In today's wired world, kids are spending more time than ever with smart phones, tablets, video games and other digital devices. Learn how these simple tips can help busy parents guide their children toward a healthier relationship with technology.
Talk about wired: In just two years, the percentage of American children ages eight and under with access to a smart device at home jumped from 52 percent in 2011 to 75 percent in 2013. The amount of time they spent using those devices tripled, according to a recent study by Common Sense Media.
Media usage among older children is even greater. The American Academy of Pediatrics found that the average eight- to ten-year-old spends nearly eight hours a day with smart phones, tablets, video games and other digital devices. Older children and teens spend more than 11 hours per day. Those numbers go up even higher for children who have a TV in their bedroom.
Researchers are finding that there is a direct correlation between the amount of time children spend with technology and their overall health and development. In fact, too much exposure to technology is contributing to an increase in physical, psychological and behavioral disorders that pediatricians, psychologists and researchers are only now beginning to detect and understand.
How can today’s busy parents guide their children toward a healthier relationship with technology? Follow these tips to get started.
- Take It Slow
Take baby steps when it comes to technology and your children. By setting clear expectations for TV time and use of mobile devices, kids learn healthy limits. Reinforce the notion that access is a privilege and not a right. Rather than giving kids free reign, consider letting them earn extra iPad, cellphone and TV use as a reward for helping out around the house or doing well at school. Some families use apps like Screen Time (available on iTunes) to track time spent on the iPhone or iPad; others take an “old school” approach, setting a timer or hanging a chart in a central location where kids can keep track of their time online.
- Be the Parent
Unless your child has a job and is paying for his own smartphone or other device, you get to set the rules. Don’t hesitate to call your cellphone, cable or Internet provider to discuss options for restricting what your child can access and do. Be proactive about getting what you feel is appropriate for your children.
- Don’t Be a Dinosaur
Stay informed about any new devices, apps and websites your children are using. If it’s something you’re not familiar with, ask them to show you how it works. Kids love being the expert. Sitting down together for a technology ‘lesson’ will give you a chance to connect with your child and opens the door to conversations about appropriate use of technology and cyberspace.
- Go with the Flow
If your children are on social media sites like Facebook or Twitter, follow them there. Get the password to the account and become a ‘friend’ so you can see what your children are posting online and with whom they’re interacting. Talk with kids about not sharing passwords with friends, about keeping their personal information secure and to think carefully before posting anything online. Admissions departments of colleges, scholarship committees and future employers are increasingly checking an applicant’s online presence. Yet many kids don’t fully understand that once words or pictures are sent out in cyberspace, they are permanent and can never be completely deleted.
- Make It Public
Keep TVs, game consoles, computers and charging devices in a common area—not in your children’s bedrooms. That will make it easier for you to track what your kids are doing and to ensure they’re getting uninterrupted sleep at night.
- Establish a Tech-Free Zone
Set a time each day when everyone turns off their phones and tablets and enjoys family time. Kids need to learn that there are times when paying attention to those around you is of primary importance, no matter what type of urgent phone calls or texts might be coming their way.
- Practice What You Preach
How much time are you spending in front of the TV or on your tablet or smartphone? Your child may be mimicking your own behavior when it comes to using technology as an escape. Children who live in homes in which parents and other family members spend a lot of time with technology tend to spend their time in the same way. Children who live in homes with a healthier balance of ‘quiet’ time away from the television, the computer and video games also tend to do the same.
Technology is bound to have a significant impact on your children’s lives, but with the right guidance and support, your kids will learn how to find a healthy balance between the virtual world and the real one.