Monitoring Your Kids’ Digital Diet
Surfing the net does not automatically equip kids with media skills any more than eating dinner every night produces a child with good nutritional sense. Kids learn eating habits with coaching and gentle guidance from their parents. Online, they need the same adult input if they are to grow into pleasant, responsible “netizens.” Parents can start to train their children by setting a digital routine.
Mums and Dads generally don't let their kids eat whatever they want whenever they want it. Instead, they establish a routine, by setting expectations and boundaries around food. For example, they remind their children of healthy eating rules:
- “Don't stuff yourself with chips an hour before dinner.”
- “A balanced meal includes ingredients from all food groups, and no, ketchup does not count as a vegetable!”
- “Sweets and fast food are 'sometimes foods.'”
Kids might not like these dietary guidelines, but they will settle into them if they are consistently enforced. Even better, children will develop a preference for the healthy options. If their parents are really lucky (make that “determined”), the kids may even dislike the fatty, junky rubbish. (It happens!)
Minding children's dietary intake is important work, but are we paying enough attention to their media intake? Are we setting clear boundaries with our children's media consumption? Are we guiding them by setting a routine, defining parameters, and helping them make healthy media choices? Are we modelling moderate, selective usage?
Do your kids know explicitly what is unacceptable to view online? If asked, could they say what their daily media allowance is? For example, “I'm allowed only 30 minutes of gaming on school nights.” How would they classify your media consumption? “My mum's a media junkie!” Here's one for you: Do you know what sites your youngest child has visited in the past 48 hours? I bet you know what they ate in that same period.
Food can nourish a child's body or poison it. Media is the same: it can edify, educate, and equip. Or it can dull, rot, and destroy. Whether it's food or media, parents have the power to provide or restrict the good or the bad.
How is your family's digital diet?