Instead, Dr. Shapiro suggested, parents can incorporate digital play as part of family time, and “interact with your kids, get involved with your kids — especially when they’re little.” At this critical time (typically before the age of 12), kids yearn for conversations with their parents — whether it’s about the latest YouTube video they’ve seen or a new video game they’ve played — and parents should seize the opportunity to interject themselves into the development of their child’s inner dialogue.
The American Academy of Pediatrics also endorses the idea that parents should serve as media mentors to their children.
Part of the exploration parents can engage in with their children could also include interactions on a family social media account where parents “talk about how to share photos with relatives and ‘what is the appropriate way we comment on Uncle Joey’s posts,’” Dr. Shapiro said. This modeling of appropriate behaviors happens all the time in the physical spaces kids occupy and is just as crucial to model in their digital spaces.
Respect the Need for Communication
Although parents who see kids typing silly messages to each other — lines of emojis without words, a string of ha’s that take up half a screen — may think they’re meaningless, “for a lot of kids, this is their only way of communicating right now and we don’t want to cut them off,” said Eileen Kennedy-Moore, a child psychologist practicing in New Jersey and co-author of a free e-book, “Growing Friendships During the Coronavirus Pandemic.”
It’s important, however, to manage their expectations around responsiveness. “There could be a lot of reasons someone doesn’t respond in an online communication,” Dr. Kennedy-Moore said. Parents can help children learn to wait for responses from their friends by walking through possible scenarios together (they’re in class right now, their parents pulled them away).
When conflicts do arise, parents should conduct “a post mortem on interactions that went wrong,” said Dr. Jenny Radesky, an expert on children and media at the University of Michigan’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital. An example of this type of debriefing occurred recently with Dr. Radesky’s fifth grader, who had an argument over a chat because someone removed someone else from the group chat and another person renamed it. “It was just this little stupid drama, but we needed to unpack it and approach it with a problem-solving mind-set,” she said.
Encourage Conscious Media Use
Dr. Radesky said her children’s principal suggested that her son write down all the digital avenues he wants to explore on sticky notes as the ideas come to him, and set aside time in his schedule to indulge them. The notes are effective, she said, “because it’s a visual cue to the child, like, ‘OK, here’s my list of things I’ll get to later, but right now I’m just going to stay engaged.’”
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