With the advancement of online technology, kids are spending countless hours a day on the internet. This not only puts them at risk for being taking advantage of by predators, but also can cause concerning developmental issues.
“There are a lot of good things about the internet, but there’s also a lot of risk that comes along with it as well,” says Kerri Spitzer, clinical care counselor at the Family Guidance Center. “There’s a lot of developmental issues affecting the way their brains are developing. It’s affecting their physical health because they’re not being as active.”
Some warning signs that can alert you a child is spending too much time online include losing track of time while using devices, sacrificing sleep to go online, displaying feelings of agitation or anger when online time is interrupted, spending time online instead of completing chores or homework, becoming irritable, moody or depressed when not online, and preferring to spend time online rather than with family and friends.
“Parenting is a verb — you have to be active as a parent,” Spitzer says. “Increased time on the internet has some consequences. There are studies that show we’re not developing empathy because everything’s electronic and we have that disconnect. The way we process emotions is very different.”
Spitzer says kids are lacking imaginative play, critical thinking and problem-solving skills because they spend too much time online.
“We’re not developing that when we’re constantly using the electronics,” she says. “We’re not developing patience because everything is an instant gratification — two clicks and you have what you want.”
Spitzer says the average child between the ages of 6 and 18 spends an approximate 7.5 hours a day on an electronic device. Seven percent of students in the sixth through 12th grades have experienced cyberbullying, and that has increased suicide rates.
The FBI reports that one in seven young people have experienced unwanted sexual solicitations online. One in three has been exposed to unwanted sexual material online.
Parents are encouraged to monitor internet use by keeping the computer in an open room of the house. Check your child’s profiles and what they post and remind kids to only add people they know in real life. Make sure to visit social networking websites with your kids and exchange ideas about acceptable versus potentially risky websites.
There are ways to counteract online overuse by taking advantage of technology as a parent. The latest computer operating systems come equipped with tools to monitor kids’ online activity. Spitzer says parents can keep tabs on their kids social media accounts by setting up a profile for each child, which will allow adults to view a child’s log-in history. Parents also can set up a computer to require a password.
She also recommends limiting the amount of time your child spends online. Teach kids about having some sort of balance. Use dinner as an electronics-free zone and place all devices in a basket, using the time instead to spend interacting with family.
Spitzer adds that it’s important to continue to talk with your kids about online safety no matter their age. Predators use all sorts of manipulating techniques to trick their targets into inappropriate behavior.
“There’s a psychological concept of the foot-in-the-door technique. People use it in sales,” Spitzer says. “The concept is that if you ask for something, a small request, and they comply, then you’re able to ask for a bigger request even if that request is negative. So talk with them about safety and what to be on the lookout for.”
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