How Parents Can Encourage Children to Take Up Hobbies Based on 2020’s Most Searched Trends

by Celeste Goh
  • Hobbies are fundamental in helping children find their direction in life.
  • Besides introducing more digital free time, hobbies can also improve face to face time with your family.
  • Don’t worry if your child doesn’t take an immediate liking to your first attempt – there are tons of hobbies that you can try out.

We are well into the second year of the pandemic, and while vaccinations have been made available to most countries around the world, we are still expected to continue spending time at home until everyone has been inoculated; experts estimate that it will take another 2 to 3 years to achieve that. 

If you as a parent has run out of creative ways to keep your child entertained while staying away from the internet during lockdown, we have looked into some of the most searched trends among kids in 2020 to help parents look into something that has been missing for children growing up in the digital age: hobbies.

source

The last time we spoke to Teaching Worthy’s Teacher Kean, he mentioned that children these days don’t have hobbies anymore: “Hobbies are so fundamental in helping children find their direction in life, because they are experiments to help us discover what we like, and what we don’t like; and that, in the long run, gives us directions as to what we want to be when we grow up.”

Based on what children are searching for most online, here are a few ways parents can ascertain what the little ones may be interested in, and thus, find ways to help them develop hobbies that may not require them to spend time online for long hours; and even if it does, it’s for something beneficial and useful to them in their growth and development as a person. 

  1. Encourage your children to pick up hobbies

While it is not on top of the searched trends for children last year, social media platforms, such as Facebook, Instagram and Tumblr, still take up 9.88% of their online searches. Reports have shown that “as of January 2020, about 81 percent of the Malaysian population were active social media users; a one-third increase compared to 2016, amounting to approximately 60 percent of the total population in Malaysia.”

This is mainly due to the fact that the younger generation are into social media with photo sharing features. While it is important to educate them on privacy on the internet, there is no harm in looking into their interest in photo sharing to tap into an unexplored hobby: photography.

While tech heavyweights out there have been competing against one another in coming up with the new models, packed with the best camera features – Huawei has been pushing out mobile devices with Leica Camera lenses, whereas Samsung is currently at the lead with a built-in camera with the highest number of megapixels (108mp); parents may look into getting their children proper cameras instead to harness a potential skill in them. 

There is a wide range of entry-level digital cameras out there that not only fits any budget out there, (most are even cheaper than the newest iPhones or Android phones out there), but are also compact in size, and carry features that allow photo sharing directly onto  your children’s social media platforms. 

Not only that, parents may also encourage their children to take photography more seriously by having family-only photo sessions in their own backyard, followed by a family night-in where the kids can showcase their works on TV. It is definitely a confident and motivational boost for the kid to keep improving their skills. Not to mention, raising their “game” on social media without using Instagram or VSCO filters, but just the sheer #nofilter talent that they have – it’s a win-win for everyone!

  1. Encourage hobbies with family bonding activities

However, if you are a parent who’d rather not encourage your children to be as active on social media, there are still plenty of ways to organise indoor activities for the whole family, based on what they are searching for online. 

According to Kaspersky, “today’s netkids are most interested in video content (17.25% of all queries): mostly cartoons, vlogs, and computer game streams on YouTube and Twitch; meanwhile Securelist states that over the past year, besides watching YouTube videos, children have been watching TV shows and movies on Netflix. 

Instead of restricting them alone time to go on these streaming sites, parents can look into what they are interested in lately, and call for family time activities for the whole family. From our previous talks with Teacher Kean of Teaching Worthy, we have found out that kids have been watching streamers of makeup tutorials and five-minute crafts “to be amused, and to distract themselves, but they are not actually practising any of the valuable skills that these videos can teach.” So, if you’ve been noticing your children watching a particular genre of how-to videos on YouTube, parents can jump in and suggest if they should try out these five-minute crafts together, or work on some bakes in the kitchen – and yes, even try out that smokey eyes makeup effect on the moms, or even the dads.

Parents with children constantly on streaming platforms like Netflix can opt for a movie night-in for the whole family. Keeping in mind the age-appropriateness of the selected films, based on your children’s ages, not only can parents be in on what the children are interested in for entertainment, (in a way, monitor and actually know what they are up to), these movie nights are great for family bonding as well.

Not only that, based on what they are watching on Netflix, parents can gauge on hobbies their children might be interested in. After The Queen’s Gambit was released on Netflix last October, it became the most watched series of the day on the popular streaming site, with 62 million households watching since its release. While generally the pandemic has increased public interest in chess, the popularity of the show, which centres around the game of chess, has brought back a kind of frenzy last seen in the 1970s: Chess.com has reportedly more than 2.35 million new players since the series debuted, while Goliath Games reported that its October sales for chess sets were up 178% over the same period the year before.

What better time than the pandemic with its lockdown restrictions to learn something that challenges the mind like chess, not only for the kids, but for the parents as well?

  1. Learn a new language

Speaking of family activities that may benefit both the children and the parents, Kaspersky has also stated that translation services like Google Translate are the second most popular search topics after video content, with 13.59% of all queries. This coincides with the search for anime content, as Japanese- and Chinese-language queries are particularly prominent among the young ones. (We won’t be surprised if Korean is one of the languages the children are Google Translating these days, in the midst of the K-pop and K-drama trend we are in).

According to the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, studying new languages comes with cognitive benefits that correlate with higher standardised test scores, better hypothesising in science, and a better overall in memory and critical thinking. Not to mention, those who learn a new language have a more positive perception of people from other cultures.

So, look into downloading language learning apps, such as Duolingo – one of Good Housekeeping Institute’s popular apps for kids, based on its consumer panel made up of real parents and their children. While they may be on their mobile devices, at least they are learning something new that may be useful to them in the future. 

Parents may also encourage their children to learn more beyond the language, as studies have shown that, while at the bottom of the list, study-related topics (4.86%) are one of the most popular search queries among children these days. We’re talking about topics that go beyond the classrooms and textbooks; Chinese children, in particular, are keen on history and culture.

So, look beyond the anime and K-drama series, and explore with your kids the origin of the languages and the cultures of their favourite TV shows, which some parents may not have a clue about as well. Learn about Japan with its prehistoric eras and its significance in the Second World War; or China’s different dynasty eras before Communism; or why Korea is split between South Korea and North Korea. 

With any hope, when the pandemic is over, parents could even plan family trips to these countries they have learned so much about during lockdown!

Posted in #LookUp, Audra Homeshield, BlogTagged #LookUp, Behavioral Shaping, Digital Wellness, featured, lockdown, mental health, physical health, Teacher Kean

Building digital behavior with the help of technology

by Chan Wern Shen
  • Unrestricted access to the internet is exposing our children to more dangers than we may realize
  • Last week, a 10-year old Italian girl was found dead after a viral TikTok challenge went wrong
  • Read on for tips on how to shape good digital behaviors in your home with the help of technology

Being a parent in the 2000’s is no easy task. Our children are the most connected generation that has ever lived, and they are being exposed to technology at an increasingly younger age. Just a decade ago, scenes that we commonly see today would be unthinkable – toddlers refusing to eat without their favorite Youtube cartoon characters, preschoolers complaining about bad  4G reception on their smartphones, primary school children being cyberbullied for their latest TikTok dance and pre-teens falling into technology induced depression. 

Then there are the “traditional” parenting pains to deal with too.

At Audra, we know these pains because we’re parents too. That’s why we’ve been talking to you about issues like internet addiction, gadget dependency and the various physical repercussions that can come with them. We know that there isn’t a precedent to dealing with these challenges – challenges that are in large, unique to our lifetime – and hope that our insights, expert interviews and our HomeShield solution can offer you some respite through these uncharted waters.

Over the weekend, Italy announced that it would temporarily block access to TikTok users who had not confirmed their age. This decision came after the shocking death of a 10-year old girl who accidentally died while taking part in a viral TikTok challenge. Called the “Blackout Challenge”, the viral challenge encouraged people to video themselves holding their breath till they passed out. She locked herself in the bathroom to take the challenge, and never woke up.

“We knew that (our daughter) went on TikTok for dances, to look at videos. How could I imagine this atrocity?” the girl’s father said, according to the Guardian.

So what can we, as parents, do to safeguard our children? 

Blocking technology outright isn’t an option. As the old cliche goes – we want what we can’t have – and the act of completely cutting out technology will only drive them towards fulfilling their desires through other more nefarious means. Furthermore, with e-learning such a big part of the 2020’s, it would be more of a disservice to keep them in the technological dark.

The importance of building behaviors

“Sometimes when we go out for dinner, there are pockets of time where we would be on our phones – responding to social media or messages – without realizing how long we’re spending looking down,” rues mother of two, Megan Tan. “It becomes a subconscious habit to whip out our gadgets whenever there’s silence in the room instead of having a conversation.”

At Audra, we firmly believe that the key to a healthy digital lifestyle is balance. Technology is only as good as how we use it, and we should avoid becoming slaves to it at all costs, not just for yourself but for your family. After all, your actions rub off on your children.

“Children are not stupid, children are brilliant amazing little creatures that pick up on your nonverbal cues, more than verbal cues, and they will do what they see 100% of the time,” says Rachel Kwakz in a recent interview. “Your children don’t only model how much you use your devices, but how you use them, and when you put them away.”

So before you get defensive when your better half asks you to put down your smart device, take a moment to think about what your children learn from your actions – do they see a responsible adult who limits screen time to certain hours of the day, or do they see someone who takes out their phone at any given opportunity? After all, if you’re doing it, it should be OK. Right?

Let technology help you

As ironic as it may sound, using technology to solve technological dependencies could just be the answer. For example, a solution like Audra HomeShield can be used to develop healthier digital usage habits by forming better digital behaviors in your household. Although not a fix-all solution in itself, relying on a tool like Audra HomeShield can build the necessary fundamentals in your child’s behaviors growing up. 

