WE'RE all guilty of it. 

The zombie scroll through our Facebook or Instagram feed. The search through endless YouTube clips in the quest to find something interesting to watch.

More often than not, we're spending hours doing that while we ignore the company of our own family or friends.

How often have you seen young couples out to dinner gazing not into each other's eyes but the screens of their phone.

What if as families we could change that?

How would we really go about limiting our kids screen time and increasing real engagement with one another - a return to family time?

Tia and Robbie Kirkwood
Tia and Robbie Kirkwood

Cyber security firm Norton by Symantec has just conducted a Raising Digital Natives social experiment in collaboration with Dr. Joanne Orlando, a leading international expert on family and digital lifestyle, to discover the best ways Australian parents can manage internet use within their homes.

The Raising Digital Natives campaign, borne out of insights from the most recent Norton Cyber Security Insights Report, brings to light some of the most common fears shared by parents.

According to the report, 80 per cent of parents said they're at least somewhat worried their child will be bullied online and 88 per cent worry their children engage in too much screen time, during which they could give out personal information (82 per cent) or be lured into meeting a stranger (74 per cent).

What is startling is that more than three quarters of Aussie kids are using the internet unsupervised.

Two thirds of parents do not limit access to certain websites or apps, and less than a quarter of parents are always supervising their children online.

"This generation is growing up as digital natives, which means unlike their parents, they've never known a world without the Internet,'' Dr Orlando explains.

"They're always online, always connected, and often have a greater understanding of technology than their parents do.''

"This shifts the balance of power between parents and children, making the prospect of tackling the issues of screen time and online behaviour daunting. It's important we find a way to give that power back to parents."

Excessive screen use often happens when people are bored, and over time, kids and adults are at risk of developing habits that can be described as 'zombie use' - mindless scrolling on social media sites which can have an isolating effect.

When everyone is on their phone, it often interrupts and reduces family time, and can cause tension and disconnection - making meaningful family time less likely."

The Kirkwood family.
The Kirkwood family.

Working with Sydney based family, The Kirkwood's of Kings Langley, the social experiment was developed in partnership with Dr Orlando  to achieve a greater understanding of the family's activities online, increase the family's engagement with one another, and reduce screen time for the Kirkwood's children: Hailey (15), Tia (9) and Robbie (7).

Following an initial meeting to diagnose the family's cyber pain-points, an easy-to-follow action plan was prescribed over the school holidays to adjust some of the family's cyber habits.

In addition to examining screen time by using a monitoring app on Hailey's phone, time allocations were set for Tia and Robbie and alternate activities were recommended to keep everyone entertained when screen time was turned off.

The main activity for the family was for each child to take alternate nights to help with dinner preparation, while the others remained nearby completing activities or talking with family.

During this time, social media was turned off while the rest of the internet remained accessible.

Could you coax your teen out of their bedroom?
Could you coax your teen out of their bedroom?

This caused an increase in family interaction and engagement, and the experiment was so successful that the sounds of the family laughing and enjoying one another's company coaxed Hailey, an avid social media user, out of her bedroom to join in the family time.

Of the experiment, Simone Kirkwood said her biggest learning was understanding that to reduce the time spent with technology, families had to fill that time doing something better.

For the Kirkwood's, that is now spending quality time together.

"We wanted to be involved in this experiment to get our family back. At first, I was a little worried that we wouldn't enjoy spending time together as a family but once we settled into a new routine, we found that we had more fun together and were naturally less dependent on our devices.

"We interacted like we never did before and have found our new family identity as a result. That was the best part." 

Melissa Dempsey, Senior Director, Norton Consumer Business, Symantec APJ said: "At Norton, we believe education is an essential component to ensuring Australians are protected online.

"The Raising Digital Natives social experiment shines a light on the challenges parents are facing in today's digitally connected world, encouraging them to open up to conversation about online behaviours and helping reconnect families.

"Putting strategies and tools in place encourages children to use technology with purpose and empowers parents to better understand their children's activity, as well as manage the time spent online".

Dr. Joanne Orlando's Raising Digital Natives Top Tips:

Educate your child about online safety

Don't just tell them to be careful, show them why they should be cautious online. One of the best ways to approach this is to regularly do something with your child online that they enjoy doing (e.g. play a video game together or search online for something that interests you both).

Enjoy the time together but also use this as a time to explain where the risks are as you see them (e.g. advertising, video game chat rooms, social media risks).

Use a tool such as Norton Family Premier to monitor usage while having these positive and educational experiences.

Don't think of technology as an 'extra' part of parenting

Your approach to guiding technology use is important. Establish rules and guidelines for the family to follow and stick to the rules as you would any other family rules.

Avoid 'technology' double standards

Ensure that you model the behaviour you want to see in your kids and the healthy attitude they should have toward technology and the internet.

Focus on screen time quality

Often we think of healthy technology use in terms of time, but quality screen time is just as important.

Thirty minutes spent creating artwork on screen could be more valuable than thirty minutes spent playing a video game. Aim for quality and guide your child to use technology in positive ways.

Keep parent-child social media posts positive

You are creating your child's digital identity from the time they are born - and what you post can never be taken down. Ensure all your social media posts about your child present them in a positive way.

You can join the conversation on Norton's Facebook site


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