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The Essential Guide to Digital Literacy for Parents of Young Children

digital literacy for kids
What is digital literacy?

Why digital literacy matters for children

What dangers does the Internet pose?
Best online practices for children

Managing your child’s screen time

Cyber security do’s and don’ts
Conclusion

Digital devices like smartphones, tablets and laptops are part and parcel of our everyday lives. As a parent of a young child, however, you are probably concerned about your child’s growing reliance on digital devices or their total screen time. Aware of the dangers that lurk in the digital world, you may like to know how to best develop your child’s digital literacy, managing the dangers of excessive screen time, while allowing them to reap the benefits of technology.

To answer these questions, you need to understand what digital literacy is, how it affects your young children, and how you can equip yourself and your children with the right know-how in managing device and screen use.

What is digital literacy?

Let us first tackle the question of digital literacy and how it impacts young families in this day and age.

Put simply, digital literacy is the ability to understand and use technology. This includes:

  • Being able to search for and use information online in a useful way
  • Being able to create content for online platforms
  • Understanding the limitations and potential dangers of technology – and how to get around these

As your children grow and develop, they will likely become avid users of technology whether in school or at home. From social media channels like Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, and LinkedIn, instant messaging apps like Telegram, WhatsApp, Signal and Discord, to digital devices like smartphones and tablets, mobile technologies are part and parcel of our everyday lives.

Given their prominence, understanding and mastering technology becomes an important life skill for both parents and their young children.

Why digital literacy matters for young children

Instilling digital literacy skills in your children empowers them to learn in fun and meaningful ways.

Considering the yet-evolving COVID-19 situation, where screens are no longer just used for entertainment and relaxation but also for school, it becomes ever more important for your children to become digitally resilient.

Let’s take a look at some of the local statistics surrounding device use among preschoolers and young children in Singapore:
  • Two-thirds of children aged seven to nine in Singapore use smartphones every day, and are active on social media
  • Majority of children started using social media at the age of 7-9 years (39%), but a quarter started at the age of 4-6 years during their preschool years
  • Eight in 10 parents said they are concerned about their children’s use of social media
  • A quarter said that using social media had led to their children losing interest in interacting with their families
  • Cyber bullying was identified as the top problem, followed by sexual harassment, and sexual grooming by online predators

(Source)

Without our active guidance on how to navigate the online world, our children could get lost in its endless web of videos, games, and entertainment. They may also be exposed to unnecessary risks and dangers.

What dangers does the Internet pose to young children?

When it comes to the online world, there are three main kinds of digital risks for preschoolers:
  • Content risks

These include content that is inappropriate for young children, such as sexual content in movies and games, or pornographic, or violent images and videos.

  • Contact risks

These may occur when kindergarten children are lured away from their guardians by strangers who may communicate with them on social media channels like TikTok, YouTube, or others.

  • Contract risks

Sometimes, children may be lured into signing up for a contract without fully understanding the terms and conditions. For instance, children may unknowingly click on a button that allows a business entity to send them inappropriate marketing messages or collect their personal data. They may also inadvertently purchase gaming credits without knowing that their parent’s credit cards will be charged! (Source)

To minimise such risks, we should be an ever-present guide to our young children as they begin using devices – whether it is playing games or viewing videos. This is what we will touch on in the next section on best practices in online safety.

Happy mum and children using an ipad

Best online practices for children (aged 0-9)

As a parent, you play a key role in helping your child stay safe online while learning about the world around them.

Here are some of the best practices and ideas you can adopt as you instil in your children the right online etiquette and values.

Ages 0-2:
  • Video-conference with loved ones, with child on the lap and parent providing an explanation of what is going on
  • Co-view educational content with your child
  • Do not leave your child unattended with any digital device, be they smartphones, tablets or laptops

Ages 3-6:

  • Use digital media with your child or make sure you have an oversight of what your child does online.
  • Write emails together to friends and family who are living overseas. At Shaws, we prepare our K2s for primary school by allowing them to practise writing letters and emails!
  • Send text messages and photos to grandparents, relatives and friends
  • Play child-friendly video games together
  • Use video conference tools like Zoom or Skype to communicate with relatives and friends together. Shaws kids regularly enjoy Zoom events, where we invite their parents and grandparents, some from across the oceans, to share a story with us online!
  • Find and store simple online recipes to try out together at home
children having fun cracking eggs
Ages 7-9:
  • Teach your child to put people first when they use technology. Ask: “Will you say this to the person if you were face-to-face?”
  • Create a family media plan that covers screen-free zones in your home (such as in the bedroom), internet safety rules (such as not sharing personal information) and the total amount of screen time your child has. (Create a family media plan here)
  • Check that games, websites and TV programmes are appropriate for your child. (See if they have been reviewed by other parents on Common Sense Media.)
  • Save your child’s favourite apps or websites by bookmarking them so they can easily find them
  • Adopt a device-free policy for meal-times, when commuting (use the time in the car or on the bus to talk to your kid), or an hour prior to bedtime

