Do you remember when the only television at home was in the family room? Maybe when your family traveled in the car and everybody looked for license plates from all 50 states because there wasn't anything else to do? Now, practically every vehicle has a DVD player and every home has several state of the art televisions with three different gaming systems. We all have our own phones, laptops, and smart watches. Technology is everywhere and it is consuming our lives.
In the last 50 years, technology has exploded. It is no longer in a fixed location with limited capability and parental supervision. It has become a tool to get unlimited access to the entire world, which makes it difficult for many parents to keep up with. As a parent, sometimes it's hard to know how to handle technology in our own lives, yet alone the lives of our children. What are the benefits? What are the costs? When is it too much? There are no easy answers. Furthermore, no one answer is right for everyone.
John Van Epp, author and clinical counselor, spoke at a conference on strengthening the family and asked the questions: "To what extent will families allow technology to be fused with their relationships?" and "Are families unplugging devices to really plug into each other?" As it turns out based on several scientific studies, families are no longer doing a good job at connecting with each other and technology can be to blame.
Colleges and corporations are reporting that many of the young people who have grown up in a tech-savvy world do not have the same level of emotional skills of those 10 or more years ago. Inappropriate use of electronics (such as cyber-bullying, posting of photos/videos that a child might later regret, etc.) is on the rise even at the elementary age level. Developmentally, children are unable to comprehend long-term effects of digital footprints lasting forever. That big job they desire at 30 might not be attainable due to past online posts. Further research is being done on the addictive aspects of checking our electronics incessantly and obsessions with video games, but initial results are telling us that there are many negative effects.
According to a study on media influence done by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 8 to 18-year-olds spend over seven hours a day using entertainment media. That adds up to over 50 hours per week. When they're involved with screen time they're not exercising, meeting with friends, talking with family or negotiating in-person relationships. Many are gaining weight, easily distracted, and are finding it hard to read the subtle signs in developing and maintaining relationships. Contrary to popular belief, our brains are not wired to multitask efficiently. In fact, they're often mentally absent when sitting with a group of friends or family.
It's not only kids that are struggling with technology either. How many times have we pulled out our cell phones when having dinner to check that important email or text that just chimed in? How many of us have sat in a restaurant with a spouse who zoned out of the conversation to tend to their electronic device instead? How much time is spent capturing a moment digitally to post on Facebook versus experiencing what is taking place? Or investing energy documenting children's lives on social media versus investing in the relationship?
There are some really important questions that parents can ask themselves to start the conversation about changing how technology effects their household.
- Are you comfortable with the amount of time your child spends on electronics?
- Do you understand the capabilities of all the devices your child uses, know how to view past usage and monitor how time with the device is being spent?
- How much of your child's learning opportunities come from electronics vs. experiential experiences?
- Are other areas of your child's development (physical, emotional, social) being neglected because of electronic usage?
- Is electronic usage limiting your child's exploration into other aspects of life?
- Is family time and communication interrupted or non-existent because of internet use?
- Are you aware of how screen time is affecting your child, is there a marked change in mood, aggressiveness or withdrawal?
- What kind of messages are you sending your child about using electronics?
After you have pondered these questions, it's time to make an action plan on how to get your family more connected. Try limiting screen time with these helpful steps.
- Have a basket at the front door in which your kids can deposit their phones until homework is done and dinner is over.
- Require that all electronics be turned in at bedtime so that there isn't the temptation to chat or play games instead of getting a good night's rest.
- Keep TV's and computers in the public areas of your home.
- Become computer literate in order to monitor usage and block inappropriate sites.
- Bookmark your child's favorite sites to avoid "surfing".
- Teach Internet safety, especially about never revealing personal information.
- Talk about the pro's and con's of electronic interaction and how choices (impulsive or without considering long-term effects) can impact our lives.
- Use this as a teaching opportunity to help your child learn to set limits, understand wants versus needs and develop self-control.
- Make television or movie viewing a family event and talk about what you've watched and how it intersects with your family values.
- Limit your own screen time and take every opportunity to engage your child in conversation.
Though we now can connect with the entire world with just one simple device, it's causing us to be unable to truly connect with those we love around us. If you feel your family is struggling with technology addiction, don't be afraid to reach out to a licensed therapist that can help guide your family back on the right path. Your family is not broken, and with a little effort can be whole again.