Disconnect Digitally, Reconnect Emotionally

Without a doubt, digital is the future. However, we do need to know where to draw the line and prevent ourselves from overindulging in it. Failure to do so could lead to digital addiction. It is fairly common nowadays to see parents handing their smartphone or tablet to their child to keep them entertained.

However, this is where parents will need to exercise self discipline on their part to avoid the pitfalls. As parents, you should lead by example and serve as a role model for your child to emulate as he grows. As the saying goes “Too much of a good thing is a bad thing!”

No Replacement for Parents

One of the most common uses for electronic gadgets is as a ‘digital nanny’. All too often, parents take the easy way out by handing their toddler or young child a gadget for them to watch shows or play games, all for the sake of some peace and quiet.

However, this strategy is risky especially if it is an integral part of your child’s routine (the next section of this feature article will highlight the danger to his development). What starts off as an innocent way to pass the time could turn into a dangerous habit, and children as young as four are reportedly becoming hooked. Allowing toddlers to play with a tablet or smartphone excessively could lead to an addiction to digital technology and cause serious long-term effects.

Family Time Is Important

Without a doubt, quality family time is equally as important now as it was in the past. Sadly, too many Malaysian families are falling into the digital trap – families used to connect (especially over meals), but now it is becoming more common to see whole families together with their eyes glued to their gadgets and not talking much with each other.

As parents, you will need to build your relationship with your child. A solid relationship is critical and spending quality time together will ensure that he feels important and loved, thus allowing you to build a stronger bond as a family.

While there are numerous ways to achieve this, the key to succeeding is undivided attention. Every parent must commit to this – this means no multi-tasking during family time, i.e. no screen-time of any sort (e.g. games, texting, watching movies, etc.). You can establish some simple ‘traditions’ within your family, such as:

  • Family meals – have these as often as possible. It can be a simple matter of sitting down together for a meal or preparing for a big gathering with family or friends. Involve your child in all aspects including menu selection, food and table preparation, serving the food, ensuring everyone eats together, and when clearing up after meals. All these activities give you plenty of opportunities to bond with your child, so you should make the most of it.
  • Homework/Schoolwork – concentrate on using this as a bonding experience with your child. To achieve this, you should keep it as positive as possible and steer away from conflict.
  • Sports/Exercise – getting the whole family out for some badminton, tennis, futsal, or just playing catch in the local taman is a great way to spend family time and some exercise together. This also includes outdoor activities such as hiking, cycling, or going for picnics or camping together.
  • Family outings – any outing that involves the whole family gives you plenty of opportunities for the whole family to connect. These outings can range from grocery shopping trips, attending shows or concerts, or even religious activities.

Remember, family time should be fun and enjoyable for everyone. In this way, your child will feel connected, happy, and above all, well loved. These ‘digital detox’ sessions may seem impossible at first but stick with it. By setting aside some time for the entire family to spend quality time together, you will find that it gets easier to connect with each other. There is only one cardinal rule – no electronic gadgets allowed!

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Not all negative

Electronic gadgets have their uses, and can benefit your child if used with care. With proper monitoring, young children can benefit from:

  • The stimulation to their senses and imagination.
  • Helps promote their ability to listen and learn sounds/speech.
  • Can help encourage cognitive learning and develop a more analytical mind, e.g. games or apps that focus on building innovative thinking and investigation skills, strategic thinking, and creativity.

Don’t Let Digital Run Your Life

In your battle to make family times mean something again, you will need to set limits. Again, these should apply to the family as a whole. Of course, there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ method to achieve this, so you will need to exercise your own discretion on the limits. Some of the most useful methods include:

  • Scheduling your child’s screen-time and ensuring that you adhere to the limits that you set, e.g. no screen-time before bed or during mealtimes.
  • Discuss the use of electronic gadgets with your child, i.e. how, when, and where they should be used and most importantly when they should stop. You may also want to consider retaining control of gadgets either by installing some sort of parental app/programme or setting passwords to ensure that he does not have easy access to it.
  • Encouraging ‘tech-free’ conversations – that means any phone or electronic device should be put aside when there is a conversation going on. Any conversation or discussion should hold one’s full attention. Teach your child to hold eye contact during conversations as a means to encourage them to concentrate on ‘live’ conversations.
  • Placing the computer in a common area will help discourage your child from abusing his computer privileges, as you will also have an easier time to keep an eye on him. It is also a good idea to limit his internet access by ensuring that he can only do so whenever you are around. This can be achieved either by installing a programme on the computer or setting up your modem/router to only allow access at certain times of the day. You should also keep tabs on his online activities.

Make a Conscious Effort

Choose your family over gadgets! Make it a point to have screen-free family time where everyone puts all their gadgets away. Have real and meaningful conversation or interactions with each other instead of poking away at those tiny little screens. Real life beats digital or virtual life anytime. By practising this yourself, you will make it easier to encourage your child to do the same. Since the same rules apply to everyone, there is absolutely no reason for him to request to be excused from this simple rule!

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