It comes without saying: Kids are always drawn to what another kid has. Whether it’s a toy or a snack. It could even be a toy a child already has and doesn’t even play with. Or a food your child won’t eat at home.
And it doesn’t help when today’s children are just more spoiled. Elementary school children are walking around with smartphones, accessing the world wide web with just a click and no parental supervision. Netflix is on every child’s tablet, putting an entire uncensored world of entertainment at their fingertips.
Sure even these gadgets have a use in today’s world. But are children happier with all the options in front of them on a phone, television or tablet?
My 9-year-old recently asked for a phone, simply because she saw other kids her age with one. Now mind you, her only definition of a cellphone is a “smartphone.” When I showed her one of my old Nokia cellphones, she immediately remarked, “That’s not a phone! Where do you swipe? Where are the apps?”
Phones are less used for calling and more used for selfies, social media and the like. I explained to my daughter that right now she was too young for that kind of gadget, and she really didn’t need it. She has an educational tablet of her own, and once in a while she will use our phones for playing any games. And selfie-taking, I personally abhor. In my opinion, the less time a child/person spends in front of a mirror or camera, the better. We don’t need more vain, self-absorbed people in the world.
Once a child has a gadget of their own, how much will a parent take time to monitor their use? Can you really ever just place a phone in a child’s hands and assume they will make the best use of it? I am a stay-at-home mom and am pretty much in front of my children all day long. And even then I cannot be literally monitoring them 24/7.
But when there is less to distract them from real life, a child can grow more. When there are less options in front of them, kids have no choice but to get up and get out. I find it a bit of a silver lining that my kids don’t have access to Netflix, YouTube, Snapchat and the like here in Iran. Because then they enjoy playing outside with their roller skates and scooters. They have more time to use their imagination.
Sure sometimes it means I hear the words, “I’m bored” more often, but I give them crafts to do. I’ll take out the paints and let them have a field day. Or we make water balloons and the kids will pretend they are baby animals to take care of. Sometimes they go play with our neighbor’s kids.
With so much surrounding our children today, parents may find it harder to control what they are exposed to. Bad language, immoral topics and indecent programming is easily within reach. From video games to Instagram, it is an open forum. Combine that with easy access, and you have a recipe for disaster.
With that said, it doesn’t mean you cut out gadgets altogether. Some gadgets serve a purpose if used in the right way.
How to help kids use gadgets responsibly
- Prevent unlimited access: Save usage for rainy days or when you are in a crunch, like a long wait at the doctor’s office.
- Have time controls: Set a timer, and once that timer goes off, the gadget goes off.
- Set rules and boundaries: Prior to use, kids should know what they are allowed and not allowed to access. Be clear with them.
- Communicate your concerns: Simply saying “you can’t watch this” or “you can’t use that” isn’t enough. Explain your reasons in simple terms: “This show uses language that is improper.”
Model good behavior: If we are on our phones/tablets all day long, we can’t really expect our children to not want any part of it. Try to limit use for when kids are around.
The bottom line is that helping our children adjust to today’s world is the responsibility of the parents. Be active in knowing what your child is accessing. Stay ahead of the game. Have an active role in your children’s lives. I know of many families where the kids are constantly on social media, and the parents are nowhere to be found. Or they just give up and let their kids do what they wish. Your child should know you are the parent and have authority over them. In the same way, you should be clear with your expectations and house rules so kids know where you stand.
May Allah (swt) help us counter all the negative messages surrounding our children, and help us teach them proper values.
Editor’s note: Islamic Insights is honored to host the “Raising Faith” column by esteemed guest contributor and student from Qum, Sister Samira Rizvi. Besides being a former newspaper copy editor, Rizvi is a mother of three, an author who writes for Little Muslim Books, and maintains a personal blog. Her column will focus on her experiences in tarbiyat—the upbringing of children based on Islamic values. For past articles in the column see here.