Here are some key features which we feel are essential in a household with young children:

Category blocking

Audra HomeShield’s category blocking feature allows you to conveniently block access to entire categories of undesirable internet content such as violence, adult content, weapons, drugs, gambling, streaming or social media. Automatic syncing with the Audra Cloud means that new sites are added to the block list daily. Set the rules once, and let Audra do the rest.

Time quotas

Instead of only allowing your children to use the internet between 2-4pm, you can consider setting up flexible usage quotas instead. This feature helps you train your children to view and appreciate internet access as a manageable resource by giving them a set amount of internet access in a day, and giving them the freedom to decide when they want to use it up.

Set bed time

The Bed Time feature lets you turn off internet access to specific devices on a fixed schedule – this function lets you reduce the risk of doomscrolling or unmonitored internet use after the lights go out at night. No more worrying that they’re sneaking into social media under their blankets.

P.S. It can also help you shed your bed time doomscrolling habits.

Monitoring dashboard

The monitoring dashboard gives you detailed information on how your children are adapting to these new digital rules. Updated in real time, the dashboard keeps you informed on the internet activity, and tells you if someone is trying to access blocked content. With this data, you can monitor their behavior changes – not just by what you see in person, but also by how their browsing behavior changes over time.

While a home-based solution like Audra HomeShield works best when you’re building internet usage behaviors with younger children, dealing with older children can be a little trickier. Especially when your children are already acquainted with the internet, and have mobile access of their own. 

Parents of older children could benefit from using active always-on parental controls that are installed on their children’s mobile devices like Kaspersky Safe Kids or Norton Family Premier which allow the blocking of dangerous Youtube search keywords, control over their mobile device screen time and the ability to locate children’s physical whereabouts through the in-app map. 

Unfortunately, unlike Audra HomeShield, these on-device apps could be deemed invasive by your children and cause disharmony. While we agree that tough love has its place, exercising the right amount of restraint tends to work better in the long run.

Remember – you’re trying to shape better behaviors here, and not strong arm them into submission!

Parents vs Teachers: How to Work Together to Help School-Going Children’s Studies During the Pandemic

by Celeste Goh
  • 1 in 5 parents feel their children have lost interest in school due to e-learning
  • Teachers now rely on completely new teaching and engagement methods due to the shift
  • Parent’s emotions during lockdown can either positively or negatively affect a child’s learning ability

2020 has been a tough year for everyone, including the school-going children, who had to get used to taking their classes online, overloading themselves with screen time that they used to go to to relax and spend time not thinking about school.

While the world may have approached the start of 2021 with a hopeful note, with news of the Covid-19 vaccinations made available all across the world, the positive tone in Malaysia quickly dwindled, when the country announced its second 14-day Movement Control Order (MCO) to begin on January 13. This, of course, sprouted concerns among individuals of the education sector, as at this point, only those partaking major examinations, such as Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM), Sijil Tinggi Persekolahan Malaysia (STPM) and international examinations of equivalence are allowed back to some semblance of normalcy, when school opens on January 20.

In the digital age, where attention span is getting shorter and shorter, it is no surprise, when BFM has reported that through a study commissioned by UNICEF and UNFPA, “nearly 1 in 5 parents have reported that their children have lost interest in school.” Meanwhile, UNICEF has also stated that “while more than 90% of the countries in the world have adopted digital and/or broadcast remote learning policies, more than 1 billion children are at risk of falling behind due to school closures aimed at containing the spread of Covid-19.”

“When the pandemic happened, one of the biggest challenges for me was connecting with my students,” shares Kak Sarah, a part-time private tutor who has been teaching high schoolers English and History for close to 10 years. “As a teacher, when you come into a class, you can always tell which student is resistant and which student cares, which student wants to be there, or is forced to be there. It’s very hard to do that, when you have a screen in between.”

Parenting and Teachers’ Trainer and Headmaster at Annie and Me Tuition Center, Teacher Kean also comments: “For a child to have meaningful progress in their academics and in their behaviour, they need to want the improvement themselves. It’s not easy if the child is not motivated towards the improvement, and that’s where I think parents still have a very important role to play.”

After almost a year of online learning, and throwing the entire education system into the deep end to either sink or swim, we turn to Teacher Kean and Kak Sarah to learn more about the trials and tribulations they have been through last year, and how parents and teachers can work together to help the school-going children tackle their studies better going forward.

1. Embrace the Advantages of the Virtual World

The current pandemic is widely compared to the last pandemic that handicapped the world back in 1918, and we can only imagine how school-going children of yesteryear got by with the Spanish Flu right at their doorsteps, while at the same time, recovering from the First World War that just ended. While “teachers probably sent reading assignments home, but schoolwork was minimal,” students back then took charge of their learning by “reading the few books they had, keeping journals, and writing detailed letters.”

One of the few fortunate things we can be grateful for, as the Covid-19 pandemic takes place during the digital age, is the advantages that we are armed with the invention of the Internet way back in the 1960s. While there have been school closures across 188 countries around the world since April last year, school is still pretty much in session, albeit the few notable changes in platforms.

“Maybe I’m not able to teach the way I want to, but in the past year, I have been able to show the kids a million videos, a million pictures, and a million definitions,” says Kak Sarah, who has been relying on the convenience of Google search on the Internet and YouTube to provide context during her classes. “We need to understand that we need to use technology to our strengths, rather than see it as a hindrance.”

Kak Sarah has also found the virtual whiteboard on Zoom and Google Classroom useful in keeping her students accountable for what they have learned. Meanwhile, Teacher Kean swears by Kahoot that has helped him in keeping his students on their toes during online classes: “Say you know that at some point of the lesson, the energy level of the students is going to be a bit lower, it is a great time to give them a Kahoot. Everyone will get in to fight for points, and everyone gets pumped up again. Especially effective for older students, they will be on their toes, and they will be motivated.”

Not only that, mobile apps like Scannable, CamScanner, Genius Scan and FineScanner, have proved useful to her in arming her students with reading materials they may not have at hand: “They can study, and get updated everywhere they go. So, that is a plus.”

“Although I’m not able to see them physically, I make up for it by providing them a lot more ways to engage with me,” she adds. “When kids answer questions, but when they get it wrong, or they didn’t exactly get it right, they want to improve, and you want to show them how. I can do that instantly with these virtual tools available.”

However, Kak Sarah has shared that there are some parents, who are very resistant to the idea of virtual learning, or alternative ways to provide information to the students, as the parents feel that it is not the “right way” to study: “We all come from this Asian community, so we are familiar with a very specific way of studying: you sit at the table, you study for two hours, and then you will somehow get it!”

She has also mentioned that while some parents insisted on physical classes, “because they believe that their child will only be able to thrive if they have physical classes,” and as it is not possible due to the Movement Control Order (MCO) and safety reasons, some parents decided to take their children out of her classes instead, because the parents do not think the classes serve any purpose anymore.

“It’s hard to explain to parents the difference between doing it for the sake of academic excellence, and doing it for the sake of gaining actual knowledge,” Kak Sarah says. “While I do believe for some students, physical classes are important, but we should also figure out how we can make virtual learning – and in essence, the child’s education – as accessible as possible.”

2. Find New Ways to Hold the Children’s Engagement

When the pandemic hit almost a year ago, and countries began to impose lockdown restrictions, which has shut down schools and shifted classes online, it has not only been an impossible shift for the school-going children, but also a big shift for the teachers as well, for it is impossible to teach the same way as they would in school, and translate it blindly onto e-learning classes.

“I really had to reassess how I engage with my students, because the reality is that we’re not going to be able to engage with all of them. It’s one part work, one part wanting to engage with them, and another part, they need to meet us in the middle as well,” Kak Sarah says. “There will be students who cannot engage at all, and there will be students, who’d want to, but are easily bored.”

Kak Sarah and Teacher Kean both believe that insisting on their students to turn on their web cameras work wonders. The latter says: “Tasks are only meaningful if they are observable. People wouldn’t do their task properly, if they know that you can’t see them.”

On top of that, Teacher Kean advises teachers to increase the engagement ratio in teaching by fostering the “engineering mindset”, one that provides “the culture, measurements, feedback, planning skills, tools and values to see problems as opportunities in solving those problems.”

He explains: “Whether it’s the limited contact hours teachers have with their students, or the limited time parents have with their children because of work, we have gotten used to accepting ‘I don’t know’ or ‘I give up’ as replies to questions, and proceed to throw the answers to them, because we just don’t have the time to go in-depth – This is very harmful in the long run, and it fosters a lot of bad habits.”

“The best way to keep your students on their toes through an online class, is to swap the teaching ratio around: get them to teach you back what you have just taught them, and do it randomly,” Teacher Kean continues. “As a result, they will be more engaged in what you’re teaching them, because they know they have to repeat the answer back. Over time, this will harness them with a problem-solving attitude.”

Whereas on the other end of the spectrum, to play off the engineering mindset lessons, Teacher Kean advises parents to instill mindfulness into their children at a young age, as well as practise it themselves: “In this digital age, we are so used to instant gratification with our devices as well as social media; we can get results immediately without putting in the work.”

He adds: “Gone were the days when we recognised the value of hard work. For the older generations, they recognise the value of delayed gratification, or in other words, the sacrifice. I am doing something I don’t particularly like today, for the promise of a better tomorrow. Now, children do not get this concept anymore, because everything is just a click away; they don’t have to put their back into it.”

Hence, it is not a natural human survival skill that parents pass on to their children, for most adults do not know it is possible to control their own minds and their own emotions. Teacher Kean stresses that mindfulness will benefit children immensely, for they are then able to recognise unhelpful thoughts, or if they are losing focus through daydreaming.

“You can have the best materials and the best syllables in the world, being taught by the best teachers in the world, but it all won’t mean a thing, if your child is somewhere else 1,000 miles away,” he says. “Mindfulness helps them self-regulate and self-correct, and to absorb the lessons better and more effectively.”

3. Regulate Your Own Emotions

In speaking about mindfulness, one of the most crucial aspects in surviving the lockdown for most parents and teachers, as Teacher Kean has found out, is looking after one’s mental wellness, which may be difficult at a time when emotions are running high.

