Confessions From a Parent: Our Children in the Digital World
call them for dinner, their favorite lasagna is on the table. “ah..
what?” she says, and then both: “yeah, coming”, as they realize
a voice from the non-virtual world has spoken. To them.
You guessed it, they are on their phones, hard to let go. And they’re not alone: a 2016 survey found that half of all teenagers felt addicted to their devices, and 78 percent checked their devices at least hourly. Most teens felt pressured to check their phones, to respond immediately to texts and social media.
Family and individual use of digital devices is very personal, every family has its own habits, traditions and values. Belonging to a very “digital family”, where technology is instrumental in the parents’ professional daily lives, and the children (almost teenagers) enjoy using apps and games and consume most of their content online, I can only share the 3 golden rules of our family:
1. Practice what you preach, set an example
In our family, both parents use digital devices heavily for work; and yes, sometimes after work. I found myself often “just checking something”, “just responding to an urgent email” or arranging a play-date with another parent via Whatsapp. At some point we realized that while we know that “it’s not the same” as kids’ overuse of smartphones, it’s “just for work or logistics”; for THEM, seeing us repeatedly checking and using our phones throughout the afternoon is just the same, and sets a bad example. So we have set some rules for ourselves as parents: when we are with the children – during the morning hours, the afternoon or over the weekends – we try to put our phones AWAY. We take designated times where we check messages, read content or just surf aimlessly, but we try to frame these. We find its better to have a few 15-20 minute slots when dad or mom are busy with their smartphones than having them as constant companions.
2. Don’t be afraid to set clear rules, or even change previous rules if needed
Friends told us the following story: when the mother was away on business, the father let the children watch and play on the tablet in the morning before school, while he prepared the snacks and everything needed. Somehow, it became a part of the morning routine: the kids would wake up and rush to the breakfast area without any delays. One of them would even wake up by himself, sometimes before 7 am. It was so easy, yet the parents felt it wasn’t right. They discussed among themselves, with concerns about making a change: we are the ones who allowed it, too late to change. And what WOULD THEY DO in this morning hour now? But they resolved to be brave and decided- no going on the tablet first thing in the morning. They explained to the children about addiction and brought evidence from research about how kids who are used to turning to digital devices as soon as they wake up are likely to have their brains subconsciously set a “wake up call” for early in the morning, earlier than their natural biological clock would dictate. The children weren’t happy and protested, but all agreed to try it out.
It was amazing how, within less than a week, the morning routine changed completely.
Backtracking from a previously set rule worked so easily, because the parents were determined and consistent, provided sound reasoning, and offered alternatives.
3. Don’t make digital devices the all-evil
Our kids learn SO MUCH from using their devices independently. They find clips and sites which teach them new things. A few recent examples: finding a recipe and cooking a lentil soup (I swear); learning how to easily know if a number is evenly divisible by 3,4,5,6 etc., as prep for the Math Challenge test; watching a 16-minute clip about home schooling; designing their dream rooms using Minecraft.
We don’t like or approve of everything of course, they also watch a lot of rubbish. Yet we found that playing with them, offering parental advice or criticism is way more effective than banning. We know that this is our only chance to make an impact – they are still at the age where they actually want us to take part. We heard from another parent that when they prohibited a certain game, their son started asking for play-dates at homes where the game was allowed. That it became the “forbidden fruit” which their kid binges on whenever he’s off-watch. So at our home, we play and watch with the kids (even when it’s boring for us), rather than ban. We make them take breaks for physical activity, regulate or limit, but avoid ruling out. Yes, including Fortnite.
Sometimes, in our panic about the very valid dangers of overuse, we forget that technology in itself opens the door to many opportunities for learning and entertainment. It’s just a matter of how we use it.
If you have any concerns about how your child is using media technology, feel free to contact the school for advice.
Online support can be found at www.commonsensemedia.org for tips on everything from body image, media literacy, game recommendations to cyber bullying.
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