The Internet, computers, cell phones, facebook and social media, and all other kinds of electronics have come to stay. It has caused a revolution in our world, in the way we think and operate, and therefore definitely also in the way that we raise our kids. It has changed the face of the world, and we are barely able to think us into a world without it. Today’s kids are raised in a world overloaded with information and electronics, and I have seen kids in the paediatric ward, as young as 2 years, able to find their way around on an i-phone!!!! And all this while I am still struggling to be able to make phone calls and send sms’s.

Average screen times for children are nowadays 4 hours. This means that on average children spend 4 hours on their cell phones, computers, TV etc. It is generally accepted that more than 8 hours screen time per day is excessive. Very interesting is that it is recommend that children should have NO screen time under the age of 3 years. This means that the TV should not become the second nanny.

Kids are now growing up in a virtual world, with access to people and ideas from all over the world. This has huge advantages, but there are also big pitfalls. So – what are the dangers, and how do you as parents guide your children safely through this maze?

Numerous studies have been done on this topic, and the interesting thing that comes to the front is that the biggest danger and side-effect of Internet, whether on cell phones or the computer is sleep deprivation! Children tend to chat on their phones with one another until the early hours of the morning, or they play games or browse the net. This leads to tired kids that are grumpy, and unable to learn while they are at school. The screen light of the cell phone that comes on now and again during the night also interferes with deep sleep. So even if you sleep 8 hours, but your cell phone lies next to your bed, you will wake up in the morning feeling tired, because you were unable to go into the deep phase of sleep.

The way around this is to make certain ground rules in your household. All phones are charged and stay during the night time in the kitchen. If you do not use the phone during the night, it is not necessary to have the phone with you, right? The second thing is to have the household computer in a communal area. No computers and TV’s in children’s rooms.

To have computers in the communal area, also has a huge safety aspect. As a parent you need to know what your child does on the Internet. You need to know which sites he or she visits, who their friends are, and what they do while surfing. It is very much like teaching your children that generation old rule: Do Not Talk To Strangers. The problem is that with the Internet, strangers get into your home far too quick. And children are not able to distinguish between who is good and who is bad. You need to teach them not to accept invitations from strangers to become friends. If they do not know the person, do not add them as a Friend! Do Not give personal information over the Internet. Never agree to a meeting, even if it is in a public place. These things need to be taught from a very young age and repeated on a regular basis.

One of the best things that I have heard is that you must ask your child to add you as a Friend into their social networks. This way you have an idea who are their friends and what they are talking about. If they do not want to do that, it is a red flag, as it may mean that they discuss things that they want to hide from you.

It is of the utmost importance to keep an open relationship with your children. They must feel free to come and discuss with you anything, especially the things that happened on the net that made them uncomfortable. It is a good idea to have a household meeting once a week, where these things can be discussed. Things like what interesting things did they come across, what hot topics were there this week amongst their friends etc.

The implicationis that you need to have a warm interest in the world of your child. A child that feels safe, loved and cared for in their home, does not easily go outside to look for attention.

As the child becomes older he or she develops a higher need for privacy. This is a difficult point as you want to keep your child safe, but at the same time you respect this need. Open communication again is the best. Discuss this with them. Come to a conclusion that is benefitting you both. Like you will respect his privacy as long as he does not delete the search history. Or having a password onto his e-mail, but that the password is accessible in the case of an emergency. Discuss what the emergency might be. The password might be in a sealed envelope, or with a family member.

It also means that you as parent need to start learning about technology, as fast as your kids do, even if this is very scary. It is not good enough to have a cyber nanny on your computer. This gets broken, and your kids are vulnerable. We are living in an interesting era. For the first time in history has the generation who are supposed to be the teachers became the learners.

The other big issue with internet usage and the social media is cyber bullying. This is much worse and much more common than we think. This is the scenario where a child is made to cry by teasing for instance, a photo gets taken and immediately the whole school sees him crying. Or nasty things get said about certain people on a Face Book Page. This leads to kids becoming easily depressed, or socially withdrawn. More kids commit suicide due to cyber bullying than real life bullying. Again it is very important for the parent to be having open communication with their child so these matters can be dealt with ASAP. Ask them to take a picture of it, or to print out the screen. This makes it much easier to deal with the culprits.

Internet can become a full blown addiction. This means that children can need the Internet the same way that drug addicts need their next shot. They can develop full blown symptoms of an addiction, and withdrawal. Things that lead easily to addiction are things like online gaming, as this is designed to draw kids in and Mixit. Adolescents are also very vulnerable. If you suspect this – get help ASAP!

I have highlighted and focused mainly on the bad things. But it is not all bad. Before you pull the plug, cut off the Internet line, take away all cell phones, realize that this has become the way of communication in their world. As long as you as parent stay involved and interested in your children’s lives it can be a very positive thing. It opens the world for them. They are able to get the best tutors in their subjects, by for instance You Tube, get the answers to questions by googling it, and stay in touch with their friends.

Embrace the future with your kids, and be sure that you are in for a ride!!!