Today, we’re all enamored by technology. We take our devices everywhere we go. While technology presents numerous learning opportunities for our children, the gadgets we rely on everyday can also become addictive. Though it may seem like the most effective way of diverting a child’s attention, overusing our tablets and smartphones can be harmful to our children’s physical health (vision-related problems, neck and back pain) as well as their social and emotional development.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than one to two hours per day of combined technology use. However, today’s kids are averaging seven to eight hours a day of screen time be it televisions, smartphones, tablets and gaming consoles.
“Studies have shown that excessive media use can lead to attention problems, school difficulties, sleep and eating disorders, and obesity.” (Aap.org, 2015). Brain imaging technology now provides us with clinical evidence of the impact media has on the brain. “Areas affected included the important frontal lobe, which governs executive functions, such as planning, prioritizing, organizing, and impulse control (“getting stuff done”)”. Psychology Today, (2015). Gray Matters: Too Much Screen Time Damages the Brain. The Kaiser Family Foundation is a non-profit organization that works as a non-partisan agency conducting and informing on the nation’s public health issues. In 2010, their study found that parents had no rules about how much time children spent with media.
As parents we can all attest to the struggles we share in navigating the complexities of parenting in the digital era. It’s a hot topic for every parent and with each passing day we see more research and more studies that tend to concur that parental involvement is key in a developing a child’s healthy relationship with media. The question is HOW do we do that?
Research shows that the place to begin is by first examining our own relationship with media. From there we can begin to construct reasonable boundaries and expectations for our kids. When we have a healthy relationship with our media usage then the answer seems to be, so will our kids. Fostering good habits doesn’t always come easy and for this reason we will outline a few helpful strategies that will have you and your child back on track to living in balance with technology.
Schedule Unplugged Time and Plugged-in time
Sit down and take a hard look at what your family’s schedule looks like. No doubt, there’s not a lot of wiggle room leftover once you factor in school/work hours, homework, extracurricular and most importantly sleep. Finding the time to connect with your kids in ways that do not include technology is crucial. Make it your top priority. Start small and build from there. This may require a change in house rules but don’t let that deter you.
Openly discussing your intentions to find balance as a family will help to get the kids onboard with your efforts. Begin with allotting appropriate time for being unplugged and appropriate times for being plugged-in. Transit times between school and after school appointments are a good place to start. Make it a rule that phones and other devices be put away while in the car to allow for conversation to take place.
While in the home, it helps to have an unplugged space where no computers or technology is present. Make this a place for gathering and connecting for those times in your schedule where you’ve established “unplugged time”. Ensuring that the schedule includes “plugged-in time” is also important.
Making it clear that “plugged-in time” happens once chores and homework are completed, promotes incentive and also teaches your children how to prioritize their time. This also gives your child the message that their relationship within the family and household, as well as their relationship with their academics takes priority over their relationship with media.
Reconnect with Nature
How much time in your family’s schedule includes being outdoors? If you’re not spending time outdoors, now is the time to consider making it a priority. Research is now linking rising rates of depression, ADD, obesity and other health concerns to the lack of time outdoors.
Being in nature aids in both mental and physical wellbeing. Over usage of media can induce feelings of stress, isolation and loneliness which impact your physical self. Scheduling time in nature will help to reverse the effects of over usage by reducing blood pressure, production of stress hormones and relaxing muscle tension.
Taking a walk, sitting under a tree, having a picnic are just a few ways that you and your family can begin to disconnect from your devices and reconnect with nature. The positive effects of spending more time outdoors will not go unnoticed. Experiencing nature’s capacity to heal will inevitably put your family back into alignment with a healthy balanced lifestyle.
Scheduling Unplugged Activities
Making a concerted effort to schedule activities for your child that exclude technology is another way that you can help harmonize balance. The less “free time” they have the less likely they will feel the draw towards their devices.
Extra-curricular sports, art classes and hobbies are great ways to keep your kids connected to others and disconnected from their devices. If your child already struggles with attentional challenges at school then why not consider seeking out educational supportive activities that will help bolster their brain development?
Fine motor skills are a common challenge for kids struggling at school. Seek out advice from their teacher, he or she will have resources in your community. Accessing the resources will put you and your child in touch with professionals who can strategize effective ways in helping your child that won’t involve the use of technology. The benefits are twofold; your child is spending time away from technology AND effectively improving on areas that need support. Scheduling regular sessions with Scribble to Script will ensure your child is not only spending time away from devices, but also dedicating time to develop their fine motor skills and building up confidence in their handwriting abilities.
No one would argue that living and parenting in the digital era can be a challenge. What is important to remember is what science and medicine tell us; balance is everything. Technology is not going anywhere therefore the key is finding healthy ways of relating with it.
To begin, you need to start with you the parent. How you relate to media is setting the example for your kids. If you feel that improvements can be made then include them in the process. Sit down as a family and talk about each of your digital needs versus wants. Awareness of how technology usage can impact you physically and mentally is an important part of the discussion.
Examining the day to day schedule of the household and calculating media usage will give you a starting place. As a family you can decide together how and when technology usage is appropriate. Ensuring time to connect with nature is integrated into your lifestyle is paramount. Including activities that help to reconnect with others away from media are necessary. Finding ways for your kids to access academic supports will bolster their grades and their self-esteem. Experiencing the benefits away from technology will improve your child’s self-esteem in countless ways.
American Academy of Pediatrics Aap.org, (2015) Media and Children.
Kaiser Family Foundation (2015). Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8- to 18-Year-Olds.
Psychology Today, (2015). Gray Matters: Too Much Screen Time Damages the Brain.