Nowadays, every field is digitalized on a large scale. The internet therefore offers people of all ages socializing, entertainment, learning, work and access to information that was unthinkable until the previous decade ago. This issue becomes even more important when the COVID-19 pandemic is a situation that locks more than 130 countries in the world to their homes.
Lockouts and restrictions in the home quickly changed the daily activities of children and parents, transferring many activities that were previously done outside (school lessons, playing with peers, etc.) to the screen of the devices. It is too early to know what impact the epidemic will have on children’s physical and mental health, but professionals and researchers are closely interested in this issue. Of course, screen time in families increased exponentially during COVID-19: in some ways it was a relief for parents, as children continued to attend school courses and contact peers via the Internet.
In addition to this, kids can play video games or music, creativity, etc. He avoided boredom through websites dedicated to the topics. On the other hand, intensive online activities have increased parents’ concerns about known risks, such as increased sedentary and physical risks. Inactivity, long-term use at night, sleep disturbances, isolation and escape by young people in the digital world are the sources of these concerns.
Following the temporary closure of schools to limit social distancing and COVID-19 infection, Ministries of Education in many developed countries quickly activated online courses and other websites for distance learning. The purpose of these online solutions is to secure the right of children to education and at the same time mitigate the negative effects of house arrest. However, online courses shift teaching home from school and make parents a resource for support and effective learning.
What role can parental mediation and digital competence play?
As researchers know, there are no experimental studies on this topic, but previous studies with primary school children have shown negative associations between parental control, interference with homework, and children’s learning. Currently, in many cases, teachers expect parents to get their kids connected and follow video lessons in a timely manner. Therefore, parental support can be helpful, but tensions and parent-child conflicts can also arise. There is also a risk of parents helping children, interfering with digital learning, or preventing them from conducting activities assigned to them independently.
Close attention and research effort are required to understand how this aspect of digital parenting works, to support parents in their endeavors and to provide children with a good home learning. In line with current studies before COVID-19, digital activities are believed to meet the basic psychological needs of children, such as socialization and emotional support by family (grandparents and cousins) and other important persons (teachers and peers). Social media facilitates the expression of emotions (such as fear and sadness), self-disclosure, and the maintenance of romantic relationships, especially by adolescents.
Video calling and regular contact via smartphone have been suggested as an important source of reassurance in the case of isolation of the caregiver or family due to the prevention or prevention of recovery of COVID-19 infection. What likely becomes necessary in the time of COVID-19 is a renegotiation of family routines, a balance between screen time and other moments in family life. In this context, WHO requires parents to maintain regular routines for children (school / learning, leisure / rest, bedtime, etc.), as well as to create new opportunities for joint activities (for example, joint use for creative, fun or physical activity in front of children). With young children, many shared activities provide a context for expressing and communicating their emotions (both fears and desires) in a supportive parental relationship. Even in real COVID-19 conditions, parental behavior (such as self-limiting screen time for smart work, chat, or gaming) is believed to be more effective than restrictive mediation or restrictions imposed on children.
Having digital knowledge and skills to act without being exposed to dangers in the digital world is not a matter of age, it is a matter of education and learning, ie digital literacy. It is a serious responsibility towards the new generation and a complex challenge that adults (parents, teachers, psychologists or educators) do not feel prepared for. As Martin reminds: “Digital literacy is the awareness, attitude and ability of individuals to appropriately use digital tools and facilities to identify, access, manage, integrate, evaluate, analyze and synthesize digital resources, create new knowledge, create media expressions, and communicating with others in the context of certain life situations and reflecting on this process in order to enable constructive social action.
The difficulties of parents today arise from having different levels of participation, technical skills and beliefs that affect mediation practices for their children as digital users. Parents can enable more restrictive apps if they feel less capable or are concerned about the unknown dangers of the web. But they rarely can critically argue with their children in a constructive manner. Additionally, parents believe that when they juggle in the digital world, pursue technological innovations, or protect children from danger or abuse by the media, they believe they will not depend on their children.
Sometimes parents turn to websites for suggestions on how to effectively manage their kids’ digital activities, but the information disseminated through websites is not always scientifically based (fake news). Researcher Danah Boyd claims that while describing the complexity of the lives of teenagers on the web, the media magnify the virtues of digital natives (“superpowers”). But it also mentions parental fears that speak of serious dangers such as Internet addiction, sexual deceit or suicide incitement.
Developmental Risks Associated with Exposure to Excessive Media
Suggestions for effective parental mediation on children’s digital activities are clear. These are as follows;
• Except for video chat, the use of digital devices should be avoided before 18-24 months and the video call should be in the presence of the parent.
• Children (18–24 months) should not be allowed to use devices alone and for more than 1 hour a day.
• Electronic devices of children should not be pressured for children’s early use. Because when the child is ready, he will approach the media spontaneously.
• Help the child to apply what he learned using the device to the real world.
• It should be known that in infancy, direct experiences, manipulation, and unstructured play are crucial to the child’s brain and social, cognitive and linguistic development.
• The use of fast programs with too many distractions or violent content that the child cannot understand should be avoided.
• One hour before going to bed, using digital devices to calm the baby should be avoided.
• The media content that the child is exposed to should be monitored continuously.
Therefore, parent education interventions are necessary both to disseminate scientific knowledge about the impact of new technologies on children’s health and development, and to help parents cope with the challenges of digital reality.
Parental education cannot be reduced to just fixing ineffective parenting practices or a list of instructions on what the parent should do. In fact, all research shows that the effectiveness of mediation strategies (restrictive or active approach) is relative, because parenting practices improve the skills of both adults (digital skills, beliefs and media activities) and children (age, development, digital literacy skills, etc.) includes.