As kids, we were all told that ‘an apple a day keeps the doctor away’, so basically, if I eat well and I exercise, I can clearly avoid falling sick. And we were taught about many ways how we need to protect ourselves from dangers of the world, and so if were careful, we could stay safe. Cut to the present times, where our children currently are silently experiencing the world changing around them, they saw schools being shut, routines change, sickness spread, loved ones and they themselves falling sick, and their whole world turning digital. As soon as they open their eyes, they are glued to their screens, for school, for play, and even for social connect with peers. Their presence online is increasing exponentially as each day passes, and so are their problems. In a post COVID world, when the world is once again changing, and even when things are slowly opening back up, their digital lives will remain, grow and, assume a life of its own.
1. Open a channel of communication
In this “new normal”, will the proverbial apple still keep the doctor away? And the age old narrative of how to keep oneself safe, still apply? You need to wake up to reality, recognize your responsibility and guide the little ones, talk to them and equip them with tools to exist in this new world.
It is pertinent that we make honest efforts to open a clear and comfortable channel of communication with our children. Become nonjudgmental listeners, before you can even begin to offer solutions to their problems. Their world is very different from the world we grew up in, so even if we do not understand it, we need to practice empathy. This will help them feel comfortable at home to open up to share their problems and not try to seek this comfort in other places. And so they know that they have your support.
2. Help understand online dangers
Dangerous situations are lurking online at every turn. From bullying, harassment, scamming to extremely dangerous predatory situations are a common occurrences. If the children are aware of these possible dangers, they will navigate the spaces better, more carefully. Preemptive measures like these are much beneficial in the long run, that the ‘band-air’ approach, post-occurrence.
3. Help identify fake news and misinformation
The whole world is experiencing a “pandemic of fake news and misinformation”. The great thing about the internet is that there is information about anything and everything available, for free, for one and all. But the worst thing is also the magnitude of information available for every topic, and more often than not it is almost impossible to decipher, what information to trust and what not to. So it is important to sensitize our children to recognizing and consuming only the right kind of information and news, by directing them to correct sources and by teaching them methods to eliminate untrustworthy news and information.
4. Taking care of their digital well being
Did anyone talk to you about your mental health while growing up? About anxiety, depression, burnout, etc.? Would you have handled your work and your personal life differently, even better, so to say, if you were aware that you could seek help for your mental health? Yes, one can argue that the society wasn’t equipped for these conversations then, and our parents, guardians, caretakers were not even aware of these problems themselves.
But we know better now. In this world that is so rapidly changing, mental health and wellbeing need to be the prime focus of all stakeholders in the wellbeing of our children. We need to provide them with tools to take care of their digital wellbeing. These can range from regular digital detoxes, to setting time limits, to limiting their access to age appropriate content, to monitoring their interactions online.
5. Help differentiate between their online and offline self
And most importantly, in the era of social media, virtual gaming, online dating, etc., children need to be reminded to not to let it completely take over their real/offline lives. This needs to be done with empathy, rather than force, where we try to fill their offline lives with love, compassion, excitement, attention and with some of our own precious time. Regular conversations and interactions need to be carefully orchestrated to become part of their daily lives, just as their beloved screen has become.
There is not single pill fit for all. We all have our unique situations and realities, but every little step counts when we make it toward the wellbeing of our children, even intent to make that effort is enough to begin with. And if you are reading this, the INTENT is clearly present.
If you are a concerned parent, teacher, guardian, stakeholder in the wellbeing of your child/children, checkout the work we are doing at the Centre for Social Research, in ensuring a safe, secure and inclusive digital world for the children and the youth of India, and the world.