Every few months there’s another article about the dangers of technology – tablets, smartphones and computers that provide unlimited access to a world of information and at the same time absorb our and our kids’ time and attention.
It’s easy to be wary of smartphones and tablets in children’s hands, since their unchecked use has been linked to a myriad of social and developmental issues in kids, teens and adults alike, including cyber-bullying, upset sleep cycles, weight gain, depression and a failure to be ‘present’. Smartphones and tablets are also powerful personal devices and banning them outright isn’t a practical solution in the 21st century. So how do we as parents ensure we’re getting the balance right?
1. Be a good role model
Kids are great mimics; they’ll do as you do. Start by setting a good example for online and offline behaviour; you can teach and model kindness and good manners. Limit your own time on devices and your kids will do the same. Rather than scrolling away an hour or a weekend on the couch, put away electronic devices and create shared time. This might be working with them through their homework, or simply reading while they do the same. Ask for their help with a hands-on project away from screens and you’ll create a great bonding experience that also encourages them to develop diverse skills. You’ll be more available and connected with your children if you’re interacting, teaching, with them rather than simply scrolling the day away staring at a screen.
2. Teach your kids critical skills
We often take for granted what we’re presented with online and it can be difficult to tell the difference between fact, opinion and mistruths when it all looks the same. Teach your kids how to spot less-than-accurate information online. Have them reflect on the source or author of what’s presented. Ask them if what’s being presented is a joke or deliberately inflammatory. While we can encourage our kids to be well-mannered, tactful and as honest as necessary while online, others may not be; understanding how not to fuel the fire can be an invaluable tool for kids and adults alike.
3. Create tech-free zones and times
Attempting to totally cut screens and blue tech from your kids’ lives can be impractical and may backfire, resulting in technology becoming part of a reward/punishment system that treats the tech as inherently ‘good’. Rather, try to limit you and your kids’ usage one day at a time, if necessary. Start by creating low-tech or tech-free evenings or days. Make a social event of a board game or movie night, or tap into outdoor activities like bush walks, where you can focus on one-on-one or family time. Once you’ve started with one day, quietly add a second and third in the week, until there are more days without tech than with. You can also set up tech-free zones: Keep mealtimes, family gatherings and bedrooms screen free, with firmly placed rules.
One of the most important choices you can make is to remove screens at least an hour before bedtime. The bright, blue light of screens tends to create greater alertness and disrupt the body’s circadian rhythms, resulting in shorter and poorer sleep, that can result in trouble focusing and mood swings. Recharge devices overnight, outside of bedrooms, where they are away from the temptation of using them when they should be sleeping. Other small things that can make a real difference are turning off televisions that you aren’t watching or keeping music quiet when you’re together – background noise can get in the way of face-to-face time with kids. These changes are easy enough to introduce in stages and will encourage more family time, healthier eating habits and better sleep.
4. Use tech to your advantage
Technology needn’t be a burden by any means. If your kids ask you a question about something they’ve found online, you’ve got a great opportunity to teach critical thinking and investigative skills. You can also teach good tech habits – helping them use devices as tools rather than distractions. There are plenty of educational apps that offer structured learning activities and some that can be linked to schools to keep track of assignments and school days, while parental controls and productivity apps can limit distractions on devices – up to a point. Remember though, there isn’t an app that replaces good time management nor substitutes quality time with your kids. Having a variety of activities the whole family can participate in, will naturally increase the likelihood for technology to take a back seat as the main form of entertainment.