Screen time addictions are real. Children, teenagers, and even adults find themselves sucked into the glow of their smartphone, laptop, or tablet screens for hours on end.
Let’s take a look at some of the things that you can do to help your child navigate in a world that’s addicted to technology.
There’s always more content to look at – content that amuses, content that agitates, content that educates, but most of all, content that absorbs. It’s no wonder that parents are worried about the amount of time kids spend on their devices.
Everywhere you look, you can see examples of people who just can’t turn them off, even when doing so would benefit them. On the other hand, the world is technology-dependent, and raising your children to eschew internet-connected devices is impossible for many parents and impractical even for those who could do it.
Your children will be expected to be computer-literate in elementary school. By middle school, they’ll be expected to do research and complete assignments using the internet and various applications. And even if you could avoid the use of computers, smartphones, and tablets in school, you’d be holding them back. When your children reach adulthood, they’ll be expected to use those devices to do their jobs – or even to search and apply for their jobs. And it’s not just obvious work-related internet tools they’ll need either.
Social media may seem frivolous to some, but it’s an important tool for networking and self-promotion. Even creative passions, like making art or music, have strong online components these days. So keeping your children away from screens altogether isn’t a viable option either.
Instead, children need to learn to incorporate balance into their technology use. That’s not easy in a tech-addicted world, but with the right guidance from their parents and others, balance can be achieved.
Often, when you want to teach something to your children, the best place to start is with your own behavior. “Do as I say, not as I do,” is not an effective approach to take with children. They learn from your actions more than from your words.
So start by examining your own behavior when it comes to tech. Do you answer emails at the dinner table? When you watch a movie with your kids, do you have your laptop open on your lap or a smartphone in your hand? Do you ever realize that you’ve been scrolling through images or comments for much longer than you thought? Do you spend more time chatting with friends via IM than in person?
Set limits for yourself. Make an effort to get in more face time with the people you care about. Make family time a device-free zone for everyone, not just for your kids.
One of the most detrimental aspects of tech addiction is the way that it affects sleep. The blue light from the screens and the mental stimulation of apps, games, and online interactions can work to keep kids (and adults) up much later than is healthy – causing sleep debt. And lack of sleep has numerous negative consequences on physical health, mental health, and behavior.
A good place to start is by ensuring that your child turns the screens off at least an hour before bedtime. This gives their brains time to settle down and get ready for rest. Don’t let your children keep their devices in their bedrooms. Instead, have them plug them in to charge in some common area of the house so that you can be sure they aren’t sneaking onto games or forums late at night. Additionally, you should make sure that your kids are practicing good sleep hygiene – sleeping in a comfortable bed in a dark, cool room with clean sheets, perhaps taking a warm bath before bed, and so on. If your child still has difficulty sleeping, consult their pediatrician.
Children aren’t always adept at setting boundaries for themselves. So it’s up to you to help them learn to set and abide by them. In addition to the hour before bedtime, children should have other tech-free times. During family time – like at the dinner table – is an obvious choice. But you may want to ensure that they spend an hour playing outside or meeting friends in person after they finish their homework instead of spending that hour on the phone or computer. Or you may want to make sure that they send a few hours each weekend day away from their game console or tablet.
An alternative to constantly having to enforce screen-free time is to instead schedule your children for things that are inherently screen-free. Sign them up to play a sport, enroll them in an afterschool activity where devices are banned, or just not practical to use, schedule them for playdates at the park.
This is a bit of a balancing act. Some children thrive with a lot of scheduled activities and parent-involvement, others really need more time for self-directed play and socialization that they’re in control of. And of course, the same child will need different things at different ages. You know your child best. If they complain about a device-free day or hour, do they need you to find them something else to do, or do they need your encouragement to go out and find that something else for yourself? Take their feelings, preferences, and temperament into account before making your decision.
You’ll also want to be able to monitor your child’s internet uses on their devices. If ordinary tech use can develop into unhealthy habits, imagine what havoc cyberbullying or inappropriate contact can wreak? Monitoring helps you protect your child from bad actors and perhaps even their own poor decisions. To find out more about how parental monitoring software can help you protect your child, get our free trial