Let’s Go Viral: Strategies for Parents Tackling the Online Interface

Let’s Go Viral: Strategies for Parents Tackling the Online Interface 

October 2018, Bullying Prevention Month

By Oby Ekwueme, MD/MPH Student Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and Rebecca Unger, M.D.


October is National Bullying Prevention Month, an international campaign to raise awareness of bullying prevention. The Internet can be a daunting place for children and can be a source of bullying. This is why it is so important for families, parents and children of all ages to have the toolset to tackle the intricacies of the Internet. 


The American Academy of Pediatrics policy statement about Media and Young Minds reports that children between 0-5 years of age are undergoing critical brain development, building secure relationships, and establishing health behaviors. Attention to social interaction and hands on learning is critical for healthy development. Limiting family media use from the beginning can optimize this development.


Children as young as 15 months old can learn from touch screens, but it’s hard for them to apply that to their 3-dimensional world. Video chatting with responsive adults can help children learn and connect with others, however there is a need for ongoing parental support to help young children understand their experience. 


Preschool children can benefit from well-designed media programming, however for most of the thousands of apps that claim to be “educational” there are no established criteria to confirm the benefit.  It is optimal to teach young children executive functioning, task persistence, impulse control, and creative thinking through unstructured and social play rather than digital learning.  


It is also important for parents to monitor and engage in media usage with older children. Parents can use these opportunities to explore educational aspects of the Internet, as well as learn from their children. The learning goes both ways! It is important for parents to speak to their children about “online citizenship” and safety, which includes treating others the same way offline as they would online. When children are engaged in these conversations they can learn to avoid compromising communications and cyber bullying, as well as learn to whom they can turn to when they encounter challenges. 


Families can mutually learn about the importance of creating screen free zones, develop an understanding of how to use technology in social ways, as well as focus on healthy sleep, nutrition, and physical activity patterns despite the temptation of media.

Understanding the recommendations, and establishing family rules and guidelines, helps create safe boundaries. These boundaries can be a springboard for children to explore and feel supported. 


Recommendations for family media use:

  1. Start this conversation early. Parents should examine their own media use and avoid digital media use (except video chatting) in children younger than 18-24 months of age.
  2. Understand brain development in young children and the importance of hands-on, unstructured, and social play to build healthy social skills and habits.
  3. For children 18-24 months choose high quality programming when/if you introduce digital media. Co-view all programs with your young child.
  4. For children 2-5 years, limit screen use to 1 hour/day of high quality programming. Help children apply what learn to the world around them
  5. For children 6 and older place consistent limits on time spent using media, types of media, and assure that media does not interfere with healthy sleep, physical activity, and other healthy behaviors. 
  6. Designate media-free times together, such as dinner, driving, and before bed. 
  7. Have ongoing conversation about online citizenship and safety – including treating others with respect, online and offline. 
  8. Develop a Family Media Use Plan for children of all ages.  The American Academy of Pediatrics has information including the recommendations and a template that helps start this conversation at www.healthychildren.org/MediaUsePlan

Adapted from AAP recommendations, http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/138/5/e20162591

Cyber bullying awareness:

Even though the Internet has many positive benefits, it does come with its own dangers. For serious parenting issues, cyber bullying is a relatively new concern that has developed in the past several decades. The problem with cyber bullying is the potential anonymity, the pervasiveness, and the possibility for things to get out of hand far quicker than in person. Some warning signs that cyber bullying is affecting your child are changes in their technology usage (including texting), their emotions (especially in relation to their technology usage), and withdrawal from activities that/people who they used to enjoy. If you think that your child is being cyber bullied, here’s what you can do:

  1. Notice. Recognize a change and try to see if those changes happen around their use of their digital devices.
  2. Talk. Ask questions to learn what is happening and who is involved.
  3. Document. Taking screenshots can help if law enforcement needs to be involved.
  4. Report. Most social media platforms and schools have clear no bullying policies and they can take the proper actions against it.
  5. Support. Above all else, support your child during this time and involve professional help if you feel like it is necessary. 

Adapted from stopbullying.govhttps://www.stopbullying.gov/cyberbullying/prevention/index.html

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