He says: “Parents and teachers are feeling a lot of negative emotions from being stuck at home, and we need to learn how to regulate our own emotions despite it all. Otherwise, when you are teaching or parenting, some of that negativity is definitely going to taint your mindset and your language with the children, and you don’t want that.”

“There are many mechanisms for you to sort out your negative emotions, but your children are not one of them,” he adds.

While the best type of correction for teachers when faced with disruptive students is self-correction, in which a few of threatening glares would instill some form of guilt for the student to feel the need to compensate for their own errors, Teacher Kean mentions that such tactic has gone out the window when classes have gone online.

“Many teachers new to e-learning have made the big mistake of raising their voices in online classes. This, as you can imagine, is entirely ineffective, because no one is scared of you through the camera,” he says. “Not only that, other students will very quickly become demotivated, when they see you losing your cool, and the disruptive student is still being disruptive.”

Instead, he advises teachers to move straight to the correction or consequences with these students: “Don’t lose your cool during an online class, and don’t threaten unnecessarily; but punish them straight away, and put them on a timeout for consequence, because they have broken the rules.”

Meanwhile, one way for parents to help their children stop disrupting in classes – online or offline, is to instead look inward on themselves, and regulate their own emotions instead.

“Children learn their problem solving and survival skills from their parents. They are a reflection of their parents,” Teacher Kean comments. “I have seen a very clear pattern: disruptive or negatively behaved students frequently have parents, who are anxious or depressed. While on the other hand, successful and happier children, they tend to have parents who are more stable and emotionally adjusted.”

He adds: “So, if the parents are emotionally unstable, or if they’re unhappy for any reason, the children are going to learn the same skills from them – that’s the reality of the matter.”

Since the pandemic, Teacher Kean mentions that the number one complaint he has received from parents is: “How do I handle the stress of needing to deal with my children, and working from home at the same time?”, as parents have been thrown into the impossible shift as well, juggling between handling work and their children while stuck at home.

He muses that children are the same as they were 40 years ago, but it is the parents who are changing drastically. Nowadays, most households consist of dual-career parents, with little or no time to properly carry out their parenting roles with their children. Previous studies have shown that “83% of working mothers and 72% of working fathers experiences conflict between handling their job and family issues,” and “only few of them said that they can managed both roles simultaneously, while others found that they can be successful either at their workplace or at home, if they gave less attention on one of them.”

So, imagine the rock and a hard place parents were thrown into when lockdown restrictions were imposed!

Teacher Kean advises that one of the things parents can do to regulate their own emotions, is to: “slow down your thinking. While that sounds counterintuitive, it does give you the crucial one or two seconds not to react unbecomingly, when your children are somehow getting on your nerves.”

“That one, two seconds, don’t underestimate it. It is all the difference you need to deliberate and make a conscious decision, to either put work first in the meantime, or your children.”

4. Check-in Regularly on the Children

While it is important for the grownups to check-in on their emotions, let’s not forget to do the same for the school-going children as well; like anyone living through the pandemic right now, they are facing their own form of struggles as well – not only academically, but also non-academically.

“A lot of the time, when we see the students, we don’t see them as human. They may have trouble engaging, or communicating, or understanding the lessons, and we need to be understanding towards their struggles,” shares Kak Sarah, who even before the pandemic, has been conducting “housekeeping” with her students before classes begin; so much so that one of her students has joked that her parents not only pay Kak Sarah to teach her, but also be her therapist.

“I think it’s important for teachers to do check-ins with their students individually, should they have the opportunity to, so to provide them with whatever materials that they might need to catch up in their own ways,” she adds.

While Kak Sarah doesn’t think that it is a must for all teachers, especially those in public schools with close to 40 students in one class, it is also important to check-in with them on things that are beyond school.

“If they’re not in the right frame of mind, all of the things that they are feeling, and all the things that they’re telling us (or not telling us), actually affects their studying time,” she says. “I’ve always been a teacher that I care for my students; not only for them to excel academically, but I also care about their well being, because I know the importance of our mental health.”

According to Kak Sarah, parents should also do their bit at home in checking-in with their school-going children; if not for their mental wellbeing, at least for their progress in school.

It boils down to the educational culture the country has gotten used to, in which a lot of parents believe that whatever that’s happening in school is not enough, and therefore, students need to have additional classes in order to catch up with school; hours upon hours of “just in case” classes after school, if you may, where it will be a surefire for them to excel in their studies.

Kak Sarah shares: “There are some parents, who think private tutors after school are miracle workers; we are not. If they have so many classes jam packed after school, with no space for them to breathe, or actual time for them to revise what they have learned, then our classes are actually not helpful.”

“It’s something a lot of parents don’t do: they don’t check-in with their children about what they need,” she continues. “You can give them all the books in the world, but the books are never going to open, if you don’t ask them what’s wrong. Most of the time, it isn’t because they are resistant or lazy; most of the time, it’s actually because they aren’t able to connect with the subject. Because of that, they aren’t able to make their way around the subject, and excel in it.”

“Rather than seeing additional tuition classes as an endpoint to achieve excellence in their studies, switching from one tutor to another every six months, we have to find out what they need to properly study and understand the school subjects at hand,” she concludes.

Posted in Blog, InterviewTagged Behavioral Shaping, e-learning, featured, Kak Sarah, lockdown, mental health, Teacher Kean

The other pandemic: Doomscrolling

by Chan Wern Shen
  • Doomscrolling doesn’t only happen to adults; an increasing amount of children are being affected too.
  • Research shows that it triggers anxiety, and worsens depression.
  • Fighting back isn’t easy, but it is achievable with the mix of discipline, common sense and a strong desire to change.

Stepping through your front door after a long day in the office, you half expect to hear your daughter’s running feet to greet you home. But as the door closes shut behind you, all you hear is the sound of the TV playing in the background.

Peering through to the hall as you put your shoes away, you notice your daughter curled up on the sofa, furiously running her finger up and down the screen of her iPad.

“At least she’s not dancing or bouncing around like those other children do on TikTok,” you tell yourself, in a self-assured inner voice. “No sound coming out of her iPad either. Maybe she’s reading something online.” 

You chuckle at that last thought, and continue to walk by. She hasn’t acknowledged your return home, and is engrossed with her screen. But you pay little attention to it, and continue walking past her. 

You drop a light pat on her shoulder, and head in to wash up. It’s been a long day after all.

Later over dinner, few words are exchanged at the table. She’s quick to finish up and hops back on the sofa before you can even finish examining her plate – she’s eaten all her vegetables and rice, so you don’t have any reason to get upset. But deep down you feel that something’s off.

Shrugging off the uneasy feeling for the second time this evening, you finish up the dishes and pull out your laptop. There are a couple of emails left to reply to, before you can call it a night.

Before you know it, it’s already midnight – you’ve been so engrossed in finishing up work that you didn’t notice that your daughter is still curled up on the sofa in the same position as she was 3 hours ago. 

As you motion towards her, she jolts up, quickly wishes you good night, and retreats to her room. You can’t help but to wonder what she’s been doing for the past few hours – who knows how long she’s been stuck to her screen before you reached home?

Curious, worried, you do a Google search – “what are the signs of internet addiction”.

The search results are scary. The headlines, shocking, and clicking into them reveal even scarier statistics. Line by line, you read and try to relate the written scenarios to what you’ve just witnessed today. 

You don’t even realize that you’re now curled up on the sofa yourself – assuming the vacant spot left by your daughter. That’s not important right now, because you need to read all you can – you need to find out what the problem could be.

An alert pops up at the top of your screen and forces you to look up – “Low battery warning: 5% left”.

Cursing yourself for not plugging into a charger earlier, you notice that it’s eerily quiet around you. A quick glimpse at the clock reveals why – it’s 4.30am. 

Am I doomed?

The term doomscrolling itself is relatively new. Merriam-Webster attributes its origins to early 2020, around the time that the COVID-19 pandemic changed the world as we knew it, when turning to our digital devices for solace was one of the few pleasurable options available to us from the confines of our homes.

Whether it was to check on the latest pandemic updates, to be on top of any updates relating to your friends or family, or simply to catch a hopeful glimpse of the world outside your four walls, doomscrolling spread and infected more people than the COVID-19 virus itself. 

Before you laugh it off though, be warned that doomscrolling effects the best of us. If you haven’t already been diagnosed as a doomscroller, chances are it’s because you just don’t recognize the symptoms. 

Think about the casual social media binges that you go on while waiting for the water to boil, for the lift to arrive, or to keep you from falling asleep on the MRT? Those binges are time sensitive because the moment that the train doors open, you’ll be dashing out of the train while unceremoniously jamming your phone back into your pocket or handbag. Whether you like it or not, those sessions face forced endings.

Now compare that to how you consume social media just before you go to sleep – when you’re comfortably tucked in under your blanket, wanting to sleep, but just not able to yet. 

Your first instinct drives you to pick up your phone and pop open your social media app of choice – it could be Facebook, it could be Instagram. Maybe it’s Twitter? Or if you’re a real junkie, it could be Reddit. But whatever it is, it doesn’t matter, because you’ll start to scroll.

Occasionally, you’ll arrive on a thumb stopper. Whether it’s an article to read, a picture to critique or a video to laugh along to, something will stop you from scrolling. But once that’s over, you’ll find yourself back to your social timeline and scrolling again.

How long do these sessions take? Does all this scrolling help you go to sleep earlier? Or does it keep you up way beyond your designated 7-hours-of-sleep-a-night cut off time?

The other pandemic

Kevin Roose from The New York Times describes his early doomscrolling experiences as, “falling into deep, morbid rabbit holes filled with coronavirus content, agitating myself to the point of physical discomfort, erasing any hope of a good night’s sleep.”

Although not exclusively a lockdown phenomenon,the proliferation of doomscrolling was undoubtedly accelerated by the situation. 2020 had no shortage of attention grabbing headlines – from the Aussie bushfires in January to the assortment of foreign and local political turmoil that followed, and the seemingly endless laundry list of disasters that were to come – it almost felt like something new was happening every time you refreshed your timeline.

