Use of digital media can support parenting skills with ‘little ones’

Article by Jen Reese, Interim Youth Educator, Kenosha  and Racine counties
Originally published in the Kenosha News.

Digital media is often considered a barrier to positive parenting. However, parents can use technology and digital media as one tool in building a positive relationship with their infants, toddlers and preschoolers, when used with you and in an interactive and engaging manner.

In 2001, Rae Simpson from the Harvard School of Public Health outlined several responsibilities and strategies for successful parenting. More recently, University of Wisconsin-Extension educators have linked these parenting responsibilities with digital ideas and strategies.

Think about these five strategies when caring for little ones:

Advocate and connect

Because little ones need a lot of care, which can become overwhelming, it is important to network with community services and organizations, family members and friends, and professionals to identify resources that can provide you positive relationships and support. Strategies that involve digital media include:

Utilize digital media to reconnect and maintain relationships that may have become distant, and your little ones will in turn benefit from you having supportive relationships and networks.

Seek out blog sites with information relevant to your little one’s current age where you can connect with other parents who are experiencing similar challenges, uncertainties and questions.

Encourage your child care facility to adopt a digital format for providing daily progress reports.

Guide and limit

Setting clear and realistic expectations and then being able to stick to them is key to reducing meltdowns. By being consistent and having routines, while it may be challenging, your little ones will know what to expect. You are providing a feeling of security and are showing that you care about them. Strategies that involve digital media include:

Use a digital clock app or timer to track how long your little one is allowed to use the digital device.

Communicate clear and realistic expectations, for example, by using a music app to play a certain amount of music to determine how long you will spend cleaning up.

Use commonsensemedia.org to find ideas for apps and games that are appropriate for their age and then allow access to new apps and devices with supervision as they grow.

Love and communicate

In a child’s early years of life, the development of a bond with parents and caregivers is especially critical to their development. Strategies that involve digital media include:

Sit with and actively engage with your child while reading a digital book together, drawing with a finger painting app or looking through a digital photo library.

Express affection, excitement, encouragement and appreciation while engaging in a game together, sending an electronic message or video to a family member, or video recording their accomplishment of new things.

Model and teach

As your child’s first and most influential teacher, they are learning by watching what you say and do. Strategies that involve digital media include:

Teach feeling recognition and coping skills by doing an image search to show pictures of different feelings such as happy, sad and disappointed. Then, utilize digital stories, such as a YouTube video like “Tucker the Turtle to talk about choosing better solutions to problems.

Provide opportunities to practice decision-making with age-appropriate options for games and apps that are both fun and educational. Then, model healthy relationship skills by taking turns while playing a game or drawing on a tablet together.

Model positive lifestyle behaviors by setting and following device usage limits for yourself, such as no device usage during meals.

Establish family traditions and rituals by creating a digital book of pictures from a family gathering.

Monitor and protect

Monitor your little one by being intentional in getting to know those who they spend time with and seek out ways to keep your child safe and healthy. Strategies that involve digital media include:

Take advantage of a health care provider’s digital messaging system to ask questions related to your little one’s growth and development.

Determine digital ways to check-in with teachers and child care providers and connect with the parents of your child’s friends on social media.

Convey your preferences and be aware of those of others, for example, concerning the posting of children’s photos on social media platforms.

Because interpersonal interaction with your little one is imperative to their healthy development, we can foster the opportunities we have, by way of digital media, to positively influence development when we actively engage with them and their digital media usage. If you are interested in learning more about this topic, you can read short articles and link to resources on the University of Wisconsin-Extension’s website at http://fyi.uwex.edu/eparenting.

Jen Reese is the interim youth development educator for the Kenosha County UW-Extension.