2. “Promoting Healthy Technology use with Kids”
If I had a nickel for every time I overheard parents expressing concern over their child’s addiction to screen time or for each time I have argued with my teen about whether technology and screen time is good or bad. Seems like parents and their kids are all talking about this but what are the facts? What I learned is that technology can be good and bad for our kids. Parents need to understand more about the impact of technology on their kids in order to parent healthy use of technology.
It’s generally accepted that new technologies provide many benefits to our children.
Today, there are innumerable apps that are created to stimulate the learning process, broken down into different subjects such as math, languages, art, etc. They also serve as great tools to increase reading skills and boost self-esteem when facing challenges.
Technology and technological devices are now an integral part of everyone’s lives. If children are uneducated in the use of these devices then they are at a disadvantage as they grow up and move into adulthood.
The ActivityHero Staff states that the benefits are:
- Improved Critical Thinking Skills – although video games often get a bad rap, they may actually help improve with vital brain development. Many interactive games encourage strategic and critical thinking, which helps kids grow intellectually. Video games have actually been shown to increase attentional ability, reaction times, and the capacity to identify specific detail.
- A Stronger Independent Work Ethic – Technology facilitates cooperative learning, encourages new roles for learners and the ability to work independently. Students who use the technology for real communication with a real audience are much more capable of talking to adults because they are used to it.
- A Greater Sense of Empowerment – Computers and other kinds of technology give children a greater sense of empowerment because information is readily available at their fingertips. The more educated kids are on how devices work, the more confidence they will have in their ability to expand their knowledge in any subject area. Technology-powered learning puts students (not educators) at the center of their own education and empowers them to take control of their own learning.
- More (and Better) Career Opportunities – With technology changing at lightning speed, we need to make sure our children have the skills to compete in this new global economy. Every child deserves the opportunity to succeed in the 21st century.
An additional benefit is that when parents and children use technology together, it can become a valuable family activity. Parent education specialist Sheena Hill, states:
“Watch a show or play a game together and interact throughout the experience,” she says. “This real live interaction is crucial to relational and cognitive development. The sharing of screen time offers an opportunity for connection and quality time…When parents and kids use technology together, Hill says, it provides “countless teachable moments to discuss important values and expectations.”
Finally, Kit Waskom Pollard identifies that “emerging technologies offer parents numerous ways to connect with children and to make the job of parenting smoother.”
Social media and messenging allow parents to communicate easily, quickly, reliably and often. Pollard also recognizes that technology makes the job of parenting easier. The communication advantages allow families to quickly respond to scheduling changes, remind one another of important things, and even use GPS as a safety tool for parents to make sure that their children are where they are supposed to be.
With all these advantages, why are warned against too much technology use for our kids?
Like everything else, there are advantages and disadvantages to too much of anything. Studies suggest that too much technology is not good for kids. Reasons include:
- Loss of interest in other activities
- Behavioral problems with disengaging
- Sleep problems
- Lack of social skills
- Impairs capacity to learn by experiential learning
- Sedentary activity leads to obesity
Dr. Aric Sigman in “Screen Dependency Disorders: A New Challenge For Child Neurology” in the Journal of the International Child Neurology Association concludes the following:
Children’s neurological development is influenced by what they do and do not experience. Early experiences and the environments in which they occur can alter gene expression and affect long-term neural development. Today, discretionary screen time (DST), often involving multiple devices, is the single main experience and environment of children. … Digital natives exhibit a higher prevalence of screen-related ‘addictive’ behaviours that reflect impaired neurological reward-processing and impulse-control mechanisms.[…] As is the case with substance addictions, it is possible that intensive routine exposure to certain screen activities during critical stages of neural development may alter gene expression resulting in structural, synaptic and functional changes in the developing brain leading to screen dependency disorders (“SDD”)[…] Screen dependency disorders, […] inducing greater child sedentary behaviour thereby reducing vital aerobic fitness, which plays an important role in the neurological health of children, particularly in brain structure and function.
Psychiatrist Dr Richard Graham states that:
[technology] …can also result in dependency where a child loses interest in other activities and exhibits signs of anxiety, distress and behavioural problems when the tablet is taken away.
Research has shown that too little time spent outdoors impairs a child’s capacity to learn through experience and causes behavioural problems. Leading a sedentary lifestyle has also been linked to childhood obesity. In the UK, a third of 10-year-olds and over a fifth of five-year-olds are either overweight or obese.
Toddlers who spend up to three hours a day staring at smartphones, tablets and TVs could be at risk of developing screen dependency disorders later in childhood, it has been claimed.
Many studies link too much technology use to increased stress. Heavy cell phone and technology use has been linked to stress, depression and fatigue in young adults.
Stress can lead to many mental and physical illnesses.
The National Sleep Foundation found that 95 percent of us use some screen in the hour before bed, whether that’s a TV, laptop, smartphone or video game. Light from TV and computer screens affects melatonin production and melatonin stimulation, and throws off our circadian rhythms. This in turn interrupts or prevents deep restorative sleep, causing an increase in stress and depressive symptoms. Chronic sleep deprivation has been linked to mental and physical illnesses.
“It has been well-studied that increased television time decreases a child’s development of language and social skills. Mobile media use similarly replaces the amount of time spent engaging in direct human-human interaction,” [states] Jenny Radesky, MD, clinical instructor in Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrics at Boston University School of Medicine and a former fellow in pediatrics at Boston Medical Center.