That, coupled with infinite scrolling timelines and algorithm updates that just knew what to serve you to keep your attention glued to the screen was just too much to resist. But just don’t take our word for it, because the numbers don’t lie – Twitter’s daily use numbers have jumped 24 percent since the start of the pandemic, while Facebook’s numbers are up 27 percent, data analysis shows.

Our kids weren’t spared either. Music factories like Super Simple Songs, edutainment clips from Blippi and the adventures of the Octonauts and the Paw Patrol kept them glued to their  screens for hours. And when they weren’t watching cartoons, they would either be watching the latest dances from TikTok or convincing you to appear in one.

How it all begins

Although not strictly classified as obsessive compulsive behavior (OCD), doomscrolling does share a lot of similarities. American Psychologist Dr. Susan Albers tells us that, “when your brain continues to loop around on a particular topic similar to endless scrolling, it is not really about finding news, it’s about reducing anxiety.”

She explains, “If you’re depressed, you often look for information that can confirm how you feel. If you’re feeling negative, then reading negative news reconfirms how you feel. It’s the same mindset.” 

An unsatisfying addiction at its core, the continuous scrolling can quickly evolve into a mindless habit, where most of the time you’re not even aware that you’re doing it.

Dr. Leela R. Magavi, a psychiatrist and regional medical director at Community Psychiatry adds that even when you’ve reached the end of your timeline, “the vicious feedback loop draws people back to news and scrolling yet again.” And like any addiction, the transient assurance gained by reading the news loses its satisfying value, and worsens anxiety over time.

In the long term, doomscrolling increases levels of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. Research routinely shows that chronic levels of elevated stress hormones are associated with many physical health issues, including heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. Given that mental health is connected to physical health, it’s no surprise that it eventually affect the physical body too, from interfering with sleep to creating a craving for comfort food and overeating.

Fighting back

Fortunately, it’s not all doom and gloom from here on. Fighting against the urges will inevitably be a difficult task, but a little behavioral shaping and a whole load of conviction should get you out of the rut.

  • Set a time limit

Whether it’s for your kids or yourself, set a time limit to all digital media consumption sessions. Turn on a timer, set an alarm, or go one step further by using Audra HomeShield’s time limit function that allows you to go on your favorite social media site for a fixed amount of hours a day.

  • Set social media free days

Choose certain days in a week to be decreed social media free days, where all social media usage on that particular day is banned throughout the household. Remember, children learn from what they see, so if you want them to adhere to these rules, you have to lead by example! You can easily block access to social media sites on specific days through the Category Block feature on Audra HomeShield.

  • Practice gratitude

Doomscrolling triggers anxiety or depression when you keep getting served negative or distressing headlines.Therefore, a simple “fix” would be to make a daily list of things that you’re grateful for. For example, if you read a new rumor that a full lockdown might be coming, be thankful that your job allows you to work from home without any restrictions and that your nearest and closest are in the pink of health.

  • Create digital safe zones around the home

If you know that doomscrolling usually hits you hardest when you’re lying in bed, then ban the use of mobile devices the moment you put your feet up. Although you’re probably the only one who can enforce this rule, a little will power goes a long way. In the beginning, setting Bed Time rules in Audra HomeShield will completely cut off internet access to your device at a certain time. Once you grow out of the habit of having a 5-minute browse before you sleep, you can turn that feature off.

  • Commoditize casual internet access

Going online for work or school is exempt from this exercise since those tasks are unavoidable, but beyond that, any other casual internet form of access should be chargeable. Give members in your household a set amount of free daily internet time through the Audra HomeShield Set Daily Limit panel, and let them manage how they use it themselves. Once Audra tracks that they’ve used up their daily quota, charge them for additional hours in exchange for household chores like mopping or doing the ironing.

  • Create a list of go-to alternatives

Have a few minutes of downtime while you wait for the kettle to boil? Don’t pull out your phone – instead, start a 3 minute meditation exercise. Is the elevator taking too long to reach your floor? Pull out a small notebook and write down a list of tasks you need to complete today, instead of opening Twitter. As long as you’re not pulling out your phone, any quick and simple activity will help!

  • Talk it out

Setting up Category Blocks, Bed Time and Daily Limits will kick off a gradual healing process, but it won’t fix the problem 100%. Through the Audra HomeShield monitoring screen, you’ll be able to see if anyone in your household is having problems adjusting. Is your daughter still trying to access social media even on blocked days? Have a chat with her instead of rushing to discipline her. Notice that your significant other is still trying to get a social media fix before bed? Check in with them to see if there’s any looming anxiety that’s keeping them from falling asleep. Use this opportunity to identify root issues, and try to work them out together.

Posted in BlogTagged Behavioral Shaping, Digital Wellness, featured, mental health

Starting 2021 on the right foot: Ensure your digital wellbeing in the year ahead

By Chan Wern Shen
  • The first step to achieving better digital wellness is to be aware of your own current digital habits
  • Include your children in the process of setting up new rules – they’re more likely to follow them when they’ve had a say
  • Revisit old non-tech habits like reading books to give your eyes a rest from digital screens

Over the course of the last decade, our lives have changed significantly thanks to advances in technology. Terms like “hyper-connectivity” and “digital wellbeing” were seemingly non-existent, and daily tasks like paying for hawker food with your mobile phone or ordering groceries directly from your fridge were merely scenes from sci-fi movies.

But here we are in 2021, where all of these things are very real, and very intertwined with our daily lives. 

All in a day’s work

These days, you wake up to messages from your friends and family, browse through global news on your smartphone at breakfast, and watch your children dial into their online classes with their laptops. You get dressed and choose the fastest route to the office with your in-car GPS head unit, and listen to an audiobook while you wade through traffic. 

At the office, you quickly check up on the situation at home via the IP-connected CCTV, and pay for your parking with the council app. While you’re at it, you notice that some utility bills haven’t been paid, and quickly run through the usage details.

“That’s odd. This month’s bill is much higher,” you think to yourself as you hit the PAY NOW button. “I’ll have a chat with the kids later,” you remind yourself as you sip on your coffee while dialing into a conference call with your colleagues in Shanghai. 

At lunch hour, you decide to order in and browse through the endless delivery options on your phone. You can never be too sure these days with the rising number of daily COVID cases, and pull up the app to check on the latest updates in your area. Even though you’re not working in a red zone, you can never be too safe.

A little after four, you get a reminder telling you that your parents are coming over for dinner. Quickly you open up your condo management app, and pre-register them as visitors – “this will save them a lot of hassle,” you tell yourself with a slight nod while sending them the QR code over WhatsApp.

Just before you head home, you receive the notification that you’ve been waiting for all day – your new toy, an internet-connected smart vacuum robot has been delivered, and you can’t wait to get home to set it up.

When you get home, you notice your daughter looking a little upset. She had an exam today, so you log in to the school’s parent portal app, and see that she didn’t get the grades that she was expecting. “Maybe it’s because she’s been spending too much time online,” you ask yourself before you start with your pep talk.

Dinner is a pleasure, but you don’t want your parents driving so late at night – their vision isn’t what it used to be – so you call them a car to fetch them home. You pay for it with your e-wallet, and set a note to the driver, telling him to take the quickest route back.

As you get ready for bed, you catch up with the current events in the news. You reply to a few messages that you missed, and jot down a quick to-do for tomorrow. With the lights turned off, you rest your head down and close your eyes.

But just as you start drifting asleep, you hear the faint sounds of speaking in the background. Your daughter must be online even after she’s supposed to be asleep…

The Quest for Digital Wellness

The whole notion of “Digital Wellness” was borne from days like the one that we just described. As Google themselves once said, “when technology becomes integral to almost everything that we do, it would eventually distract us from the things that matter the most”.

We couldn’t have said it better ourselves, and increasingly, see this becoming more apparent. So much so, that one of the driving forces behind the creation of Audra HomeShield was to provide parents like yourself with easy access to the cornerstones of digital wellness.

With Audra HomeShield, you’ll be able to:

  • Manage the amount of screen time being used in your household
  • Manage the type of content that can be accessed 
  • Understand the usage habits of people in your household
  • Protect your internet connected devices from external threats

But what really is “digital wellness” and why is it so important?

Simply put, digital wellness refers to the state of your physical and mental health in today’s digital age. Because we’re so wired, research shows that our digital lifestyle makes us more susceptible to issues like anxiety, addiction and depression.

What we see as time saving or convenient on the surface could trigger dependency issues, an impedance to our critical and creative thinking, and also introduce a host of physical ailments like damaged vision, spinal problems, and carpal tunnel syndrome.

Worst still, these issues do not exclusively affect adults. An alarming number of children are also showing symptoms of internet addiction, gadget dependency and the accompanying physical repercussions that come with them.

Being digitally well doesn’t just revolve around knowing how to identify what’s bad for you. It’s about adapting and overcoming digital dependence, making technology work for you, and ultimately, about finding the right balance for you and your family between the real world and the digital one.

Steps to ensure digital wellness in 2021

  • Be aware of your own habits

Before you can fix an issue, you first need to understand what you’re up against. Although it may not seem like it, your children are very aware of how much time you spend on your screens. As children do, they will gauge your screen dependency as the “acceptable amount”, and will often challenge you when you try to discipline them for overuse.

In fact, up to 27% of children say that their parents have double standards when it comes to how much screen time they’re allowed to have.

From checking our phones for messages the moment we wake up, to sneaking a peek at the dinner table during meals, not to mention, the fact that we would binge watch an entire Netflix for eight hours straight – these are some of the notable cues that children will pick up on and use them against you. More importantly, they may turn out to be the cracks showing in the relationship between the parent and the child.

“Children are not stupid, children are brilliant amazing little creatures that pick up on your nonverbal cues, more than verbal cues, and they will do what they see 100% of the time,” says child and family development specialist, Rachael Kwacz

“Not only that, your kids will call you out on lots of stuff, when you’re using your phone or the Internet when you shouldn’t, and as parents, we often proclaim ourselves an exception to the rule because we were the ones who set it.”

