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Tech it easy: How parents can relieve their techno guilt

Rather than focusing on ‘how much’ time the kids are spending online, leading children’s technology and development expert Dr Kirsty Goodwin encourages parents to focus on ‘what’ kids are doing online.

Parents these days are often riddled with ‘techno-guilt’ - we feel guilty and concerned about our children’s digital habits. Given we spent more time staring at the sky than at screens in our childhood, it’s only natural to fret about our kids’ constant consumption of digital content.

After all, their digitalised childhood is completely different to our analogue childhood.

As for the children, they’re constantly screaming for more screen time.

But we don’t need to worry specifically about quantifying the amount of time our kids spend with digital devices. They certainly need boundaries and limits, but that doesn’t mean we should fret about adhering to specific, or strict time limits.

Rather than focusing on ‘how much’ time they’re spending online, I encourage parents to focus on ‘what’ kids are doing online.

We need to leverage their online time to ensure that it supports their learning and development. This way, we can feel confident knowing that their online time is beneficial (and not just idle hours spent in front of screens).

As a children’s technology and learning expert (and a mum!), let me assure you that the research confirms that when technology’s carefully selected and used in intentional ways, there are educational benefits. So we can all breathe a sigh of relief.  

Screen time isn’t toxic or taboo!

Dr Kirsty Goodwin

So what can parents do to allay their guilt?

1. Balance opportunities for children to create, communicate and consume online

new study conducted by nbn found that modern parents are flipping loungerooms into classrooms.   

The ‘Flipped Classroom’ is an educational innovation being implemented in an increasing numbers of Australian homes and schools. It’s a reversal of traditional teaching approaches.

Students develop their understanding of new class materials at home (in the form of completing online tutorials, viewing videos, watching animations, listening to podcasts, or reading online material) and then come to class to apply this new knowledge through tasks such as problem-solving, debates or discussions.

Children’s homework then requires them to demonstrate or extend their knowledge by completing tasks such as online quizzes, contributing to online forums, or creating and uploading multimedia presentations.

In order to flip loungerooms into classrooms, families need access to fast and reliable broadband, so that their children can quickly access digital textbooks, view online educational videos, and collaborate in learning forums (yes, this is distinctly different to how we learnt at school, but it’s so much more personalised and engaging for students to learn with multimedia tools).

As more Australian households gain access to the nbn™ network, Aussie loungerooms can be flipped into rich learning environments.

2. Take an interest in what your child is doing online

The research evidence confirms that there are educational benefits when parents ‘co-view’ (i.e. using technology with their child).

Asking questions and showing a keen interest in what they’re viewing or creating online stops the ‘digital zombie’ effect where they just seem to be staring at screens oblivious to the world around them.

Co-viewing and asking them about what they’re doing online also subtly reminds them that you value what they’re doing online.

As a mum, I understand it’s not always feasible to sit down at the laptop every time with your child, but we can ask them questions before and after they’ve opened the laptop lid and ask them to show us what they’ve been doing when they’re on the tablet device. 

Co-viewing doesn’t just have academic benefits, but it’s also a wonderful way to bond with our digital kids.

Asking questions and showing a keen interest in what the kids viewing or creating online stops the ‘digital zombie’ effect.

3. Ensure that their time online is maximised: minimise frustrations and distractions

Digital frustrations often occur in family homes (and not just when you’re trying to wrangle devices out of hands).

Multiple family members, simultaneously using digital devices, can cause all-too-familiar buffering and lag time, hampering our access to online resources.

I understand the frustration of not being able to download a report for work (or finalise your online shopping) because your children are simultaneously downloading a video, or listening to a podcast for their homework (and yes, this is often what kids’ homework involves these days - so different to the days spent flicking through Encyclopaedia Britannica for an answer).

Slow or intermittent Internet connection can be incredibly infuriating!

This ‘digital dilemma’ facing families is likely to continue as more and more Australians are using Internet-enabled devices in the home for work, leisure and study.

nbn research
 confirms that families now have an average of nine Internet-connected devices and the average household uses eight Internet applications at once during periods of peak usage

This requires a lot of bandwidth. This digital dilemma will likely be exacerbated in the future, if we didn’t have access to fast and reliable Internet, as it’s estimated that we’ll have an average of 29 connected devices per household by 2020.

nbn research
 confirms that families now have an average of nine Internet-connected devices and the average household uses eight Internet applications at once during periods of peak usage

Bandwidth limits can also be problematic for children’s attention spans. Digital distractions are plentiful when kids are online.

Neuroscience confirms that our brains are constantly craving novelty and the online world provides a plethora of digital distractions to tempt us and captivate our kids’ attention. For example, they’re waiting for a video to buffer and instead of patiently waiting, they open another tab in their browser, send an SMS and get distracted. Their attention has been diverted from their original task and this can hamper their learning.

With access to fast and reliable Internet via the nbn™ network, parents can maximise their children’s time online by minimising frustrations and distractions. This increases the likelihood that their kids are making the most out of their time online, so that they can then unplug and enjoy the offline world too.

Our children will inherit a digital world. Whether we love it or loathe it, technology’s here to stay so we need to find the best ways to use it with our kids.  And using the Internet as a tool to support and enrich their learning is ideal.

As modern parents we have to equip our kids for the digital world where they’ll learn, work and play.

And this means embracing screen-time and the opportunities it affords our kids, not worrying unnecessarily about how much time they’ve spent online.

From education to 'e-change', take a look at how connectivity will impact Australian lifestyles this year... and beyond in our special blog series.

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