06 Sep

Spiritually-rewarding screen time?


How modern technology can help you to raise a God-conscious child.

Being blessed with a child is one of the greatest gifts that Allāh can bestow upon us. It is also, without a doubt, one of the biggest and longest tests we can face. From birth up to age 18 and even beyond, at times it seems that our hearts walk around outside of our body as we raise our children and send them out in to the world to fend for themselves. We hope and pray they are protected and successful in this Dunya but ultimately in the Aakhirah.

When we were children…
Many parents nowadays can relate and remember their own childhood as being starkly different to that which our children face today. Hours of outside play, often without a parent in sight, freedom to roam, less distractions and less consumerism meant many of us grew up safely and securely within our own realities. Our Islāmic upbringings were more solid, traditions upheld, innocence protected and too-soon temptations minimised.

The reality today is very different. We are no longer raising children in the same time and situation that we ourselves grew up in. In the last 30 years, modern technology has revolutionised society and brought opportunity and knowledge to our very fingertips. Outside play has reduced, dangers seem to lurk on every corner and an increased awareness of risk has transformed childhood to a very different experience of 30 or more years ago.

Growing up in The Digital Age
The relenting advance of the internet, social media, satellite television and interactive technologies mean that we now live in a world where it is possible to learn anything, do anything and experiencing nearly anything. Although this means that access to Islāmic information should be more prevalent, it also means that un-Islāmic influences are now much closer to home. As technology has improved quality of life, it has also brought new challenges into our children’s lives.

Consider this: all children aged 12 years or below have only ever lived in a time when tablets were the norm. For many, a tablet holds more interest, value and attraction than a book. The concept of researching information in an encyclopaedia, a trip to the library or surviving without a smartphone are alien and often met with disbelief.

Studies have shown that over 50% of children under the age of 5 can swipe a screen with ease. Fine motor skills and language development is delayed in many, who reach school significantly behind target due to spending too much time in front of a screen. Many children aged 5 to 12 years old spend more than 4 hours a day in front of a television, tablet, computer or games console screen.

But it’s not just the amount of screen time that is the issue – it is the content. Teenagers across the world are reporting mental health problems linked to excessive social media use. Pressures to look and behave in ways not fitting with Islām are huge and access to inappropriate content is all too easy.

But all is not lost!
Managing your child’s technological diet is important to safeguard their mental and physical health. Generating a dependency on technology can have a severe effect on your child’s understanding and concept of the world and their role and purpose within this, as well as leave them spiritually malnourished and even hugely unhappy.

If you are worried about the effects of social media, games and television on your child and their Imān, it can be tempting to be reactive and introduce a complete ban or severe reduction in allowed screen time. But be careful – this can provoke a strong reaction in your child with technology and social media addiction now recognised as real conditions.

Instead it is better to manage and take control of your child’s media consumption. After all, technology isn’t going anywhere so this is a challenge you cannot win with total abstinence.

Consider implementing these 5 steps for a fresh approach and learn how to raise a child with taqwa (God-consciousness) by using technology and media to their spiritual advantage.

1. Sit down for a talk.
There is no point lecturing your child. Managing their screen time and online access requires you have a talk with them. Sit them down and discuss. They need to understand what is important in life (it’s not posting the next selfie) and take responsibility for themselves in a mature manner. This is a central component of Islāmic faith and will encourage the deeper thinking they will need to develop for strong Imān. Obviously how you speak to them and how much responsibility they need to take will be age dependent, but no child is too young to be taught halāl from harām.

2. Set boundaries.
You will need to set boundaries and agree a schedule of when they can and cannot access computer games or the internet. Teaching discipline and adherence to routine is a skill essential to life and to Islamic behaviour and worship. Younger children should have limited access to screens or games – no more than a few hours per week. Older children may use a screen every day but will need clear rules on what time screens can go on and must go off. Monitor their social media accounts at random. Change the Wifi password regularly if you need to. But most of all – stay firm no matter how much of a tantrum they pull. If you have implemented step 1 by having a talk with them, they should be able to comply with an agreed schedule relatively easily.

3. Re-focus and re-direct.
Now you have set rules on the amount of screen time, it is time to re-direct their attention away from the glitter and glamour of social media and the mind-numbing effects of video games and focus on more beneficial content. If they are already attending a madrassah or have had some Islāmic teaching, now is the time to show them how this can be translated into technology that they can enjoy. Bring the Deen alive to them in a way that appeals – look out for and show them Islāmic forums, Islāmic Facebook groups, websites and apps which appeal to their age group. Try the Ummah Stars App, available on Apple and Android, for their tablet or phone and on web.

4. Make it relevant and interesting.
The content they consume can have a direct impact on their love and understanding of the Deen. By directing them to relevant Islāmic apps, they can begin to see Islām not as an old-fashioned or irrelevant part of their lives but instead as something timeless, effortlessly modern and very relevant to their sense of identity.

Ummah Stars uses scenarios and dilemmas that are applicable to each age group of Muslim child, teamed with timely advice for parents. Through the app they can develop a love for Islām and genuinely learn and increase their knowledge. Screen time doesn’t have to be something to worry about, instead it can be a source of spiritual benefit and reward.

5. Bring it back to the Deen every time.
It is inevitable that alongside apps such as Ummah Stars, your child will access other sites or content online or through games that challenges their thinking. First and foremost, prevent and control this by having appropriate parental controls to block inappropriate content or access on ALL devices. Ensure accounts are set to private and searches restricted. This really is parenting 1.01 for The Digital Age.

Alongside technological boundaries, providing them a strong foundation in Islām in a modern way through Islāmic apps such as Ummah Stars, will enable them to recognise harām from halāl and stand strong against making poor decisions. Discuss with them what they see and read online and bring it back to the Deen every time. This will help ground their Imān by understanding Islām as the one truth and the way of life, giving them security, a strong sense of identity, confidence, faith and better mental health.

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