Oct 22, 2019
Music by Rihanna blares as your daughter hops out of bed for the day, turning off her phone alarm and checking her social media before she hops into the shower. She showers to music from her favorite iTunes playlist and then heads downstairs to breakfast. As your daughter heads out the door to catch the bus, she texts her best friend to meet at her locker before school. Sound familiar?
Life for today's children is very different from that of their parents, with almost every aspect infiltrated by technology. Electronics are now an integral part of education, with many schools now requiring students to own tablets, or issuing iPads like textbooks at the beginning of the school year. How do you determine if your child's technology use has crossed over into an addiction?
In the simplest terms, if you, as a parent, feel that your child spends too much time in front of a screen, then trust your instincts. To be certain, technology use is a delicate balance between helpful and unhealthy. If you're concerned about your child's relationship with electronic devices, you should be on the lookout for changes in behavior. Curious about the effects of overexposure to technology on your child? Read on.
Being plugged-into devices, on an almost continual basis, directly effects the brain. Continual exposure to information, images and sounds keeps the brain in a state of constant stimulation, making it difficult for the brain to get the downtime it needs to recharge. This constant stimulation directly effects your child's sleep (as well as your own). In fact, children are finding it increasingly difficult to fall asleep, and to get an adequate amount of sleep, with increased exposure to electronic devices.
Pediatric Sleep Consultant, Jennifer Schindele, is no stranger to sleep problems. Schindele helps families develop healthy sleeping habits, and says that screen time is a frequent problem. Says Schindele, "Screen time can definitely cause an epidemic where sleep is concerned. Television, laptops, tablets and smart phones all have displays that emit blue light. Blue light acts as a brain stimulant, so for many young children and adolescents, [screen time] just before bed can cause major disruption in the ability to fall asleep quickly and easily." To combat screen-related sleep issues, Schindele recommends that both children and adults refrain from using any type of screen for at least an hour prior to bedtime, to "allow the brain to wind down and the body to transition into sleep easier."
Communication is a crucial skill, the foundations of which are learned and developed throughout childhood. It should come as no surprise that increased reliance on technology, and exposure to electronic devices, is effecting how children relate to one another. Text messaging has replaced phone calls, and after school get togethers have been replaced by virtual groups on social media. A 2014 UCLA study illustrates how children are losing the ability to read and respond to emotions in others, by charting the effects of the removal of screens from preteens and their ability to pick up nonverbal emotive cues. The takeaway from this is that face-to-face interaction is crucial for child development.
How to proceed
It's important to emphasize that technology is not a bad thing, but rather a tool that should be carefully monitored. Your children will be working on computers and tablets throughout the school day, so it's important for you to set guidelines for usage while at home.
Between work, school and extra-curricular activities, American families are busier than ever. It becomes difficult to find balance when technology is being used to time-save -- how often do you check email and voice messages after hours and away from the office? Smart phones have given people the ability to be reached whenever and wherever they are, which often blurs the lines between personal and professional life.
If you want to make a change in your household, model the behaviors you wish to implement with your children. Check work at the door and make a concentrated effort to spend face time with your children. It may be helpful to log your device use to see how much time you're actually spending in front of a screen; you'll likely be surprised with what you discover.
The American Academy of Pediatrics'(AAP) current recommendation for screen time suggests that parents should place consistent limits on screen time for children and teens, with an emphasis on quality programming. This is where you come in, parents.
Monitoring your child's electronics use isn't only about the amount of time, it's also about what media your child is consuming during that time. Ensure that the content your child is being exposed to is age appropriate; the AAP recommends that parents utilize media ratings systems to inform content selection and allowance.
Establish times when devices are not permitted, such as at the dinner table or family gatherings. Trade screen time for face time, suggesting children engage in hobby-related activities. Tech-free time is the perfect time for children to get the physical exercise they need, and is also the perfect time for families to do physical activities together, such as hiking, swimming, or even playing a game of pickup in the driveway or local park.
Perhaps the most important aspect of balancing your child's technology use is your involvement. While you can't constantly monitor your child's every move you can lead by example, showing your child that s/he is more important than the screen, and engaging in meaningful, quality face time. In addition, you can use parental controls like Net Nanny® to guide your kids in the right direction and ensure they are being safe online.
Lauren B. Stevens
Lauren B. Stevens is a freelance writer and influential blogger. She is passionate about social media and literature.