My son is entering his last year of graduate school. When he was a freshman in college, Facebook was brand new. You could only get an account if you had a college address as a way to connect to others in your classes and campus.
That was just eight years ago. Think about how technology has expanded and evolved in such a short time. It's a new phenomenon that many of us weren't taught how to manage as children because it didn't exist.
As a parent, sometimes it's hard to know how to handle technology in our own lives, yet alone the lives of our children. What are the benefits? What are the costs? When is it too much? There are no easy answers. And no one answer is right for everyone.
Some things to consider: Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and others who helped create major technological advances did not grow up in an electronics age. Colleges and corporations are reporting that many of the young people who have grown up in a tech-savvy world do not have the same level of emotional skills of those 10 or more years ago. Inappropriate use of electronics (sexting, cyber-bullying, posting of photos/videos that a child might later regret, etc.) is on the rise even at the elementary age level and developmentally, children are unable to comprehend long-term effects of digital footprints lasting forever. Research is being done on the addictive aspects of checking our electronics incessantly and obsessions with video games.
According to a study on media influence done by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 8-18-year-olds spend over seven hours a day using entertainment media. That's over 50 hours per week! And when they're involved with screen time they're not exercising, meeting with friends, talking with family or negotiating in-person relationships. Many are gaining weight, easily distracted and finding it hard to read the subtle signs in developing and maintaining relationships. In fact, they're often mentally absent when sitting with a group of friends or family.
And it's not only our kids. How many times have we pulled out our cell phones when having dinner to check that important email or text that just chimed in? And how many of us have sat in a restaurant with a companion who has "checked out" to tend to his electronic device? How much time is spent capturing a moment digitally versus experiencing what is taking place? Or investing energy documenting children's lives on social media versus investing in the relationship?
Often, parents tell us they feel technology is taking over their family and/or children's lives, but they don't know when enough is enough, or what they can do to control it. Since there is no perfect answer or specific line to draw, we suggest parents engage in one of the core principles our organization was founded on: be intentional.
Pay attention. Ask questions. Monitor the outcome of your choices and make changes when you don't like what you see.
Here are some questions to consider:
- Are you comfortable with the amount of time your child spends on electronics?
- Do you understand the capabilities of all the devices your child uses, know how to view past usage and monitor how time with the device is being spent?
- How much of your child's learning opportunities come from electronics vs. experiential experiences?
- Are other areas of your child's development (physical, emotional, social) being neglected because of electronic usage?
- Is electronic usage limiting your child's exploration into other aspects of life?
- Is family time and/or communication interrupted or non-existent because everyone prefers electronic engagement?
- Are you aware of how screen time is affecting your child, is there a marked change in mood, aggressiveness or withdrawal?
- What kind of messages are you sending your child about using electronics?
- If you're not happy with what you're seeing, what small steps could you take to manage screen time for your family?
If you decide that it's time to limit your child's screen time, here are some options to consider:
- Have a basket at the front door in which your kids can deposit their phones until homework is done and dinner is over.
- Require that all electronics be turned in at bedtime so that there isn't the temptation to chat or play games instead of getting a good night's rest.
- Keep TV's and computers in the public areas of your home.
- Become computer literate in order to monitor usage and block inappropriate sites.
- Bookmark your child's favorite sites to avoid "surfing".
- Teach Internet safety, especially about never revealing personal information.
- Talk about the pro's and con's of electronic interaction and how choices (impulsive or without considering long-term effects) can impact our lives.
- Use this as a teaching opportunity to help your child learn to set limits, understand wants versus needs and develop self-control.
- Make television or movie viewing a family event and talk about what you've watched and how it intersects with your family values.
- Limit your own screen time and take every opportunity to engage your child in conversation.
Unfortunately this isn't a topic you visit once and you're done. You might find the right balance for this stage of your child's life, but it's easy to slip into unwanted patterns if you don't stay intentional along the way.
Consider marking your calendar for a few months from now and reevaluate how you're feeling about these topics again. Then continue that process on a regular basis to ensure that you're still happy with the balance as your child grows and technology continues to advance.
You can contact Jan or Rosemary at http://www.aplacetoturnto.org