It starts with you, and the values that you instill into their minds. 

  • Create the rules together

After almost a year of e-learning, your children probably have their own devices and have formed their own set of usage patterns. Whether you like it or not, 2020 has allowed them to be more exposed to the internet than you probably know. But now that school is scheduled to reopen, we’re pretty sure that you’re thinking of restricting their internet usage.

In situations like this, it’s important that you include them into the process of creating the new rules. By giving them a say in how long they should be allowed every day, they are more likely to feel that their opinion is appreciated, and in turn, more inclined to follow the law of the house.

However, we understand that it’s not always that easy, and created the Daily Limit by Hours feature on Audra HomeShield to help you enforce these agreed limits.

To set this feature up through the Audra Management App:

  1. Navigate to the Set Internet Limit menu
  2. Scroll down to Daily Limit by Hours and set the amount of hours with the slider
  3. Activate the feature and tap Save
  4. Audra will automatically track your child’s internet usage and enforce the daily limit once it is reached
  5. Be intentional with your daily proceedings

As the country gets back into gear in 2021, our children will start going back to school, and we will see ourselves start venturing out from our home offices more and more. This would mean that the daily routines (or lack of) that we had set up over the better part of 2020 are in for a sudden change.

Use this opportunity positively to rebuild your daily habits. While you don’t need to have a detailed plan for each day of the week, ensure that you’re aware of what you need to achieve in any given day, so that you can keep your digital activity accountable.

For example, if you need to be out of the house by 7.30am in order to get your children to school on time but can’t forgo your daily ritual of reading the news headlines over coffee, then block out the necessary time on a daily basis in order to achieve both of these tasks.

This might mean cutting short your usual TV time at night, or stopping yourself from doomscrolling your social feed in bed to get enough sleep to operate properly the next day.

In cases like this, features like Bed Time in Audra HomeShield might be just as effective in helping you as it would be for your children.

To set this feature up through the Audra Management App:

  1. Navigate to the Set Internet Limit menu
  2. Tap on the Bed Time feature as set the time which internet connectivity should cut off and reactivate
  3. Activate the feature and tap Save
  4. Audra will automatically enforce Bed Time at the set hours and resume internet connectivity after they have passed

  • Revisit your forgotten no-tech habits

When’s the last time you actually flipped the pages of a book as opposed to swiping across a screen, or hitting play for the next chapter of an audio book? Do you remember the last time you picked up on a headline that wasn’t on the wrapper of your nasi lemak? 

While these may be “old school” habits, they provide you with a short escape from the clutches of your digital devices. Besides that, a return to the analog versions of your favorite hobbies also give you a chance to actually concentrate and relax – free from annoying notifications, pop-ups or alarms.

Reading a book also has the fringe benefit of keeping your vision in check. Jeff Taylor, Medical Director for YourSightMatters.com tells us in this article that, “Normally, we blink about 15 times per minute, but this rate decreases by half when we are staring at our smartphone. As we squint to read these miniature screens, our facial, neck and shoulder muscles tighten, eyes become fatigued and vision can be blurred or strained.”

  • Rekindle human connections

Although social distancing is still going to be a big part of 2021’s culture, this doesn’t mean that your human connections need to continue suffering. For starters, think about the human connections between you and your children – are they as strong as they were pre-lockdown? 

Have the extended hours in close proximity enriched the relationship with your family members? Or has this forced time together simply made you more comfortable with zone out into your own world in front of them?

If it’s the latter, then your household is in danger of falling into disarray. Rachael Kwacz tells us that, “if your children don’t feel seen or heard at home, they’re going to look for this stimulus in other places, such as their peer groups or online. But if they feel connected at home, he or she is able to have a healthy conversation with the parents, and work together as a team to keep the whole family safe.”

Do what works for you

To tell you that this isn’t a definitive list of must-do’s would be an understatement. The simple fact is that we’re all programmed differently, have different habits and have different tolerances to our digital devices. This makes the need to understand digital wellness all the more important, and we hope that this blog post can help you to realize the importance of embracing a digital balanced lifestyle.

If you have any suggestions or tips on how we can all achieve better balance in our lives, please do let us know your thoughts on Facebook.

Stay tuned to the Audra blog to learn more about digital wellness, internet addiction, gadget dependency, and also how Audra HomeShield can find a place in your home.

Posted in Blog, UncategorizedTagged Behavioral Shaping, Digital Wellness, featured, mental health, physical health, social media

A Guide to Setting Healthy Digital Boundaries at Home

Words by Celeste Goh
  • Adolescents spend more time in front of the screen than their parents know
  • Each family needs to set boundaries in different ways – cookie cutter methods rarely work
  • Set good digital examples for your children if you want them to follow your rules
  • It is all about give and take – what are you giving them in return for what you’re taking away?

If your child has been showing signs that he or she may be addicted to the Internet, based on the article we highlighted a while back, it’s high time that you start taking precautionary measures as a parent to curb the addiction.

Research has shown that: 25% of adolescents describe themselves as being ‘constantly connected’ to the Internet, whereby on a typical day, they are at least 2 hours in front of screens on weekdays, and twice as long on weekends. Moreover, they spend time online more than twice as long as their parents believe or know about.

If you have been getting advice from parent friends, and following step-by-step guides on creating healthy digital boundaries at home – but to no avail, we speak to child and family development specialist Racheal Kwacz once again this week, on how parents can go about with that without seeming like you’re about to start World War Three with your children.

“Your family is so important, I cannot stress that enough. So, it’s about asking what this family needs – what do we trust for our family, and doing what works for your family – and then building rules around it,” Racheal says. “We want to have healthy boundaries, and we want to have cooperation that feels empowering – like, I am taking charge of this, I feel part of this, and I feel part of the family.”

Understand Your ‘Why’s’

When it comes to screen time limitations in families with children under the age of 10, and teenagers under the age of 17, while the reasons restrictions are set in these families to protect the younger generations from practically the same things – physical, mental and behavioural side effects due to unchecked hours on the Internet; and cyber attacks such as catfishing, phishing scams and many more – each family’s approach towards digital wellness varies, and an all-encompassing curation from every member of the family is crucial to set up these online rules that fit your family in particular.

“If you’re going to follow what everybody else says to do, guess what, it’s going to work for a week, before it goes downhill really quickly and massively,” Racheal says. “Mainly because it doesn’t necessarily work for your lifestyle or your family; it just works for whoever wrote the article, or whoever passed on the advice.”

In terms of coming up with these safeguard pillars that suit your family, Racheal advises on understanding the family’s “why’s” before anything else: “When we understand our “why’s”, we tend to be more purposeful in what we do.” 

“I want to make sure that my daughter gets a good night’s sleep every night. So, I make it a point of no screen time one and a half hours before bedtime,” Racheal continues with an example of her creating a safeguard pillar for her five-year-old. “Besides that, I also want to make sure that she is getting enough physical activity. So, we’d make time to go to the playground or to the park with her.”

What’s next is getting down to the nitty gritty of putting these family rules in place: What are your expectations from these Internet/media restrictions? What are the boundaries you are looking to set? What are the potential consequences if they aren’t adhered? What are you doing to follow through on these rules?

“The most important thing is to have a conversation, firstly, with your partner or spouse, so that you’re both on the same page in creating these rules that feel right for the family,” Racheal says. “You pick resources that you trust – like American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) or Common Sense Media with its age-based media reviews for families – to help get an idea on creating these rules. With these resources, you sit down with your partner or spouse, and discuss what works for the family, and what feels right to the family.”

“Then, you sit down with your child, and you present these facts, and why these rules will be imposed to try fulfill the safeguard pillars you have set for your child and your family,” she adds. “Lastly, let your child have a say as well, so that it’s something every single family member can be a part of.”

Prioritise High Quality Programming

There is only so much a family can do when it comes to online limitations, before everyone feels like they are getting withdrawal symptoms, and eventually break down. While we can’t protect ourselves from not being exposed to everything that the Internet offers, what we can do is have boundaries instead, set up in sieving through content of your preference you let through the cracks.

For the Kwacz family, Racheal makes sure that what comes through for viewing is high quality programming with positive messages about relationships, family and life, as well as those that inspire off-screen ideas: “Think about the people that you follow on social media: Do they inspire you the follower to be a better person, to have greater off-screen ideas? Do they inspire you to be creative, and live the best of life?”

“If you follow someone that complains about life all day long, and constantly tells you what an abysmal era we are living in; or someone who all they do is complain about their friends, and their work – what happens after that? You start seeing the world through that lens in your life, and you start to feel that same way too,” she adds.

However, if as a parent, you are at a loss on what is considered “high quality programming” that will set good examples for your children to model after, Racheal advises to “fast forward 20 years”: how do you want your children to act or react to certain situations when you’re not there – that’s what you aim to teach them now, so that they are adults and they are confronted with the same situations, they would already have the skill sets to power through, because they had practice since they were young.

Racheal says: “20 years from now, I want my daughter to be able to control her gadget dependency on her own. I want her to know how to have scheduled screen time for a balanced lifestyle online and offline. So, right now, that’s what I teach her, and that’s what I put in place.”

“For our generation, we’re just beginning to learn these skills for digital wellness and self-care. Not to mention, skills to speak up, and fighting for our rights,” she adds. “Imagine if little kids were taught that from the start, how much more advanced are they going to be?”

Focus on Creating Connections, Not Restrictions

While adhering to the rules the family has set up together to curb Internet addiction and gadget dependency, it’s all too easy for the parents to end up over-controlling the children. Before you know it, you are hovering over their shoulders to see what they are doing online, and more often than not, you might even end up knocking on their door to check if anything fishy is going on – which may end up being overbearing for the children.

