I don't claim to be an expert in this area, just a mom trying to figure out the balance of technology while raising our 4 children. Over the years I've been opening the conversation with friends, observing those around me, and doing my research.
I've read the facts over and over, stating that technology will either enhance one's life or distract one's life. There's enough concerning research and statistics to know that this is a subject where we need to keep the conversation going. Time recently did a study to show the correlation between smart phones and teen mental health.
“What this generation is going through right now with technology is a giant experiment, and we don’t know what’s going to happen,” says Frances Jensen.
There’s strong research linking isolation to depression, and time spent socializing with improved mood and well-being. "If smartphones are getting between an adolescent and her ability to engage in and enjoy face-to-face interaction—and some studies suggest that’s happening—that’s a big deal", Primack says.
Technology is obviously here to stay, therefore we need to embrace it with positive teaching. Just like we teach our children table manners with baby steps as they grow. This too needs baby steps. We can hide and fear the direction technology is going or (here's where the good news comes in), we can mentor positive technology in our children's lives.
Here's how we keep technology use positive in our home:
1. We set a good example.
Technology is not the problem - it's often parents who are the problem. We must have parental awareness. I've been a Mom for 11 years and I remember how easy it was when my first born was a baby to go to a park and meet new friends. No one had their phones between them and the fundamental need for human socialization. Now I go with my 4-year-old to the same parks and the phones feel as if they are used as a social shield so people don't need to talk to strangers. After school activities are another example where I think the use of cell photos has changed social interactions. We've all witnessed parents giving more attention to the social scenes on their phones than socializing with the ones sitting beside them. I look around a restaurant and know that I don't want to be that face in a phone when I'm next to real humans. Don't let technology remove you from the face to face world.
Set your phone in a different room if it's a distraction between you and your family. Our family needs my attention the most between the dinner time and bedtime hours so my phone is put out of reach. I always find that those in-between moments in life, when you are waiting for the next thing to happen, those are often the most teachable moments of your child's life. Use wisely.
2. Moderation and balance
It is our job as parents to help our children navigate what is appropriate and positive media use. We start the conversations explaining our concerns and our hopes with screen time. The end goal is to teach them self-moderation. I want them to have freedom at home after being in a strict and structured environment at school. I want to empower them to make those choices. This takes time... it's a continued conversation. One that will change over the years with the growth of your child and the growth of the tech world. Most of the time if they are asking for electronics its just because they are looking for something to do. If I come up with a creative activity to do or a chance to spend time with family my children will always choose this first. The first time they don't you bet I'll be concerned and asking myself "why not?".
Find the positive and focus on that. Our children understand the difference between time spent on an educational website or app vs. a violent video game.
3. Mentoring vs. monitoring
I keep it simple with only one social media app on my phone. My daughter and I have Instagram as our chosen social media app. Believe me, I contemplated holding off altogether, but when schools and teachers and other social outlets are using it I wanted instead to introduce it early to teach her how to use it in positive ways. This is something we navigate sitting side by side. Permission must be given before she posts anything. So far, this has been a very effective way to learn social edict of technology. Sometimes I'll help her refrase a comment and we have discussions over how social media can positively impact society. This act of sitting down together has opened many doors to insightful conversations.
We involve our children in setting the rules. We do this because so often kids want what they can't have. And this is a way for them to learn the "why" rules need to be in place. It's not the minutes that count, but the material instead. We have a no cell phone use during meals, at restaurants, or in their rooms. All devices are plugged in at night in our electronic area. If they break any rule, all electronic privileges are lost for 24 hours. Its rare for my kids to spend time on devices during school days just because there are so many other things they'd rather do. If it was something they asked for on a rainy day I'd say "sure, how many minutes do you think would be reasonable?" And then I'd have them set the timer so they are learning self-moderation. In the summertime, however we need more structure. The kids came up with a list of tasks that need to be completed before electronics. "Do something creative, play outside, write in your summer journal...". The best part about this "task list" is most of the time their creativity takes over for hours and they never get around to the screen time.
5. Take interest in their interests
This one sounds so simple. Yes, back to parental awareness. If your child is into minecraft try to understand exactly what it is about Minecraft. I did this and learned that it was more about the building and coding that my son enjoyed, not just playing video games. So I purchased a few books about coding and since then he has turned to this in his free time instead. Now my 9-year-old has read many books on coding, has programmed several of his own video games, and now imagines himself having a career in coding.
Let's keep this conversation going, with our kids, our friends, our teachers. We have so much to learn from one another. As always, I'd love to hear how your family is raising tech-positive children.