By Sujatha D. Sharma & Avdesh Sharma, Better Minds

It has been a challenging time for parents to adapt to the rapidly changing technology that surrounds their children. From the earlier worries of screen time, eye health, and excessive use of gadgets, the COVID pandemic has left parents wondering if ‘Digital Parenting’ is the new normal. While the situation has forced parents across to embrace the virtual world to stay connected, they are well aware of the pitfalls attached to it. It has added another dimension to their eternal dilemma of how to keep an eye on what their kids are doing online while trying not to be constantly monitoring them. They have to walk that tight rope of balancing when to step back and when to step in!  

As parents struggle to learn a new skill to help children with virtual classrooms or submitting e-assignments, we witness a new world coming forth and coming alive. The uncertain times might have been a blessing in disguise for parents to spend quality time with their children, even if it is watching a new Netflix show together or e-learning. Parents need to understand how this lockdown has been hard on children as well. They too are experiencing a bold shift from their everyday routine – be it no school or classes, not meeting friends or going to a park or just restricted freedom to move out. 

They need to be engaged, and technology does play a great role in helping us do so. Instead of giving them a look or shutting them off with NO, why not indulge in harnessing the power of technology WITH THEM.  You can help them make a schedule with activities that can be a healthy mix of academic tasks, household chores, and other free time fun activities. It will help children feel more secure, occupied, engaged, and better behaved. Telling stories, playing Ludo or other board games, craftwork, baking, painting, memory games, etc. are some other ways than online activities can contribute too! 

Currently, a huge concern for all parents is that their children are spending more time than usual on all these digital mediums. With cybercrimes, online harassment, bullying and stalking increasing at alarming rates, does that mean there is a higher risk of harm to our children?  Are children inadvertently compromising on their own safety and security online? It seems impossible to monitor every move of your child’s activity – so what is the way out? How do parents facilitate maintaining the mental wellbeing and safety of their children while staying connected through technological advancements in the digital world?

Let’s look at how parents can welcome this new terrain of parenting amid COVID-19.

  1. Spend Quality Time
    Firstly, consider this a golden opportunity that has come your way to spend more time with your children. Spending quality time with your child actually begins with sitting down to chat with them or doing things together, but with your full undivided attention.  Put everything else aside including your own phone.  Ask them about their day,  try to learn about their friends, the kind of music they like, which TV shows they watch and discuss sports or other leisure activities they enjoy.  Listen with a genuine attitude of knowing more about their life without being too intrusive or probing.  Experimenting with new fun activities like sketching, doing puzzles or exercise workouts can bring in an element of creative pursuit which lightens the mood and develops a rare special bond that grows with time.

  2. Alter Mindset
    These testing times are teaching us to become adaptive to a new world, and while we understand the risks involved, we too have to be open-minded about the plethora of opportunities this world brings. Parents can explore digital platforms and new ways of engaging with them along with their children. This would lead to bridging the digital divide between them and their children. It can create opportunities to have open and honest conversations at home that would foster mutual trust also. A balanced digital diet is KEY here with both parents and children co-creating it.

  3. Take it lightly
    With schools shut down indefinitely and parents working from home, the boundaries are getting blurred between work, home learning, and entertainment Managing the household, working from home, and taking care of kids can be overwhelming, and one might feel like giving up at times, but hold on –  allow yourself to experience the whirlwind of emotions you’re feeling. It’s okay, we’re in the middle of a pandemic, and the last thing we expect is an easy-going life. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Know this shall pass, quite soon!

  4. Secure Tech Environment
    As a parent concerned about the safety and security of their children while they are online you could explore the many Parental Control options available on the smartphones or as Apps that can be downloaded. These settings will allow for managing the screen time and even restrict the kind of information that children will be able to access. Be informed about the streaming options via these advanced and other privacy settings on platforms like YouTube, Netflix and so on. This applies to other social interactions on various other applications as well.

  5. Transparent and Open Communication
    Be open to children about the threats involved in talking to a stranger or being part of an unknown virtual group. Be observant and if you notice them being upset or if there is a sudden change in their behaviour, talk to them about it in a sensitive manner Let them know you are there for them no matter what. A supportive and encouraging environment helps in building meaningful relations, .and helps your children reach out to you when they are confused or in trouble.

  6.  Balance Real and Virtual Worlds
    A balanced digital diet even though necessary, at this time, should not replace other modes of spending time with children. Talk to them, have discussions, share jokes with them; read them a book, paint, dance – just be together in a room to share silence! Bring back the magic of simple togetherness time that has no agenda except to enjoy each other’s company.

  7. Be Good Role Models
    It is easier to monitor and control children, but as parents, it is critical to keep a check on your screen time, as well. Check authentic websites for the intake of information and refrain from trusting blindly any kind of a forward or any media being sent to you. Limit your own screen time engagement and set a positive example for your child.
  1. Take Care of Yourself
    These are extraordinary times that need special measures. Amidst all the stress and tensions you may be facing on a daily basis it’s important to PAUSE and give yourself some breathing space. Taking brief breaks through the day even for 10 -15 minutes to relax with anything that simply helps you to wind down – deep breathing, yoga stretches, music, reading, picking up new skills, talking to a friend, etc. can help you recharge and stay positive.

This new terrain of at-home learning and work from the home cycle has pushed us to embrace a newer world. While there is a pro and a con to anything and everything, it is time to adapt ourselves to what’s the need of the hour. While it is crucial for parents to follow all advanced settings and monitoring to keep children safe online, it is obvious that nothing can replace open and honest communication with them. An open-minded transparent conversation is a real[y what is needed to keep our children safe, secure and meaningfully engaged in a digitally networked world.