A little guidance is worthwhile on cyber road

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 14 August, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 14 August, 2011, 12:00am

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When computer-related technology use interferes with a child's academic performance or leisure activities it is often identified by parents as 'the problem'.

It is important to try and see your child's CRT use within the context of their life as it may not be the problem, but a symptom of something else. Boredom is often cited as a reason for using CRT, in which case make a list of activities for your child during their free time and put it where they can see it. CRT use may be due to frustration or depression, so help your child find other ways to express themselves, such as talking, painting or exercise. Particularly relevant to Hong Kong, and shy people, is that CRTs help people maintain long-distance friendships. Encourage your child to develop new friendships in Hong Kong alongside their pre-existing friendships. Try to recognise underlying family problems that could influence a child to spend more time on CRTs, for example, a child keeping in touch with a separated or divorced parent.

CRT use can be triggered by environmental factors such as location and accessibility of devices, so keep the computer in a common area for easier monitoring.

Children also copy their parents' behaviour, so be aware of your own habits such as constant checking of iPhones and BlackBerrys. If necessary, help your child learn deep-breathing exercises or distraction skills to help them manage CRT 'craving'. If they are using 'permission-giving beliefs' such as 'one more minute is okay', help them understand why it might not be okay.

It is beneficial for parents to set up some basic safety measures and house rules, especially with regard to internet use. For technical safety try firewalls, parental controls and anti-virus software. Internet use rules can help limit online exposure - what goes on the web stays on the web. Consider rules such as no talking or sharing personal information with strangers, no posting pictures unless approved by parents, and no blog writing.

Cyberbullying is a problem that children may experience. Talk to your child about how to manage it, such as identifying anything 'uncomfortable' and reporting it to an adult immediately. If your child shows any changes in behaviour or mood, explore this with them and ask about their internet use.

Hands-on teaching can seem less threatening to your child so spend some time together online and teach them net-etiquette. If you don't know much about computers let them show you what websites they use and comment on what they are doing. This will also help you to know your child's online world - be curious about differences in their friends and interests between online and offline worlds as this may demonstrate that the online world is satisfying unmet needs. With younger children, helpful safeguards include sharing an e-mail account and bookmarking their favourite websites so that they don't accidently access inappropriate content. For older children (10 to 18 years old), you can negotiate rules with them, for example, CRT hours per day and dividing it between study and leisure activities.

To implement the rules that have been agreed, do your best to create a positive environment for change - this can be hard, but you'll notice the difference when you succeed. First, establish clear, realistic expectations and rules so your child can succeed: break the problem down into smaller parts and focus on one element at a time. When you implement new boundaries, do it with warmth and firmness (one without the other means that you risk alienating your child or letting them run wild). Comment on the desired behaviour rather than criticising undesired behaviour as this reduces resentment and reluctance: 'I like it when you finish the game when we agree' rather than: 'I can't stand it when you don't do as you're told'. If this doesn't work, refrain from engaging in long arguments by firmly and warmly reiterating the rules and consequences. If the rule is broken then the consequence must be implemented in a consistent manner by all caregivers, otherwise your child learns that you don't mean what you say (consider whether you are willing to implement a consequence). Finally, parents should be aware of the 'extinction burst' so that they don't give up when it happens; that is behaviour will initially improve, then probably get worse as your child tests your authority, and then probably improve again if behaviour management strategies are warmly and consistently applied.

Anuradha Mathur is a clinical therapist and Dr Justin Grayer is a clinical psychologist