“We get so focused on trying to create rules and limitations, but instead, what we want is to focus on creating connection, instead of limitations. It doesn’t work long term, if you’re going to force it on them,” Racheal says. “Ask yourself instead: Why do kids ask for screen time? Why do we want screen time? Because we’re bored. We want engagement, we want connection, and we want to feel involved. So, how do parents meet that need for connection and involvement, without screen time? By creating connections with your children.”

Racheal implores parents to only look at themselves when meeting up with friends, and how when we are with friends we have a genuine connection with, we wouldn’t feel the need to look at our phones to pass the time. Hence, it is the same when it comes to the children and gadget dependency.

“All the lying, the hiding and the manipulating… These are signs that the trust and relationship between the parent and the child is broken,” Racheal states. “Because a connected child isn’t going to seek stimulation or connection in other places; if they don’t feel seen or heard at home, they’re going to look for this stimulus in other places, such as their peer groups or online. But if they feel connected at home, he or she is able to have a healthy conversation with the parents, and work together as a team to keep the whole family safe.”

It is also important for parents to ask why their children are dependent on their gadgets, and why they would go as far as hiding it from their parents for extra screen time. Racheal notes that such suppression nurtured while they were still developing as children, may shape their behaviours when they are grown up.

“It’s something that feels really small right now as a toddler, but in real life, this is going to show up in different ways when they are adults,” she states. “In situations when the children find themselves at odds with peers that don’t align with their values or beliefs, are the children going to conform because they want to be a part of the group; or will they be able to take a step back, and consider other healthier options they can go for?” 

“Growing up, children are constantly in survival mode: it either makes them fight – in which they rebel; or flight – in which they pretend cyberbullying didn’t happen; or numb – in which they suppress their feelings; or, the big one that they do, comply,” Racheal continues. “So, it’s the fine line between: ‘Yes, I will do everything you say, because I’m so worried that you won’t love me, if I don’t do it’; and ‘I’m doing everything that you say, because I understand why’.”

“We as parents want to make sure that our children understand why they’re not allowed to do something, instead of not doing it, because the parents said so,” she concludes.

Be Consistent

Another mistake that parents would unwittingly – or sometimes, consciously – make, is giving in to their children, when they try to bargain with you for more screen time. Especially with the puppy dog eyes they know you would go for, before you know it, you’re giving in to the extra 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 30 minutes, 1 hour… Not to mention, the headache and embarrassment of them throwing tantrums in public places!

“What’s going to happen the next time they want things their way? They’re going to throw another tantrum, because the last time they escalated a tantrum, they got their way,” Racheal explains. “However, if this time around, the parent decides to not grant the children what they want despite the tantrum, it’s not as if they are just going to give up; they’re going to throw an even bigger tantrum.”

She continues: “So, imagine there is no consistency for the screen time rules you’ve set for the family: today you get one hour, but tomorrow you get five hours, and then the day after that, because the day before you’ve had five hours, so there’s no screen time – how chaotic and confusing it feels, even sounds, not just for the parent, but also for the child.”

Racheal suggests that upon setting scheduled screen time that works for the family, parents should be consistent in upholding the schedule, come rain or shine, tantrums, puppy dog eyes or no.

“Of course, they’re going to try their luck with you. Which child’s not going to try their luck? I mean, even we as adults try our luck with additional discounts, don’t we?” She laughs. “However, if you have consistent rules, boundaries and schedules, and if you do this consistently every day without fail, the child will stop asking eventually, because they will finally understand the need for healthy digital boundaries, based on how seriously the parents adhere to it.”

Practise What You Preach

Besides presenting the facts on the negative effects of using the Internet for long hours, and setting strict boundaries on healthy Internet usage, it is all for naught if parents themselves don’t set good examples for their children to model after.

“Children are not stupid, children are brilliant amazing little creatures that pick up on your nonverbal cues, more than verbal cues, and they will do what they see 100% of the time,” Racheal says. “Not only that, your kids will call you out on lots of stuff, when you’re using your phone or the Internet when you shouldn’t, and as parents, we often proclaim ourselves an exception to the rule because we were the ones who set it.”

From checking our phones for messages the moment we wake up, to sneaking a peek at the dinner table during meals, not to mention, the fact that we would binge watch an entire Netflix for eight hours straight… These are some of the notable cues that children will pick up on and use them against you. More importantly, they may turn out to be the cracks showing in the relationship between the parent and the child.

“Undeniably, not putting your phone on your bedside table but somewhere more inaccessible is really, really hard for us, but you know, we’re asking our kids to do things that may seem hard to them, so we have to be able to overcome the hardship ourselves too,” Racheal says. 

Besides showing the children how we as parents work towards healthy digital boundaries at home, based on our own screen time, Racheal also shares that children model after us taking breaks after screen time. In the Kwacz household, they practise the 20-20-20 rule: “The screen should always be 20 inches away from you, and every 20 minutes, you take a 20-second break, where you look away at least 20 feet away.”

Posted in Blog, InterviewTagged Behavioral Shaping, Digital Wellness, featured, Rachael Kwacz

Cyberbullying: How Parents Can Approach Their Child About it

Cyberbullying: How Parents Can Approach Their Child About it

Words by Celeste Goh
  • Malaysia has one of the highest levels of social media cyberbullying in the world at 71%
  • One in four Malaysian parents have revealed that their children had experienced cyberbullying
  • Most victims or parents do not escalate these cases to the police, even though the effects of cyberbullying are comparable to physical bullying
  • However the bigger problem is that up tp 70% of parents struggle to approach the topic with their children in a meaningful way

When it comes to cyber crimes, the Malaysian government is rather hands-on about preventing them escalating any further. While Malaysia may be one of the countries in the world with the highest level of social media bullying at 71%, in terms of awareness, the country also counters with a high degree of awareness at 85% globally. 

Besides that, cyberbullying is considered an offence under the Malaysia Communications and Multimedia Act 1998, and in 2018 and 2019 alone, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) has received close to 3,800 complaints of cyber harassment.

However, many more cyber crime cases have gone unreported: “Most victims do not come forward to lodge a police report, as they think cyberbullying is supposed to happen in the virtual world, and they feel that they cannot complain about it, as compared to being bullied physically,” says Supt R Chelvam, the Commercial Crime Deputy Chief in Penang.

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Managing Director of Ipsos in Malaysia, Arun Menon says: “Cyberbullying can be as real as bullying in person. Our youth are growing up in a time, when there is little distinction between the digital and the physical, as their lives are heavily intertwined with social media. It is important for parents to help their children recognise the abuse when it happens, and from a very young age.”

But how can parents go about having a conversation with their children about cyberbullying, when reports have shown that around 70% of parents struggle to communicate meaningfully with their kids? With “the former saddled with the stress of adult responsibilities, and the latter the trials of growing up,” 82% of parents feel like their kid avoids talking to them if they don’t have to, with 78% of them feeling shut out of their child’s life.

“Why do I think most Asian parents don’t have talks with their children? It’s just because we weren’t raised that way. It’s not what we’re accustomed to, it’s not what we’ve been exposed to, and more so than anything, it’s scary to do the other way,” says Racheal Kwacz, a mother to a five-year-old, and a child and family development specialist in “Respectful Parenting”.

She adds: “Children don’t feel like they can explain to their parents, why they’re doing what they’re doing; and because they don’t feel like we can explain, they don’t think that the parents would understand. This, in turn, does not provide parents the mutual platform to explain their concern and love towards the children for doing what they do to protect them.”

This week, we seek guidance from Racheal, on how parents can approach a conversation with their children when faced with cyberbullying: how parents can not only make a safe and validated space for them to talk about it at home, but also empower them to face harassments in the future – whether it be online or offline, at the playground, in school or at work.

“It’s not realistic to say that nobody’s ever going to be cyberbullied; even as adults, we have been cyberbullied in some way or another. I don’t think it’s realistic to say it’s never going to happen, or to say that we can prevent it 100%. Instead, the bigger question to ask is, what can we do to address it when it happens?” Racheal says.

“We can spend all day fixing a problem, but it’s just gonna happen again, and again, and again, and again – until we address the bigger problem. We want to be able to meet them before they are withdrawn, or suicidal, or when they are hurting other people. We want to be able to address it at the root, not when the symptoms start showing,” she adds. “We want to be able to have connected relationships that are stronger and healthier, where the kids and the parents meet in the middle.”

Trust Your Child

First and foremost, Racheal advises parents to create a safe zone for your children to come to you, even when the problem is little in the adult’s eye, but may not be in your children’s; this is by trusting your child, whenever he or she tells you that something is wrong.

“Say, you’re at the playground, and your child comes up to you, and says that he or she doesn’t want to play with a certain kid anymore. Kids are not going to go in-depth about what happened; they’re just gonna say things like, ‘there was this person at the playground, and something was just off about it, and I don’t want to play with them,’” Racheal comments.

She also notes that parents would disregard such as mere playground politics, when in the child’s mind, he or she may already feel invalidated: “Usually, we’d brush them off, and tell them that we have to be nice to everybody, and we have to be polite to everybody, so just go back and play with them – but in reality, we don’t know what’s actually going on.

“Learning cannot happen, unless we feel safe or loved, and children feel safe or loved, if they feel seen and validated, when they feel hurt. Do they feel safe enough to come to you? Do they feel like you’re going to hear them, if they say something is wrong?” she says. 

“It’s so important to make them feel safe, and make them feel validated, and it starts with something as small as that. When the cyberbullying or social media bullying happens, or any other bigger problems happen, they know that they can come to you.”

Notice the Subtle Cues

Besides trusting your children when they tell you something is off, trust your motherly or fatherly instincts as well. When you get the gut feeling that something is off, but you can’t quite put your finger on it; when you start noticing that they are not acting like themselves, or doing things they don’t normally do, either they are a lot quieter and withdrawn, or rebelling and screaming a lot more – it is always a good time to look into what’s going on. 

