Raising children in the digital age

Posted on 26 December 2019

In a world where children are ‘born’ with digital technology, it’s important to help them learn healthy ways to use this medium.

“The role and benefits of technology cannot be underplayed, but the use should never consume time for other important developmental tasks,” says Charon Streit, a counselling psychologist at Mediclinic Gariep and Mediclinic Kimberley. “If used with discretion, technologies can be part of development. Whether it is a movie that has an underlying theme that can be used to discuss emotional difficulties, or a recreational game or educational programme that deals with a specific subject of interest.” Your child also uses technology purely for entertainment, distraction and relaxation – but it’s crucial that they have other outlets too.

“To develop different intelligences, including mental, physical, emotional and musical, your child’s activities should include playing outdoors, spending time with the family, developing their creativity, being active and spending time with peers,” Streit says.

Of course, trying to separate a toddler from an iPad, or a teenager from their smart phone, can seem like a futile exercise. And even with ratings and appropriate content, you still need to actively manage your older child’s screen time to ensure proper growth and development.

Here’s how you can minimise the amount of time they spend behind the screen.

Lay down the law: Rules and regulations should be implemented before your child gets their first phone, tablet or computer. This can include anything from ‘no phones after 8pm’ to ‘no wi-fi during the week unless it’s for school projects.’ International guidelines suggest limiting screen time for kids to a maximum of just two hours a day. For younger children, age two to five, the recommended limit is one hour a day.

Co-view: Screen time shouldn’t always be alone time. Watching certain shows and playing online games together with your child can be fun and will open up lines of communication. This is also a useful way to gain insight into their interests. Plus you’ll get up to speed with the latest jargon and gimmicks.

Create tech-free zones: Make it easier for your household to enjoy time away from their screens as a family. Whether it’s a dedicated room, the dining room table or a corner of the lounge, keep it strictly free of electronics. Instead, keep cards, board games, books and craft materials on hand. 

Encourage face-to-face communication: “Virtual communication is easy because your child can hide behind the screen,” Streit says. While shy children might benefit from this aspect of technology, it also makes it easier for an immature or spiteful comment to be broadcast in the digital space. “Once that information is out there, the consequences can be damaging,” Streit cautions. “Online bullying is rife and ensuring they learn appropriate ways to communicate their feelings in person is key.”

Do your homework and discuss the dangers: “Parents used to protect their children against the world ‘out there’, today you need to do that with the world ‘in here’,” Streit says. “Don’t be naïve and think bad virtual incidents will not happen to your children. Rather equip them with knowledge and tools to prevent them from occurring.” Be transparent with your child if you plan to track or monitor them online and look at their phone content without warning.

As Streit says, more children are presenting with mood disorders and anxieties. “Different skills, including living a balanced life, having the ability to express themselves creatively, being active and practising proper relaxation skills, can be helpful in addressing these difficulties,” Streit says.




In the interest of our patients, in accordance with SA law and our commitment to expertise, Mediclinic cannot subscribe to the practice of online diagnosis. Please consult a medical professional for specific medical advice. If you have any major concerns, please see your doctor for an assessment. If you have any cause for concern, your GP will be able to direct you to the appropriate specialists.