The authors question whether heavy device use during young childhood could interfere with development of empathy, social and problem solving skills that are typically obtained by exploring, unstructured play and interacting with peers. “These devices also may replace the hands-on activities important for the development of sensorimotor and visual- motor skills, which are important for the learning and application of math and science,” added Radesky.
This s particularly troublesome considering that:
Parents are resorting to tablets and smartphones to keep their toddlers entertained in the car, before bed, and even at the dinner table […] Two in five parents said they use phones and tablets to keep their children entertained while travelling, and 25% allow screen time before bed. 13% and they even allowed their children to play with gadgets at meal times.
Based on these potential negative side effects of excessive technology use, parents must cooperate with their children to determine appropriate limits on screen time and content. With the mission to teach our children to use technology in moderation, how do we do this?
How do we teach our children to use technology in moderation?
Dr Graham, who has set up the UK’s first Technology Addiction Service for young people, advises:
[…] keeping tablet use to short periods and maintaining clear boundaries so that time spent on a device remains a treat rather than normality.
One important strategy to counteract the negative effects of technology use on kids, is to teach and encourage pattern interruption:
Pattern Interrupts are a way to change a person’s state or strategy. We all have behavior patterns that are habit sequences or mental pathways. Usually habits are useful. Auto pilot means our brains have become so efficient at doing something we can tune out our conscious minds. We get dressed, drive, walk, clean our teeth in ways that don’t need much mental attention. Patterns can be our downfall too. Our unconscious excels at running patterns or programs automatically. This frees our conscious resources to ponder other matters while we perform certain activities unconsciously.
This sometimes can present a problem when trying to change your own or someone else’s habitual patterns of thought, emotion or behavior. You want to change but your unconscious keeps doing the same thing over and over and over. It is useful to interrupt your own or someone else’s when stuck in an unresourceful state. Like getting caught in a negative spiral.
The basic idea behind pattern Interrupt is that you are breaking someone’s pattern or behavior by interrupting them with an unexpected stimulus. This ‘stimulus’ can be anything from a sound, to a funny joke, to a physical movement.
Teachers are taught to use pattern interruptions techniques in the classroom to get their students attention and ready to learn.
The advantages to pattern interruption are:
- A Fresh Perspective – A pattern interrupt transports you to enticing new places, physically and mentally. It jolts you out of your familiar thoughts and routines and into a vast openness of possibility. It’s like seeing things for the first time again.
- Trust in the Future – … A pattern interrupt involves some risk, bravery and one hundred per cent commitment, even when you don’t know what’s next.
- Relinquish Control – …Managing that challenge requires letting go and accepting we can’t control situations and outcomes all of the time.
- Growth and Expansion – … how much growth can really happen when we are on rinse and repeat, day after day? When we are programmed to perform we do what’s expected of us. We should encourage children to spread their wings and give themselves some space to grow.
- Creativity Thrives – …Creativity is not on a schedule. It often appears when we least expect it. Sitting in silence, admiring a view, getting lost in a new city, savoring a great meal, lost in conversation, anytime anywhere.
There are many other strategies to help your child disconnect.
It´s not a question of prohibiting them to use a tablet, smartphone or computer but controlling the time they spend using these devices (a maximum of 2 hours a day). We should also motivate them to engage in other activities that can be equally as fun or even more.
M. Rodrigo Brao offers six excellent suggestions for parents of ways to motivate their kids to disconnect:
- Arts & Crafts – Cutting, pasting, drawing… are all necessary activities that children need in order to learn how to use their hands. New technologies cannot provide this. Besides, making a collage, colouring their own cutouts, finger painting etc. helps them explore their creativity and teaches them to make their own decisions. …
- Playing Together – Spend an afternoon, during the weekend, rounding up the entire family, placing all devices into a box and spending time together playing a board game, I Spy or even engaging in role-play. Sharing time together improves family bonds, self-esteem and communication.
- Reading – Beyond what television has to offer, books allow children to discover people, places, animals and ideas. It helps them cultivate a critical mind and an independent spirit. Even if your children aren’t old enough to read, just listening to a story expands their vocabulary. The characters and the illustrations also boost their imagination and helps them develop reading skills and a love for books.
- Creating Stories – Apps and videogames come “already made”. But it´s important that children learn to create their own toys, their own adventures. If they get bored, don´t let them sit in front of the TV or computer. Let them think of other ways they can keep themselves entertained. Offer them toys that boosts their imagination and makes them create their own stories. …Let them dream and create their own world.
- Outdoors – Make plans outdoors. Whether it´s practising sports or enjoying nature, riding a bike, a trip to the Aquarium or the Botanical Gardens, being outdoors helps children relax and gets all their senses working. Plus, it gives them a chance to socialize with other children.
- Cooking – Mixing ingredients, decorating dishes, making fun sandwiches… are great ways to teach children about healthy eating habits, teamwork and basic math skills. If they aren´t old enough to help you cook, you can start instilling their love for food with toys such as these.
Parents should model healthy technology use
Brao also encourages parents to model healthy use of technology:
Whatever you do, make sure your devices are turned off and out of sight. No looking or playing with the iPad or cell phone while at the park or in the kitchen. That way you can give your children all the attention they need and set a good example. If you moderate your use of technologies, they will probably do the same.