Some Suggestions Regarding Managing Children’s Use of Technology
I was contacted by a writer who was working on an article regarding children’s use of technology, and what parents can do. Here are his questions, and my responses:
Your question – We want our kids to engage the real world more, yet adults set a precedent for them, by spending too much time on their screens. How may a parent mitigate this “bad” example?
A wonderful way to help children manage the amount of time and how they spend their time on technology is to set a good example. Some very simple suggestions include:
- During dinner time, keep electronics off of the table. In addition, wherever the electronics are, turn them to silent mode. Nothing can zap your child’s attention than hearing the notification that a text or message came through. And nothing makes children feel less important than work when a parent checks work emails during dinner time. It can all wait until after the family meal.
- Do not use electronics in the morning. The morning routine of getting the children ready for school and ready for work should be focused on family. Using technology involves intrusion – intrusion of responsibilities, to-do lists, social problems, scheduling problems, and problems of the world – into your sacred family time. When parents reach for the smartphone or other electronic device in the morning, they are no longer being present with their children. Parents can be having a peaceful morning with family, then see something upsetting in an email or post on social media, and immediately the mood in the home is negatively impacted. In addition, when parents use their devices in the morning before school and work, they are sending a subtle message to their children that the device is more important.
- Keep technology out of the bedroom, for children and adults. Just as technology affects relationships in the morning, it affects relationships at night. A smartphone has no place when a couple desires quiet time and intimacy. When parents keep smartphones out of bedrooms, they set a positive example for children to follow. This is particularly important for children, as they need as much sleep as they can get. Studies show that children report waking up in the night to check social media. In addition to disrupting sleep, this can lead to mental health issues, as excessive social media use has been associated with mental health problems in children. If your child uses the excuse that he or she needs the device as an alarm to wake up in the morning, go out and buy an old-fashioned alarm clock!
- Resist the urge to use technology during “down” time. We have small periods of down time during the day, and we have become so accustomed to being entertained and processing information that we feel the need to fill a void when nothing is happening. We need that down time to unwind, think, process emotions and thoughts, or just be. We need that down time to connect with our children and just BE together in the absence of distraction. So resist the temptation to whip out the smartphone while in the waiting room at the doctor’s office or while on line at the grocery store.
Your question – Media and internet technology are a daily fact of life. What are 1-2 strategies parents may use to find balance with their kids’ technology use?
- Develop a contract for electronics use. This should include rules regarding downloading or using apps or the Internet, and a discussion regarding what apps are off limits. This may also include rules around what time of day devices may be used and where. Other rules may include: a) no taking videos or pictures of inappropriate material, including bad language, gossip, or anything that is a violation of someone, b) parents can inspect device at any time, c) commitment to tell parents or another adult when anything appears confusing, scary, or threatening, d) before you do anything with your electronic, ask yourself, “Would this make Mom and Dad proud of me?”
- Get the most out of travel time. You could make a family rule that electronics and ear phones are not used for short car rides and other modes of transportation. These are the times when we can learn about our children’s days and their thoughts. Also, just being together, even in the absence of words, is an opportunity to connect. These are missed opportunities when our children are plugged in and tuned out on their devices. Also, remember that it is not going to harm them, but it is important for children to feel “bored”. In the absence of conversation and electronics, your child may complain about feeling bored. This is a good thing! Boredom allows the mind to wander and fosters daydreaming. Some of children’s best thinking occurs when they allow their minds to wander. We deprive them of this opportunity when we allow them to constantly fill down time with an electronic device.
- Get outside. With increased use of technology, adults and children are getting less exercise, and they are connecting less emotionally with each other. Getting outside and enjoying nature not only helps physical health, but studies demonstrate that being out in nature is associated with elevated mental health, particularly when the activity is done with someone.
- Remember that if your child has a device that connects him or her with the outside world, it is your job and responsibility to protect your child from all of the potential harm that can come along with that. It seems like every week, there are new apps that children are using that are potentially harmful. We don’t want to accept it, but children younger and younger are sexting and getting themselves into dangerous situations via text and other messaging programs/apps. Educate yourself. I cannot stress enough the importance of doing daily “check-ins” regarding the use of technology. Ask your child “Did you see anything on your device (app, text, email, anything) or the Internet today that scared you or made you feel uncomfortable.” Ask, ask, ask, check, check, check.
Feel free to contact me if you would like an example of an electronics contract, as well as some suggested questions to use for your daily “check-in”.