There are just so many aspects to navigating the new digital world that our kids are growing up in. From cyber safety to their actual health, here’s a run down on some of the most talked-about parenting topics revolving our digital landscape…

They call them ‘digital natives’, and with the average child getting their first smartphone at around 10 years old and 55 per cent of kids the same age owning their own tablet, it’s not hard to see why. A recent study shows that most children own or have easy access to the Internet via handheld devices, and from a very young age. The question is no longer ‘should’ you give your kid a smartphone, but ‘when’.

While the evidence suggests that children younger than two benefits more from real-world experiences, screen-time can be pretty useful for kids aged 3+. For children who are becoming a little bit more independent, like those transitioning to high school or starting to use public transport alone, having a smartphone is both practical and a valuable way to learn responsibility and accountability. Younger children can also benefit from apps that stimulate their development through play-based learning.

But how young is too young to entrust your child with a smartphone? The general consensus is that it’s more about responsible exposure than maturity. Remember that a phone or tablet can be just as distracting as a TV – if not more so. A child with a smartphone has 24/7 access to online and offline entertainment and this relationship can be easily abused if parameters aren’t established early on. Make sure your child accepts that owning a smartphone is a responsibility, not a right – whether they’re 7 or 17. Set boundaries and trust your gut, and you’ll never feel outsmarted by a smartphone.

We all know to sit up straight and keep our shoulders back, but it’s easy to forget when we’re distracted by other things such as iPads or laptop. Hands on Health Chiropractic owner/chiro Jana Judd says from her experience working with young children, there can be better results through regulation, compared with the position.

“Using technology isn’t that different from sitting reading books and writing – the difference comes in the child’s ability to self-regulate and move about,” Jana says. “If you’re worried about their posture, you need to change something. It won’t self-correct.”

Poor posture is about more than just looks. Neck and shoulders tense up when supporting a hanging head causing pain, headaches and mouth breathing. Biomechanically, poor posture affects our breathing capacity and, in turn, impedes oxygenation in our organs. Posture is also known to affect and be affected by our emotion – a slumped posture is often associated with depression and sadness, whereas an upright posture gives a happier, lighter feeling in our body. Along with increased oxygenation and less pain, correct posture prevents fatigue of muscles and ligaments and helps with memory recall.

Jana’s best tip for combating tricky posture is to keep screen time to a minimum. But limiting screens often makes children want them more so instead, Jana suggests providing opportunities for genuine non-screen connection with you and/or other children that are more interesting. As Jana reminds us, kids generally get enough sitting and screen time at school. Here are some more tips from Jana:

• CHANGE UP THEIR SET UP. Make sure your kids aren’t slumped, their feet are on the poor and their screen is at eye height. Attach a separate keyboard, if possible.
• GET ACTIVE. Playing counteracts the poor posture from hours at school and on devices. Plus, it’s a chance for you both to reconnect, while calming their nervous system at the same time.
• SIMPLE EXERCISES. An easy posture-correcting exercise is to lift the sternum – this opens the rib cage, rolls the shoulders back, puts the head in a good position and lengthens the spine.

“Social media” is one of those phrases that we throw around a lot but probably don’t really understand. While the obvious social networking sites like Facebook and Instagram come under the ‘social media’ umbrella, most of us would be surprised to know that social media includes email and Wikipedia, too. So if we don’t really know what ‘social media’ actually is and what it can be used for, should we be giving our kids free reign?

A 2015 Pew Research Centre study reported that 92 per cent of teens admit to going online daily, but with most social media sites claiming to have a minimum age requirement, it’s hard to know exactly how many children below the age of 13 use social media. A quick scroll through Instagram or Musical.ly, however, suggests that there are a lot.

As mature as your 11-year-old may seem, social media is tricky terrain and, much like on the roads, you can’t control what other people do online. In order for them (and you!) to feel totally safe and comfortable using social media, there are some vital social and emotional tools they need to be equipped with. While you can definitely start laying these foundations before your kids come of online age if you’re thinking about letting them use social media unsupervised it’s probably best to stick to the platform’s guidelines. Monitor their online activities but don’t hover and keep an eye out for red flags – if your child becomes sad or secretive, or is interacting with people or sites you don’t recognise. But, most importantly, keep the dialogue open and trust that you’ve raised your kids to be responsible digital citizens.

The minimum age requirements for some of the main social media sites including Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Musical.ly and YouTube, for example, is 13 years.

Just when we thought parenting couldn’t get any harder, the Internet came along and now parents are responsible for keeping kids safe in the physical world as well as the digital space. Parents looking for some insight into the best ways to protect kids online should head to the Internet Safe Education website and check out Brett Lee’s courses that will help you create a safe, fun and productive cyber-environment within your home. Brett’s online courses provide parents with tips and tricks to keep kids safe online and have been designed with real-world experience by this former undercover Internet detective. Other valuable information to help keep your kids cyber safe can be found on The Cyber Safety Lady (Leonie Smith) website.

It’s an ongoing battle in some households to kids to step away from their iPads, smartphones, laptops and other Internet-connected devices. In 2015, Dolmio tried to conquer this phenomenon by introducing a pepper grinder that disconnected kids from the Internet! If you’re looking for an easy way to manage your kids’ Internet usage, have a look into the parental controls provided by your Internet service provider or with your home Wi-Fi router. Many of them allow parents to set hours when different users (kids!) can and can’t access a Wi-Fi signal or even block particular devices.

KoalaSafe is a clever hardware that you can tether to your router to restrict your kids’ internet usage. Once the KoalaSafe app is installed on your phone, you can set Wi-Fi time limits, manage your kids’ access to certain sites (by category and even by specific application names) and track their usage.

And we like it because it was designed here in Australia by a Sydney-based uncle who was spurred on by his sister’s frustration with her kids and their insatiable Internet habits ($125, www.koalasafe.com). There are also apps, such as OurPact, that you can install on your kids’ devices to monitor and manage their consumption and online behaviours.



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