There is a lot of negativity around kids and screen time these days. We all want to be the very best parents to our kids and it is because of this that it seems to me that many good parents that I know, suffer from a guilty conscience about how much screen-time we should allow our kids. We all know that too much technology is bad for our kids. But to me, technology is not an all-or-nothing conversation. Screen-time is just another activity, on a very long list of ‘badies’ that should be managed and monitored. And of course the younger our children, the stricter the boundaries should be. But is it really that bad?
Ever wondered why excessive Technology is bad? Experts list several reasons why technology could be detrimental to our kid’s development. I found this article that summarise the risks attributed to extensive technology use. I agree that all of these risks are valid:
Lack of social interaction:
Instead of playing with friends or a sibling, kids are stuck to the screen.
Obesity is increasing, because children are less active. Another concern is the effect that screen-time had on children’s eyes. Although excessive screen time do have a negative effect, but so does excessive reading apparently. Luckily there are many suggestions available to reduce the effects. For example, whether you are reading on a screen or read any printed material, you should take a break after 20 minutes to avoid eye strain. I found these interesting articles about this topic eReader Vs. Printed Book: Which Is Better For Your Eyesight? and Do E-Readers Cause Eye Strain?
For me this is one of the most important risks. Kids get exposed to technology and tablets at a very early age and they get used to fast input and instant gratification. The definition of addiction it is a condition that results when a person ingests a substance or engages in an activity that can be pleasurable but the continued use/act of which becomes compulsive and interferes with ordinary life responsibilities, such as work, relationships, or health. It is possible for kids to get addicted to the fast input and the instant gratification and the way they feel when playing games....On a personal note. I can relate to this… my eldest child had extreme mood swings and were very argumentative regarding the use (or rather the lack of use) of technology. All he wanted to do was to get his hands on his tablet…. Hence the fact that we restricted the use of screen-time during the week. My view is that children should know how to play without the use of technology. When a child tries to justify the use of technology because they are “bored”, warning signs should start flashing. Children should be able to keep themselves entertained without technology. The good news is that after we implemented stricter boundaries wrt the use of technology, our children are much less fazed by it.
For example it is common to find a child playing a game on their tablet, while watching television in parallel. Or teenagers surfing the internet while texting and listening to music. While this multi-tasking ability might seem impressive, it is actually hindering their ability to focus and to see complex tasks through to completion. This multi-tasking madness is creating mayhem in our minds. I recently watched a video about Larry Rosen on The Psychology of Technology: What Parents & Children Need to Know The video is about the multi-tasking madness and I some very interesting and alarming scientific studies around how the brain react to the use of technology.
So in in our house, our kids may only choose one technology input at any given time. For example, if my youngest is watching something on the television, my eldest is not allowed to sit on the couch next to his brother while playing with his iPad.
Taking all these risks into consideration, is abstinence the answer? For me… it certainly is not. I believe that all these negative aspects of technology can be managed with parental involvement, strict boundaries and balance. At the end of the day, it is up to us as parents to equip our children with the necessary tools to be resilient against the possible pitfalls.
To me, the following suggestions are key:
- Set a time limit.
There needs to be clear time limits defined for the allowable technology time. For example, we limit ‘recreational’ screen-time to weekends and special occasions. Non- recreational screen-time is less than an hour during weekdays. During weekends, we are less strict, but we ensure that there are frequent breaks and limit it to an hour at a time. In addition, all chores should be completed before ‘earning’ recreational screen-time. Naturally, if they need to use the computer for school work that should be taken into consideration. The point is boundaries… and when the boundaries are not adhered to, there should be a logical consequence like reduced or no screen-time for a defined period.
- Enough time for playing outdoors.
Outside play is very important and this activity should comprise most of a child’s time. Obviously allowable screen time depends on a child’s age. The point is to keep a healthy balance. Exercise and socializing are crucial for their development.
- Avoid Technology cocooning:
Your children should not be isolated while they are using technology. Limit device usage to the family room. Keep the doors open if they use technology in their rooms and always interact with them during computer time. Make sure that you are familiar with the games they are playing and what they are exposed to. When possible, sit, watch and interact with your child during screen time. This is all part of the resilience building process.
As mentioned before, technology is not an all-or-nothing conversation. I don’t want to step on any toes and I believe that every parent should decide what’s best for their own kids. I do however believe that God does not make any mistakes and that our children are matched with their specific parent for a specific reason. Both my husband and I use technology extensively and needless to say, our kids have a strong magnetism towards technology it as well. We could argue that is has to do with modeling… Or it could be due to the fact that within the skills that we are exposing them to, lays their purpose? The fact of the matter is that we have an obligation to educate our children in all the skills that we are familiar with, but even more importantly is to teach them, that with any skill and task at hand, there should always be balance.
Technology is a great utility to assist us in our quest to give our kids a great education. However we should use it wisely and create strict boundaries. Some of the educational applications of technology are:
You might recently have heard the great news about the launch of the e-library service (exclusive for SA Homeschoolers.) This great initiative was started by four home-school families. I am personally very excited about it, as it is a big financial saving for us. My 7 year old is still in the process of learning to read, but he just loves it if I read with him. Which means lots of cuddle time 🙂
I am an auditory learner, so audio books are a big part of how I get information. I enjoy listening to Home-school podcast on Stitcher. Audible is also a great source for audio books. The new e-library service also have audio books to look forward to. On many occasions, my children's audio books have helped me to keep my sanity by reducing the kids’s sound levels while driving. And it sure helps during those cold winter mornings to keep them in bed a little longer.
There are so many... to many to list… and I am sure you have your own favorites. We alternate our printed math lessons with an online math program to spice things up. We use IXL and I have only great things to say about it. Another handy handwriting application that I can recommend is letterschool.
In addition to all the new learning material and subjects that my kids are interested in, I constantly use youtube videos to aid their learning. It is very useful especially for visual learners.
I can writes pages and pages about this topic, but for now I think you get my point. Yes, technology use can be harmful for our children (and for us), but as with any activity in life, a healthy balance is the key.
*** please note that the author is not affiliated with any of the articles or apps in the links provided.***
We would love to hear your opinions and feedback on the technology use subject in the comments below.
About the author
Nanette Oosthuizen is a Homeschool parent of two precious boys, the founder of the HeartGuardian, Evergreen Parenting consultant and Temperament and Leadership coach at Tall Trees Training. Contact Nanette at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit nanette.co.za for more info about talks and seminars.