It is often said that parenting is not for the faint of heart. Parents face many difficult decisions and dilemmas when raising their children, only made more challenging by the instant gratification that technology brings to their world. As a parent of three girls, I often struggle with the role that technology plays in their lives. I have such fond memories from my childhood of engaging in imaginative play and spending hours finding adventure in my backyard. Although I learned how to entertain myself with little, many children today struggle with the idea of being bored, or not having the constant stimulation that technology can offer.
At times I would like to take away all devices and get back to the good old-fashioned fun of yesterday, I must remember that my children are growing up in a vastly different time. Technology is not just for playing games, but it has become a way of socializing and staying connected to others. Technology plays a much bigger part in our children’s lives than it did ours, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic where it has become their primary source of education. How as parents can you create a balance? How do you know when your children have become too dependent upon technology, and when do the risks outweigh the benefits?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has recommended for many years that children engage in screen time for no more than two hours a day. However, recent data from Common Sense Media suggests that children of today spend an average of 7 hours a day on various forms of technology. Considering this information, the AAP seems to have developed more flexible guidelines, placing the emphasis on managing content and wise choices regarding technology usage rather than focusing on time constraints. In other words, not all screen time should be treated the same, as there are many educational and social benefits. Here are some helpful tips for managing your child’s content and deciphering between the good, the bad, and the ugly:
- Set parental controls on all devices – It is helpful to set age restrictions on all content, limit non-educational screen time, and require passwords for all apps and purchases.
- Preview your child’s apps, video games, and movies – Although Common Sense Media may be a resource for determining appropriateness, it is helpful to do your own test run before approving apps or games for your child. A little time and research can go a long way in terms of preventing your child from being exposed to inappropriate content.
- Use the app with your child or play a video game with them – This helps you to experience first-hand what your child is watching, exposed to, and who they are interacting with.
- Talk to your child about internet safety – It is never too early to explain safe use of technology.
While it is important to manage their content, it is also healthy to create a balance between screen time and non-screen time. This balance may look quite different from family to family, or from child to child. The AAP offers a helpful tool on their website for families to establish their own Family Media Plan as there is no “one size fits all” approach. Other ways of ensuring a balance include:
- Setting clear guidelines for usage – No devices allowed during mealtime and or establishing a clear and consistent end time where all devices are turned off and turned in.
- Practice what you preach – Ensure that there are times during the day where you are putting your device aside as well.
- Scheduling family time – Plan screen-free family fun, such as a family hike, picnic in the backyard, board game night, or a bike ride.
Lastly, it is crucial to note that although technology can have its educational and social benefits, children can develop an unhealthy relationship with their devices. Here are some signs to watch out for:
- Your child has lost all interest in other activities
- They are inconsolable when restrictions are placed on their usage
- It affects their ability and willingness to socialize with others
- They are secretive or lying about their technology usage
If your child is exhibiting any of these signs please do not hesitate to reach out for professional help.