School is out and kids’ thoughts turn to tech. But should your child really game all day? When do you need to intervene and what could you tempt your child to try?
Your child may have a narrow range of things he or she does online. It is common for a child with autism or other special needs to find a favourite game for example and play it for hours on end. Can you use their love of tech to introduce other activities that might become favourites? Try apps for making music, maths, puzzles and logic.
Of course for health reasons you will be thinking about:
1. How much exercise your child gets
2. How much sleep they’re getting
3. Does your child snack on unhealthy food while online?
4. Is the game appropriate for their age and development?
5. And who are they talking to in the game?
With no school hours, your child might be deprived of structure and routine which can be upsetting. Create a new routine and give your child plenty of advance notice of what will be happening. Let your child make adjustments after a few days if the routine is not working well. You might use tech prompts as reminders for this new routine.
Instead of arguing over meal times and the dreaded moment where you ask them to stop and come and eat – give them ample warning in advance of when they will need to walk away from what they are doing. Talk about this together calmly and reward them if they stick to it. You may need to work out how long in advance to give this warning or multiple warnings to suit your child and of course the time it takes to play a level of the game or complete the activity.
Encourage games that develop some interaction or connection with others in a safe way with settings you can adjust.
Many young people find simply playing arcade games on a mobile phone can be soothing –‘It helps me manage my moods’ explained one 13-year-old with anger issues. Talk to your child about what they enjoy and why – you might gain insights into their motivation for doing certain things online which can be helpful when thinking about how to meet their needs. Many communicate better behind a screen without the need for eye contact and this can be liberating. Brush up your knowledge about keeping children safe online and the risks they might face – for example, in-game spending is an issue for many autistic young people, so check the settings to make certain your credit card cannot be used without your permission.
One thing is certain, if the family time your child spends offline is dominated by rows about how long they spend online, they will increasingly turn to their online life to escape. So how can you make offline time really tempting, supportive and interesting?
See more articles and resources to help children stay safe online.