Chairman of MCMC, Datuk Mohamed Sharil Tarmizi states: “For a while, all you hear from your eight-year-old daughter is about her new Internet friend ‘Ben’. Every day, it’s ‘Ben this’, ‘Ben that’. Then, all of a sudden, the ‘Ben-talk’ stops. In fact, all talk from your child stops. Once bubbly and chatty, your daughter is now quiet and morose. Be very worried if this happens to your child.”

“If they’re having trouble on social media, it has nothing to do with social media; it has to do with the internal makeup of the child,” Racheal concurs. “They will tell you in small subtle ways. While you may notice, and you may not actually know what is wrong, but you get the feeling that it’s wrong – it’s just whether you’re listening to those small subtle cues, and doing something about them.

Other than acting besides themselves, parents may want to take note of offhand comments their children make, including those that may not fit into the context at that precise moment. The family could very much be talking about a character that they like in the TV show they are watching, when they would say: “Nobody really likes me, like that character.”

“It’s that subtle, and it’s that quiet, but that’s usually a big clue to ask what’s wrong,” Racheal says.

Get Curious, Not Critical

Now that you have caught these cues your children have been sending your way, what then? This is probably the most important and delicate part in having a constructive conversation with your children, as Racheal advises parents to “just listen to their stories, [because] it’s so important to acknowledge, to validate, and to say: ‘I hear you’.”

“A big part of what we want to do, is to see the world through our child’s eyes, but respond as a parent,” she adds. “When you reply immediately with: ‘that’s wrong’, ‘that’s not true’, or ‘don’t do that’, what you’ve done is that you’ve shut down the conversation. You may think that you’re making it better by ‘reassuring’ them, but you’ve shut down the conversation for them to let you see what’s really going on through their eyes.”

In fact, the same not only applies to toddlers, but teenagers also, even adults. Racheal says: “Think about yourself as an adult: when you fight with your friends, or your spouse, or your partner, you want someone to ask you why you react the way you react, because there’s a reason why you did what you did.” 

For the 21% (13-15 years) and  the 16% (16-17 years) teenagers that have experienced cyberbullying – among them, 60% of them girls, whereas 59% of them boys, how can parents make them feel safe, not only in trudging through adolescence gracefully, but also when faced with cyber harassments?

“We validate their feelings, and let them understand that they have a right to what they’re feeling,” Racheal advises. “Growing up, we’ve all felt lonely and misunderstood, while trying to navigate our way as an adult and as a child, and trying to figure out independence as human beings.”

She continues: “Teenagers may not want the parents to baby them like toddlers, but at the same time, they also need the parents in some way, wishing they would understand what the teenagers are going through. So, we explore together, and understand why they’re feeling like that – we get curious, before we get critical.”

Let Them Come to You

More often than not, when children give out the subtle cues for parents to catch them, they are testing the waters to see if it is indeed safe for them to express themselves to you. When parents have proved that they are genuinely curious of what’s going on, instead of being critical towards their feelings and experiences, most intimate conversations don’t take place immediately either. 

Here is when the right kind of “reassurance” should take place from the parents. Racheal suggests parents to “not force the issue, because very frequently, that’s what we’re going to do”: “When they comment offhandedly that ‘nobody really likes me,’ and when you get curious and ask: ‘Why do you think that?’, the kid might just shrug and say: ‘Just because.’ 

“It’s always good to reassure them that ‘anytime you want to talk to me about it, I’m right here,’ because what they’ve done in that moment is testing whether it is safe,” she adds. “When you show them that it is safe, they’ll come back to you again, and have the bigger, proper conversation about what’s troubling them.”

But if in those small moments, the parents shut down the potential conversations by being critical of their feelings and experiences, or by just simply using the “wrong” words, the children will clam up, because they can’t feel safe with their parents, or even loved for who they are, and what they are going through.

“The thing is, words can have long lasting effects, especially on your children. The words you use with your children can either build them up, or destroy their self esteem,” says Joy Burgess, a 28-year-old wife and stepmother. “What you say to your kids is important, because your kids look up to you. Your approval or disapproval really means something to them. Your words have the ability to easily hurt your children, even if you don’t realise it.”

Don’t Jump the Gun

Lastly, Racheal mentions that some of the common mistakes parents make is intervening too early. When it comes to bullying – whether on social media platforms or at school, the parents may want to step in and protect their children, and the next day following the heartfelt confession, the parents may want to call up the teachers or the bully’s parents. In the case of cyberbullying, the natural parental instinct may be to leave a defensive comment on the bully’s social media, or head straight to the police to lodge a report.

“What that ultimately tells the children is that they are not able to protect themselves, and they will always need the parents to protect them. If the parents come in too soon, and fix everything, this child is always going to think, ‘I need my parents to fix everything for me, and without my parents, I’m useless’,” Racheal warns. “When the truth of the matter is, the parents never actually have a conversation with the child on a more important question: how can we make you feel safe again?”

Instead, Racheal advises parents to take a beat, and see what the children will do next. Yes, even after the heart-to-heart you have just pried out of your children after going through all of the abovementioned steps.

Racheal says: “It’s the hardest thing for a parent to do, but it is crucial to sit in the moment, and see what your child’s going to do, because this is the make-or-break part of respectful parenting: Can I trust that they are able and competent from here on out in the face of cyberbullying? Have I empowered them enough to speak up about it, even when I’m not around?”

The Norton Online Family Report in 2010 has stated that only 4 out of 10 Malaysian parents know what their children are doing online, when they are spending an average of 19 hours online per week, with their parents under the impression that they only spend 11 hours online.

As the old saying goes: give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.

What more can a parent ask for, when their children are armed with the intellectual and emotional smarts to protect themselves for the rest of their lives?

“Observe how they are going to react, and then talk to them about it, and debrief your child afterwards,” Racheal adds.

Posted in Blog, InterviewTagged Behavioral Shaping, cyberbullying, Digital Wellness, featured, mental health, Rachel Kwacz

5 Ways to Protect Your Mental Health with Social Media

5 Ways to Protect Your Mental Health with Social Media

Words by Celeste Goh

Even before the global pandemic had us on lockdown in April with nowhere else to turn to but our mobile devices, an estimated 3.81 billion people were already on social media. Unsurprisingly, it is widely believed that extended use of social media can cause negative effects, but the numbers could surprise you.

In a recent survey, 25% of surveyed adolescents agreed that social media had a mostly negative effect, with 13% of those aged between 12 and 17 reporting depression, and 32% reporting anxiety. In the 18 to 25 age range, 25% of them reported that they were suffering from some form of mental illness. To top it off, 72% of the surveyed respondents admitted that they have been cyberbullied at some point.

This undoubtedly, led researchers to suggest that “this increase in mental illness is, at least in part, connected to the rise of social media use among adolescents and young adults.” 

“I work with a lot of teenagers, and they usually come in and talk about body image issues because of social media,” clinical psychologist Thong Shu Yi mentions. “There was a time when you just go to school and compare yourself to the few other people at school, but now the kids are faced with criticisms from the entire world, which can make you feel really bad about yourself.”

We speak with Shu Yi further on how parents and adults dealing with the younger generations can protect their mental health when it comes to interacting on social media.

Understand how social media works as a reflection of a projected world

Before parents or adults can protect the younger generations from the negativity of the internet, they must first minimise the gap between the generations, by learning to understand or perceive the internet world or social media the same way as the younger generations.

Shu Yi states that by the time we – the Gen-Xers and those before – are introduced to it, we are already older, and we have already had a taste of our own reality offline. Whereas for the younger generations, they exist in a world in which the internet and social media are very much present, and could very well be the reality to them.

“How we look at [the internet and social media] is very different to the younger generations, and it makes it harder for them to separate what is real and what is posted on social media. To them, what’s posted online equals reality,” she explains. “To us, it’s common sense that what’s online is not reality, but to these kids, they actually need to be shown and taught that it’s not reality. They need to be guided that there is another world beyond that.”

“By first having that understanding, it will allow us to empathise with the younger generations more,” she adds. “When we’re able to empathise with them, then they will feel like they can listen to us, rather than dismissing us by saying: ‘you don’t understand’.”

Be mindful of who you follow on social media

Part of the reason why we are so caught up in scrolling through social media mindlessly, is to do with validation. Shu Yi mentions that ironically, it’s a basic human instinct to not want to be wrong; and when we feel sad or anxious, we will always look for things to confirm what we are feeling, and people who feel the same what we are feeling to let us know we are not alone in all of this: “We take to the internet with the desire to seek understanding of ourselves, what we are going through.”

Thanks to the internet, children these days are more resourceful. When they have questions, they don’t go to their parents anymore; they go online. Therefore, it’s very important the kind of information they get, for the severity of how negative thoughts manifest themselves, really depends on what kind of resources they are getting to understand those thoughts.

“Rather than taking [social media] away from the children, it would be better to teach them how to screen profiles,” Shu Yi advises. “If someone wants to follow you, before you approve, you might want to check the person’s profile, and see if there are any red flags they should be mindful of.”

“At the end of the day, adolescents are looking for role models, especially at their age, and you don’t want to stop them from doing that by forbidding them from getting an Instagram account,” she continues. “We can instead help them identify which people they should follow to empower themselves.”

Comments from others are more of themselves than us

The more time we spend on social media being active and vocally involved in what we see, the more susceptible we are to negative comments from people out there who may not necessarily agree to our point of view on things. It is even more so for children and adolescents who have yet to come into themselves, and who are constantly seeking for relevance and understanding from the internet; due to their vulnerability, they are more open to attacks online.

According to Shu Yi, adults can educate kids and teenagers that whenever they hear someone say something negative to them, rather than very quickly absorbing that as the truth, they might stop and think that maybe what the commenters said isn’t really about them.

“When kids use certain vulgar words on purpose to hurt the other kids, they have to be victims of those words themselves,” she explains. “They are people who are wounded, and they have to carry within them all these emotions, and they don’t know how to express them so they become angry.”

“Bullying is a thread: if I’m bullied, then I will feel I want to bully another person, and that person will want to bully the next, so on and so forth,” Shu Yi adds. “If we can help the younger generations understand that when somebody says mean things to them, it just means that the ones saying them are hurting as well. This way, the bullying won’t continue on.”