General rules surrounding device use:

  • Check privacy settings of apps
  • Use parental controls to set boundaries around screen time and limit certain apps
  • Block in-app purchases
  • Disable location services on your child’s commonly-used devices
  • Limit camera and video functions

Managing your child’s screen time

How much time should our children spend online? Are there age-appropriate screen time guidelines that we can safely adopt?

Not all screen time is created equal, so let’s look at the different types of screen time.

Screen time can be:
  • Interactive – such as video games, communicating via zoom, or using online tools to draw and edit pictures
  • Not interactive – watching movies, TV or YouTube videos
  • Educational – for example, doing homework online, practising Math using Koobits, or watching videos to learn a skill
  • Recreational – playing games, watching videos for fun or for exercise, and reading or listening to books online

As you can see, spending two hours watching TV or YouTube videos can be quite different from spending one hour watching videos to learn to bake, and another hour listening to a book online.

One example of an interactive screen time is CodePlay, which is part of Shaw’s extended afternoon programmes. During CodePlay, children are exposed to the concept of coding using robots. Our teachers have creatively weaved this into storytelling and games with the children. Our kids also learn to programme the bots to move from grid to grid.

Shaws preschoolers having fun coding robots
The whole idea behind limiting your children’s screen time is to prioritise real-life interactions with you or other people. Young children learn best through observing others, and through play and engaging with everyday objects in their environment.

Guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) suggest that:
  • Children <18 months should avoid screen time altogether, except video-chatting
  • Children aged 18 months to 2 years can watch high-quality educational programmes provided there is an adult to help them understand what they’re seeing
  • Children aged 2-5 years should have no more than one hour a day of screen time with adults watching or playing with them
  • Children aged 6 years and older should have consistent limits on the time they spend on screens.

You can help your child learn how to navigate the internet meaningfully, by teaching them how to respond to any risks or dangers they may encounter along the way.

The best ways to achieve this are by:

  • Going online with your child
  • Being a good role model, as you decide what kinds of content/news sources to trust and consume
  • Focusing on communicating with your child face-to-face, and putting away your smartphone when you do so
  • Teaching your child about good and bad content

Cyber security dos and don’ts for young kids

Given the numerous online threats that young children may be exposed to, it is useful for you to adopt the following cyber security habits as a family.
DO’S

1. DO use the Internet to keep in touch with family or friends who live in other countries.

2. DO use the Internet to help with schoolwork. The Internet is a good source of information, but you may need adult guidance on which websites you should trust.

3. DO use the Internet to explore far away places such as a country you’d like to visit most or your favourite museums from around the world.

4. DO respect other users on the Internet by using positive and kind words. Think about how others might feel before you hit the “send” button.

5. DO be careful when you download programmes or apps from the Internet. Get an adult to help you run a virus scan programme before loading it on your computer.

DON’TS

1. DON’T give your password to anyone. A password is like the key to your house. You wouldn’t give anyone your key, would you?

2. DON’T answer messages that make you feel uncomfortable or seem scary. Run and tell an adult right away.

3. DON’T arrange to meet anyone you’ve met online without telling your parents. Some people on the Internet lie about who they are and why they want to meet you.

4. DON’T share your personal information, such as your name, address, phone number, your school’s name, or your photo or video with anyone.

5. DON’T click on any links or buttons on a website without asking for permission from an adult, especially if they are outside of your usual apps.

Conclusion

Digital technology, like fire, can be a good servant but a bad master.

Imparting the right digital literacy skills to your young child can help him or her to manage both the threats and the opportunities open to them from the digital world. The best time to do this is when they are still young, at the stage where important life habits are formed.

By playing the role of a guide to your young ones and adopting the cyber security best practices above, you can help your children reap the benefits of learning and interacting in online spaces – with safety, confidence and ease.

For more insights on trends in early childhood education, do follow us on our Facebook and Instagram page.
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