Education Family and Kids

Keeping kids safe online this school year

PHOTO SOURCE: (c) Nadezhda1906 / iStock via Getty Images Plus

(StatePoint) Between schoolwork, socialization and gaming, kids will likely be online more than ever this year, especially with many students continuing to learn remotely. Families are yet again facing the challenge of ensuring children’s online usage is balanced, healthy, and safe. Here are a few of the issues around increased screen time:

• Disrupted sleep: According to the National Sleep Foundation, blue light emitted from electronic devices disrupts quality shuteye, as it can delay the release of melatonin, a natural sleep hormone. Over time, compromised sleep can create a number of physical and mental health concerns.

• Safety threats: With kids online more hours a day and less supervised than they would be during a typical school day, online predators have taken advantage of the situation. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s Cyber Tipline reported a notable surge in complaints.

• Mental health issues: The physical separation from friends, teachers and the classroom has created new mental health challenges for students, not all of which remote learning can completely address. With many adults and kids alike experiencing “Zoom fatigue,” maintaining motivation throughout the school year will be even more challenging than in a typical year. Excessive online usage can also increase exposure to cyberbullying, and ultimately lead to other mental health issues, like anxiety and depression.

Despite these new challenges, there are many steps parents can take to help kids strike a healthy balance with their screen time for a happier, more successful school year:

• Set a schedule: A typical school day includes natural breaks. Families can recreate this at home with scheduled time for kids to walk around, stretch, and get fresh air between assignments.

• Monitor online usage: With parents themselves busy during the day, monitoring what children are doing online is a challenge in many cases, and impossible in others. However, screen time management solutions for parents, such as OurPact from Eturi Corp., can prove a valuable tool in keeping kids productive and safe. Using the app, parents can set schedules, grant access to needed sites, create daily screen time allowances, block inappropriate content and apps and monitor internet use. To learn more or download, visit OurPact.com.

• Have a conversation: Families should have an open dialogue about healthy digital habits. Parents can back up these conversations by setting a good example with their own device usage.

With the boost in online usage come new health and wellness challenges. At the same time, parents can help their children navigate the remote-learning environment by taking steps to promote healthy digital habits.

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