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Children and technology: the balancing act

Tech often gets a bad rap - see how it beguiles our children into gaming for eight hours a day and of course there are the perils of social media. But a recent meeting made me see things a bit differently. You might too.

Often the default stance when it comes to our children and their use of technology is to panic about the amount of time they spend gaming, messing around on social media or staring at a plethora of other screens.

But I recently had a really interesting chat with Jonathan Chesworth, the new headmaster starting at Banstead Prep in Jan 2021, which really challenged my views and made me look at things a bit differently. Here’s what he had to say on this most contentious of subjects.

Children and technology: the balancing act - by Jonathan Chesworth, headmaster at Banstead Prep
Jonathan Chesworth is the new headmaster at Banstead Prep, starting in January 2021.

This year has tested our fluctuating relationship with technology like never before and with Christmas around the corner and tech high on many wish lists, the challenge is not going away any time soon. We have relied on it to bring us together, to educate our children and keep our economy moving. We have spent more time “online” than ever before and understandably perhaps questions are being asked about how we maintain a healthy balance and what risks our young people continue to face.

There is no denying that we are already very much in a technological age and we must all embrace the astonishing capability that tech provides. We are reminded that our children will be going into jobs that don’t even exist yet but which are likely to be highly technology based. Technology is changing the way we live day to day, and frankly, if we don’t learn how to use it, albeit safely and wisely, we will be left behind.

Schools almost without exception are embracing 1:1 technology where children have access to either their own device or classroom equipment. The lifeline this created in home or remote schooling is not lost on anyone who was fortunate enough to experience this provision. In spite of the challenge presented to all parents and teething problems experienced in getting remote learning up, running and effective, those children and families unable to access this were without doubt disadvantaged this year.

We all appreciate the educational and social benefits of technology but we remain, perhaps rightly, nervous about the impact of too much screen time and the potential dangers out there. “Social media” is rarely portrayed as a good thing these days and recent programmes such as The Social Dilemma on Netflix and the BBC Panorama focus on Tik Tock once again highlighted some of the potential pitfalls.  But it is worth remembering the very many benefits social media brings in connecting people before we start banning it altogether!

Our job as educators and parents is to ensure we create a healthy relationship with technology that becomes instilled from an early age.  We must offset screen time with physical activity and wherever possible fresh air, something we feel very lucky to be able to do at our school. One of the challenges in creating this balance is that we often don’t model these behaviours ourselves, I include myself in this! What, when and how we use technology is all about balance.

The stripping back of life during the first lockdown created in many households an interesting mix of additional screen time vs outdoor time. We should try hard to maintain this balance and resist the temptation to fill in all the gaps as life returns to normal. Just because we can doesn’t mean we should!

It is important we embrace technology and accept it as a friend. The key is to ensure we are guiding our children in how to use it appropriately, safely and with total transparency. Like all good things we have to work hard to moderate our use. Embracing the outdoors, exercise and “digital detox” should be fundamental parts of a balanced lifestyle with tech use.

Banstead Prep School
Banstead Prep School

MANAGING TECHNOLOGY – TOP TIPS

Talk about technology
Keep it part of everyday life and be aware of what your child is doing and how they are using technology.  Be calm about it. Try and create a relationship where your child can feel they can come to you with concerns or problems using technology. For help with how to start these conversations, have a look at saferinternet.com

Agree on some household rules
Just like schools have digital charters, create one for your family

Set time limits
This will help with the “step away from the screen” moment!

Tech-free zones
It’s a good idea to set up areas that are entirely tech-free – such as in bedrooms and at the dinner table.

Follow the rules
The age restrictions on applications, platforms and indeed games are frequently ignored. The pressure to conform is very real and we must support each other in this respect.

Total transparency
Establish rules where you “check in” with their online activity.

Just say no!
Be prepared to say “no” and “stop”. You are in charge… most of the time! Most devices and aps have parental controls – this article from the NSPCC has more information.

Role model
Be present when talking to your children and not distracted by your email or worse social media.

Banstead Prep is a co-ed independent day school in Banstead. You can read our review here.

The admissions office is fully open and accepting applications. Private tours of the school are being held, where possible, and online meetings are available with the leadership team. You can also experience a virtual open day. bansteadprep.com

Find more ideas here

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