there will be a reverse effect when this is over. Kids will want to see their friends so much, they will get off the computer.”
Sprung, B., Froschl, M., & Gropper, N. (2020). Cybersafe Young Children. NY: Teachers College Press.
A guide for teachers (and parents) for activities, strategies and resources to promote digital citizenship.
A leading independent source for media recommendations for parents.
A non-profit organization dedicated to advancing media literacy education.
Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes
This classic about a young mouse who loves her name until she starts school and gets teased about it is available as a read-along book on YouTube
Piano and Laylee by C. Knowles and E. Lewellen (International Society for Technology in Education)
The Piano and Laylee Learning Adventure series introduces digital citizenship to children ages 5-9. They include Piano and Laylee and the Cyberbully, Piano and Laylee Text Message and Piano and Laylee go Online.
Featured image by April Bryant on Pixabay