Take ownership of your social media accounts

Countering these negative comments from strangers on social media is as easy as familiarising yourself with the privacy functions available on each platform. The functionalities of blocking, deleting and unfollowing certain profiles come in handy in situations like these, and everyone needs to be empowered to do so.

“The younger generations might think that if they unfollow or block certain friends, what would their friends think of them? This is where the adults come in – the parents, older siblings and teachers. We should teach them that it’s their right and prerogative,” Shu Yi says. “At the end of the day, it’s our social media account. If we think someone is being mean to us, and they are affecting how we feel, then it’s our prerogative to block or unfollow those people.”

Shu Yi also advises that for parents with children met with negativities online, especially from people they know, they should first and foremost pay attention to their own children: “Sometimes, out of wanting to protect their kids, parents may be quick to call on the school, or the other kid’s parents on how he/she is behaving. However, to the kids, it might translate as an embarrassment, rather than protection.” 

“Instead, the parents can focus on the child’s wellbeing: how they are impacted by the incident, how it makes them feel, how the parents should emphasise with their children, and what they can do to help their children begin the process of healing,” she adds.

Take a break once in a while to keep ourselves in check

Since the popularity of the internet grew in the 1980s and early 1990s, which eventually led to the creations of interactive computer-mediated technologies that we have come to know today as social media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and many more, we have inadvertently developed a relationship with our gadgets. Pair that with the advances of mobile devices to make it more convenient for us to be constantly connected online, the gadgets have somehow become a friend that’s stuck onto our palms, and that we cannot put down.

While there’s nothing inherently wrong with being connected to what’s happening around us all the time, it is when we are not mindful of how much time we spend scrolling through our social media feeds, that we may gravitate to things that make us feel worse. This is what many these days may call “doomscrolling”, an act of consuming an endless procession of negative online news. It is also a word that has gained popularity and awareness during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, especially when countries go into lockdowns, and many have nothing else to turn their attention to at home but to the news feeds on our social media.

Shu Yi mentions that while it is very difficult to take some time off digitally, we may be able to sidestep the negativities online by enriching our life beyond the virtual one: “If you notice that when you’re busy, or if you’re having a very engaging conversation with a friend, you don’t actually think about your phone or wanting to scroll through your social media feeds. That’s because you are entertained by what is in front of you.”

“When we want to take some time off our gadgets, we need to make sure that we’re doing something that gives us joy,” she adds.

Whether it’s joining the “lockdown trends” of baking burnt cheesecakes or sourdough breads, joining Zoom yoga or workout sessions; or just simply reviving offline pastimes you have been putting off every time because of your busy schedule, such as reading, gardening or journaling – anything that brings you joy is helpful, because it takes your mind off the phone while you’re engaging in such activities.

“The worst thing a child imagines they can feel is to be bored, and parents need to teach their kids how to keep themselves occupied beyond the only world that they grew up knowing – the digital world,” Shu Yi says. “Creating activities for them is always very useful, even for the adults. It relaxes your mind, and your energy is focused on the activity.”

“I do think that once in a while, we need to come back to what’s in front of us, so that we don’t disappear into the virtual world,” she adds.

Posted in Blog, InterviewTagged Behavioral Shaping, Digital Wellness, featured, Gen Alpha, mental health, social media, Thong Shu Yi

4 Tips on Raising a Gen Alpha Child

4 Tips on Raising a Gen Alpha Child

Words by Celeste Goh

Parenting is different for each generation. There was once when parents would chase their kids around the backyard with a cane because they did something wrong. In the last few decades, however, have been slightly different, parents who hit their children will be scrutinised for child abuse. 

Once, doing squats while pulling your ears outside the house with your neighbouring friends watching was considered a proper punishment from parents. Now, public embarrassment may not even have an affect on the children – unless it’s the confiscation of their mobile devices.

The Gen Alpha children (born between the years 2010 and 2024) is predicted to be the most connected generation yet spend much less time talking to their peers in person.” Their parents are advised to look out for “clear psychological challenges with this generation as they will feel more alone, despite being so connected.”

While parenting tactics may have changed over the decades, one thing remains the same for all parents, even for those raising the Gen Alpha kids: to raise them into becoming functional adults in the future.

“The kids today are smarter in every way. They catch on to things very fast, and they will copy whatever they see or learn from anyone and anywhere,” says Debbie Soh, a mother of two Gen Alpha children – 7-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter. “One of the challenges of being a parent today is that, while we strive to provide them with a good upbringing, there are also other external factors that can influence them very easily – like the Internet, and their friends who are exposed to the unnecessary information from the Internet that may be unsuitable for their age.”

Known affectionately as “Cikgu Debbie” (or “Teacher Debbie) to her students, Debbie has seen some of the behavioural repercussions affecting the high school students at her tuition centre. Debbie shares with us her experience thus far in raising her children, whose upbringing is deeply integrated with the technological advancements of today, and which may someday reflect the same repercussions she is currently seeing in her students, if left unchecked.

Have the talk with them

Nowadays, before parents have the talk about “the birds and the bees” with their children, they have to make time prior to their adolescence to speak about the Internet and the potentially negative content that it brings; lest they get their lessons on “the birds and the bees” while at an age inappropriate website or streaming service.

Parents play the most important part in this society, despite the technological advances,” Debbie shares. “I may be different from many other parents, but for me, I feel that as a parent, we shouldn’t stop them from knowing what is bad. We should create awareness on such matters, and to let them know what is right from wrong.”

There have been instances where the parents are watching Netflix with the kids, but more often than not, they were not able to mute the television when vulgar words were spoken. Debbie would then have to sit her children down, and explain to them what they heard is not a good word, and why they should not use them in their everyday conversations.

“Even though he’s just 7, I’ve spoken to my son about the F word. So, he knows the word, but because his mommy told him that it’s a bad word, he doesn’t use it,” she adds.

Set strict gadget time for them

While we have mentioned before that prolonged screen time for young children will have negative repercussions on their mental and physical health, screen time for school and leisure may be blurred, especially during the pandemic when schools are closed, and education is brought online. 

The American Academy of Pediatrics may have recommended 1 hour a day of screen time for kids ages 3 to 5, and 1 hour to 1.5 hours a day for children ages 6 to 10, personally, Debbie caps her 7- and 4-year-olds’ screen time at a maximum of 30 minutes to an hour a day – even during the country’s partial lockdown.

She says: “We can let our kids use the many devices they are privileged to experience in this day and age, but we have to let them use them wisely too. As parents, we have the right and the power to control [their screen time]. We need to set the example, and the rules as well.”

While her children are smart enough to differentiate school time and leisure time during the lockdown, even though both activities revolve around digital devices, Debbie has to learn things the hard way, when once, she allowed her kids to watch television for the whole day: “When I switched off the television, they became very cranky, and they started throwing tantrums! Their attitudes are so much better on the days when they only have their toys to play with, or their books to read.”

“So, the difference does show drastically in their behaviour,” she says. “The longer the time spent on gadgets will definitely bring about a bad influence on the kids’ personality, their lives, the way they conduct themselves, and the lack of relationship with people around them.”

Studies have shown that 76% of parents at least somewhat agree that the less time kids spend with screen media, the better off they are. Universiti Pertahanan Nasional Malaysia counselling psychologist Prof Datuk Dr Mohamed Fadzil Che Din has also mentioned: “If there is no gadget (to play with), an aggressive child will get angry and show behaviours such as kicking doors, banging the desk and so on, while those who are not, may show their anger in latent ways such as sulking, staying quiet and running away.”

Set strict gadget time for yourselves too

When it comes to setting strict gadget time for the children, It does not count if the parents do not practise what they preach. Psychotherapist Christopher Willard, PsyD says that the best way to teach the kids to be mindful of gadget time is to practise it yourself: “The more we can avoid being on our phones at dinner time,… or show undivided attention toward our children, the more they will model the same behaviour.”

“Parents are the major influencers for the kids, and they definitely take after their parents more than anyone else,” Debbie says. “We need to always be attentive to what we are doing in front of the kids.”

She shares with us that once her kids “caught” her on the phone, doing her work a little bit longer than usual: “They came up to me and said: ‘Mommy, stop playing with your phone!’ That made me realise that they are actually observing me, and some things that I do, especially in front of them, have to change.”

Dr Willard also advises to be open and honest about what the parents want the children to do, instead of just telling them what not to do: “Instead of saying ‘Get off your phone’ say ‘Hey, I’m putting my phone down. Let’s go outside and do a treasure hunt, or draw chalk on the sidewalk, or play at the park.”

“When I let them know that I’ll be done in about 30 minutes, so that we can go have reading time, I’m telling them too that there is a time limit for everything that we do, especially when it comes to spending time on gadgets,” Debbie adds.

Be patient with them

While Gen Alpha children may be “the most connected, educated, and sophisticated generation ever,” parents raising these kids still have to bear in mind that, like every child in the generations before them: they are kids with much to learn still, and patience should be practised all the time when dealing with them.

Besides being a mother to two Gen Alpha kids, Debbie is also a tuition teacher to many more high school kids at her tuition centre. Yet, when it comes to teaching her 7- and 4-year-olds on school work, she realises that she tends to be less patient with them.

“I have noticed that when I’m teaching my students, I don’t get angry easily, and I’m very patient with them. However, with my children, I’d get angry easily when what I’ve taught them didn’t get across to them,” she says. 

“It’s something that’s a work-in-progress for the mommy in me,” she adds. “Because if I can teach my students with so much patience, I believe that I can provide the same kind of patience towards my children too.”

The perception of children is very different from that of an adult. You cannot expect a child to grasp things or make logical decisions like you would, [and] you may need to repeat something multiple times for the child to grasp it,” Childventure states in its article. “It is only with patience and endurance that you and your child can understand each other.”

Posted in Blog, InterviewTagged Behavioral Shaping, CIkgu Debbie, Digital Wellness, featured, Gen Alpha