The spike experienced in technological advancements across the last few decades means people are still learning how to responsibly (and healthily) integrate the use of technology into their daily lives. This poses an extra challenge for parents – how do we teach our children good technology habits if we don’t know them ourselves?
A 2018 BBC report highlighted parent concerns about their children’s internet and device use. Conducted by internet security company, Norton, the survey found that 43 percent of the 7,000 parents surveyed were concerned that using gadgets meant their kids slept poorly. It also showed that 38 percent of the respondents were concerned about the negative impacts of excessive tablet and smartphone use on children’s social skills, and 32 percent of were concerned about the mental health impacts of smartphone and tablet use.
We are in a revolutionary technological age. Desktop computers, tablets and smartphone devices are now an unavoidable part of everyday life. Autoplay functions on sites like YouTube and a number of news media sites, as well as continuous scrolling and real-time updates on sites like Twitter and Facebook, have played a role in increasing the amount of time that kids (and adults) spend on their devices, possibly developing bad tech habits.
But to say all technology is ‘bad’ is a fallacy. While there may be some bad aspects to technology that could contribute to poor mental and physical health if the technology is used irresponsibly, there are other ways technology is enhancing our lives for the better.*
To ensure your kids are achieving a healthy balance between tech and non-tech time, there are some simple, yet effective strategies that both parents and teachers can implement.
Tech, not toys
They’re bright, they’re shiny, they’re engineered to look appealing, and they’re designed to make you want to use them, but the American Psychological Association encourages parents to teach children as early as possible that tablets, smartphones and laptops aren’t toys – they need to be handled with care.
As the American Psychological Association advises, discuss with kids the many benefits of technology, as well as the risks. Don’t frighten them but, instead, discuss the importance of respecting privacy and protecting personal information in age-appropriate ways.
The internet is forever
Every adult, when they’re being completely honest with themselves, will be able to recall an incident (or two, or three!) from their youth that leaves them cringing with embarrassment. The reality is these kinds of mistakes are an invaluable part of learning right from wrong. They help us learn important truths about ourselves that prepare us for adulthood.
Adolescence is difficult enough for most young people without the added complication of having a ‘digital footprint’ following them around. But how do you convince children that the ‘internet is forever’ before they do some lasting damage?
It’s important that parents should impress upon their children that they should not do anything in the digital space they wouldn’t do in a normal social situation – good advice for both children and adults alike. Sexting, cyber-bullying and acts of digital vilification of varying kinds can cause no end of embarrassment, and lead to catastrophic effects on the mental health outcomes for those who fall victim.
Ensuring your kids understand the consequences of poor online behaviour is an essential tactic for minimising the chances they will ever experience this kind of behaviour, as well as contributing themselves to making the online experience safer for everyone.
Create tech-free zones
Designating areas of your home as ‘tech-free’ might be one workable strategy for your home to adopt to help curb excessive device use, and teach kids good tech habits.
For example, categorising the dinner table as a tech-free zone is one way of reducing gadget use and encouraging face-to-face conversation, while at the same time promoting mindful eating and other healthy food habits in your kids.
The car might be another place where it’s worthwhile implementing a ‘no tech’ rule. Putting the phone or tablet away while in the car can help develop behaviours that minimise driver and passenger distraction, and increase road safety awareness.
Bedtime is sleep time
Studies show that using devices or digital media at night impacts on sleep quality. Most experts agree that putting the devices away (at any age, not just with children) at least an hour before going to bed is a healthy habit to adopt.
It might be worthwhile insisting that devices are charged overnight in a central location away from the kids’ rooms. This may be the kitchen, laundry, living room or wherever works best in your home.
Tech-free time before bed is much more likely to minimise your kids’ exposure to devices overnight, and also encourages them to adopt habits like reading or listening to music to promote the kind of restful sleep they need to be at their best in the classroom.
Setting time limits
Many new smartphones and tablets feature time limits. These limits can be set for daily, weekly or monthly use, and are a very useful in ensuring your kids aren’t spending too much time online, as opposed to living in the real world.
The American Psychological Association warns that setting usage limits has the potential to backfire. For instance, video chatting with grandparents is different from playing a video game. Likewise, if your child is doing research for a school assignment, the time spent online completing that research might not be as harmful as gaming or spending time on social media. Limiting this kind of computer or device use could end up being counter-productive.
We live in a technology-enabled world – that’s something we need to accept – and understanding the good and bad that this brings is essential.
Balancing the educational benefits of the use of smartphones, laptops and tablets with the fun of streaming entertainment, online gaming and social media use is necessary.
The importance of teaching your kids good technology habits, and the impact these habits will have on their learning and social development, cannot be understated.
*TALi’s game-based technology for strengthening attention skills is one such example of how technology can be used for the good of children. Happier kids start here.