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  • Writer's pictureSheila Alston

Parenting in the Digital Age: Tips to Safeguard Your Child's Mental Health

By Merilee A. Kern, MBA Internationally-regarded PR & brand analyst, strategist, and futurist

As one case in point, a Morgan Stanley Alliance for Children’s Mental Health Research report cited that six in ten of those who are concerned say their children’s mental health has impacted them negatively, with nearly half of those indicating it has affected their productivity at work. The report goes on to reveal that fully 48% of working parents who reported concern said their children’s mental health has impacted their performance at work in some way—including having to deal with disruptions and an inability to concentrate on the job. Some concerned working parents have considered reducing their working hours to support their child(ren), while others have even considered quitting their jobs altogether.

Relative to the role Internet use, specifically, plays in the children’s mental health crisis, other reported research from the Child Mind Institute found approximately half of parents polled expressed concern over the impact of internet use on cognitive, social, and emotional development.

“In today’s digital age, parents are tasked with navigating an ever-evolving technology landscape to address and safeguard their kids’ mental health while also balancing work and parenting—an endeavor that has become a daunting—often seemingly impossible—task that’s ushered in an era of pressure-driven parenting,” says Neuropsychologist, American Mothers New York State “Mother of the Year” award recipient and Brilliant Minds Unite Founder Dr. Jatali Bellanton—author of Kidpreneurs and founder of the Kids Who Bank financial literacy program deployed in hundreds of elementary schools across the United States.

“It is certainly possible for kids to thrive and deeply benefit from technological advancements. But, parents and caregivers must wholeheartedly commit to not just monitoring such usage and activities, but also achieving and sustaining healthy boundaries away from screens and buttons—both the kids and the adults. The key is to fill that tech downtime with activities that foster connectivity to, and reverence for, ‘real world’ experiences. And, when technology is in use, remaining hyper-observant and aware ensures it’s not impeding the child’s mental health in any way whether before, during, or after. If red flags present, however minor, it’s imperative to address them immediately.”

To reduce the risks of psychological harm, adolescents’ exposure to content on social media that depicts illegal or psychologically maladaptive behavior, including content that instructs or encourages youth to engage in health-risk behaviors, such as self-harm (e.g., cutting, suicide), harm to others, or those that encourage eating-disordered behavior (e.g., restrictive eating, purging, excessive exercise) should be minimized, reported, and removed;23 moreover, technology should not drive users to this content.

  1. Social media has long been a culprit in compromising kids’ mental health. A new American Psychological Association health advisory on social media use in adolescence offers the following scientific evidence-based recommendations:

  2. Youth using social media should be encouraged to use functions that create opportunities for social support, online companionship, and emotional intimacy that can promote healthy socialization.

  3. Social media use, functionality, and permissions/consenting should be tailored to youths’ developmental capabilities; designs created for adults may not be appropriate for children.

  4. In early adolescence (i.e., typically 10–14 years), adult monitoring (i.e., ongoing review, discussion, and coaching around social media content) is advised for most youths’ social media use; autonomy may increase gradually as kids age, and if they gain digital literacy skills. However, monitoring should be balanced with youths’ appropriate needs for privacy.

  5. To minimize psychological harm, adolescents’ exposure to “cyberhate” including online discrimination, prejudice, hate, or cyberbullying especially directed toward a marginalized group (e.g., racial, ethnic, gender, sexual, religious, ability status),22 or toward an individual because of their identity or allyship with a marginalized group should be minimized.

  6. Adolescents should be routinely screened for signs of “problematic social media use” that can impair their ability to engage in daily roles and routines and may present a risk for more serious psychological harm over time.

  7. The use of social media should be limited so as to not interfere with adolescents’ sleep and physical activity.

  8. Adolescents should limit the use of social media for social comparison, particularly around beauty- or appearance-related content.

  9. Adolescents’ social media use should be preceded by training in social media literacy to ensure that users have developed psychologically-informed competencies and skills that will maximize the chances for balanced, safe, and meaningful social media use.

  10. Substantial resources should be provided for continued scientific examination of the positive and negative effects of social media on adolescent development.

Dr. Bellanton, also a technology futurist and leading Metaverse influencer, has some additional valuable insights into how parents can navigate this tricky, ever-changing terrain—especially for younger elementary-age children.

1. Ditch rigid schedules.

While it’s essential to have some structure in your child’s daily routine, it’s equally important to provide flexibility. Instead of imposing a strict, timed schedule on your child’s educational or other activities, Dr. Bellanton recommends creating a more relaxed and flexible approach that fits around the parents’ work schedule.

2. Create safe folders for YouTube videos and shows that your child is allowed to watch.

With the abundance of inappropriate content available on the internet, it can be challenging to monitor what your child is watching. However, by creating special YouTube folders and streaming media playlists on Netflix and the like, parents can control the content their children consume and avoid unnecessary worry.

3. Encourage Hobbies

Introduce your children to hobbies that require the use of different parts of the brain. Whether it’s sculpting, painting, or physical activities that teach children how to utilize new tools, engaging in a hobby at least once every other day can help children develop new skills and foster creativity.

4. Incentivise

The Behavior You Want Creating a star chart system is another effective way to incentivize and reward children for doing things that do not involve digital devices. For instance, parents can reward their children for cleaning, reading, or playing outside instead of spending time on screens.

5. Allow Educational Video Games

Parents can also take advantage of the metaverse by teaching their children how to build and make money through playing video games. Children can be introduced to games that allow them to learn how to make money and build skills while playing.

6. Create an Open Dialog

Have conversations with children about online predators and teach them to be cautious when playing games like Roblox. Parents should also pay attention to the music played in games, as some songs may contain inappropriate lyrics.

7. Limit Time Using Timers or Automatic Shutt-off Apps

Put timers on devices to limit screen time. Parents can set a specific amount of time for their children to watch videos or play games on their devices, ensuring they have a healthy balance of screen time and other activities.

Parenting in the digital age is a challenge that requires a multifaceted and highly concerted approach with tactical strategies that must be employed with intention and upheld with consistency. Doing so will allow families to embrace the litany of benefits the digital age affords and use them to derive emotional and lifestyle advantages versus impairments.

By Merilee A. Kern, MBA Internationally-regarded PR & brand analyst, strategist, and futurist

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