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What to do if your child is spending too much time online

If you are concerned about your child's digital addiction, these are the steps to take.

By Donna Fleming

It’s alarming to hear that one in every six Kiwi kids spends more than six hours a day on the internet.

According to an international survey that examined the internet habits of 15-year-olds around the world, teenagers here are extreme users because they spend so much time online.

In many cases, their schoolwork is suffering – the kids with higher internet use skip school more than those with moderate use. And while many of them go online to do homework, a lot of the time they are playing games or chatting, according to the Programme of International Student Assessment research.

So should you be concerned about your kids? Maybe if they do any of the following:
• They’re grumpy and restless if they don’t have access to a device
• They skip family activities or leave early so they can get back to their phone, device or computer
• Their schoolwork is suffering because of the amount of time they spend online
• They sneak screen time, even if you’ve set limits and threatened punishment
• They don’t seem to be able to self-discipline and stop looking at screens when they know they should be doing other things. If they have trouble disconnecting, it may be time to put your foot downToo much screen time can lead to a variety of problems, including poor sleep and difficulty concentrating. People who spend lots of time on devices tend to lead sedentary lives, making them more prone to obesity. They can also suffer from neck and back problems due to being hunched over devices.

There’s evidence that brain and language development can be hampered in some children who spend excessive amounts of time in front of computers and tablets. They may have poor social skills and not be as resilient as other kids when it comes to dealing with real-life situations.

If you are concerned about your child, steps you can take include:
• Setting guidelines and time limits, and enforcing them. Draw up a contract and spell out the consequences they’ll face if they break the rules
• Have “no device” times every day – for example, during meals, when they should be doing homework, for the hour before bed
• Set a good example. They’re going to think it is okay to be on their device 24/7 if you seem to have your phone or tablet attached to your hand
• Use parental controls to limit internet access and also to see what they’re doing online. If all else fails, switch off the Wi-Fi!
• Provide options to keep them occupied – get them out of the house doing fun activities

Be prepared for a meltdown, or at least extreme stroppiness, if you make them drastically reduce the amount of time they’re online. They have formed a strong habit and that is really hard to break – it could be tricky weaning them off their devices.

With older kids in particular, if you’re concerned that they’re spending a lot of time online to escape the stresses of life and suspect they could be depressed, you may want to talk to a professional.

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