Recently, I read a book that really made me question my parenting choices.
Glow Kids is written by Dr. Nicholas Kardaras and describes how technology is affecting our children. Technology’s impact is not a pretty picture. Dr. Kardaras reveals that today’s children are suffering from a screen addiction. He likens the effects of video games to illicit drugs. Teenagers are particularly at risk. In some cases, taking away their screens sends them into withdrawal symptoms. The examples in the book are truly haunting.
As I read this book, I thought about my children’s relationship with technology. I started off parenting with the best intentions. I delayed television while my firstborn was an infant. However, life quickly got in the way. Now, at the ages of four and six, my children have their favorite television shows. I try to limit their viewing, but it is difficult to say no at the end of the day when everyone is tired. At one point, I had to ban one show in particular from my household after my son was behaving aggressively after watching it. That was quite a wake-up call for me.
My children received Kindles for Christmas.
On one hand, I like that they can learn a lot of things from educational games and shows. Kindles and other tablets are also great tools for long, boring car trips. However, it didn’t take long for my son to develop an obsession with his Kindle. I quickly set up a daily time limit. Since the limit is enforced by the Kindle itself, my son seems to accept it. We also have the Kindle shut itself off overnight so that he isn’t tempted to stay up late playing games. Glow Kids gave plenty of examples of children who stay up all night with their technology and then are too tired to function at school the next day.
Modern children are increasingly exposed to technology at school. My first-grade son frequently works on a Chromebook in his classroom. Children are often tested on computers these days, so it is essential for them to learn how to navigate computer programs. The scary part is that I can’t control how my child uses technology when he is at school. Schools often try to limit computer usage to only educational purposes, but teenagers are often quite adept at bypassing these controls. I also worry that my children will be so technologically savvy that I won’t have any clue what it is they’re doing.
Cell phones are also ubiquitous today.
In my home, we don’t even have a landline telephone anymore. While my kids are still young enough that they haven’t asked for their own phones yet, I know that day will be coming soon. It’s already way too easy for me to let my kids play games on my phone when we are waiting for something. On one hand, phone games keep my kids happy and quiet. On the other hand, phones teach them to rely upon distractions to avoid any sense of boredom.
How can we find the best balance where technology is concerned?
There is also so much conflicting information about the health risks of cell phone usage. Does using them cause cancer? It’s hard to say. Cell phones haven’t really been around long enough to know for sure. It’s hard to make heads or tails of all the different research that is available. In an effort to increase safety, I turn on the speaker on my cell phone whenever possible. At least that way the phone isn’t right up against anyone’s head (and therefore brain).
What about cyberbullying?
We have all read about the horrible things that teens are saying about each other online. In some cases, the bullying has gotten so severe that teens have committed suicide over it. Cyberbullying is particularly scary because it’s so easy to hide from parents. It’s impossible to keep track of every single thing that your child does online. Don’t even get me started on sexting. Girls these days are under intense pressure to send sexy messages to boys. The situation gets ugly fast after they have a falling out with each other. It’s hard to know how to deal with these issues when they didn’t even exist when I was a teenager.
Just as I was beginning to freak out about how to manage my kids’ screen time, I came across an article in Family Circle magazine. It basically says that we shouldn’t be stressing out about setting time limits on screen time because technology has become embedded in our lives. Instead, we need to encourage our children to consume a healthy media diet. While it’s fine for them to play games and watch videos purely for fun, they also need to be using educational tools online. It’s all about a healthy balance.
Technology certainly teaches children many things.
Schoolchildren today can connect with classrooms around the world to learn about other cultures. If they have a question about something, it’s so simple to just Google the answer. There are high-quality games online that teach kids about things like math and reading. In particular, my son was very reluctant to learn to read until he started reading on an app on my phone. He loved the app and was incredibly motivated to read books in order to earn points to decorate his online spaceship. Now he is an awesome reader!
In the end, we need to teach our children good technology habits while they are young. By the time they are teenagers, we will no longer be able to monitor everything they do online. We need to be able to trust that they know how to responsibly use technology. One important way to teach our children about technology is to model healthy behaviors. If we ignore our children because we are busy playing games on our phones, why should we expect them to do anything different to us when they are teenagers? Children observe more than we realize, so make sure to set the example you would like them to follow!