How much time do your kids spend on
electronic devices? If you answered “a lot.”
You are not alone.
It is probably very difficult to turn them away from those screens. Lets all admit it. We are all mesmerized by these devices in some way shape or form. We are glued to our phones! Some of us won’t hesitate to check status updates and game scores between bites at the dinner table. It is often an easy fix to hand our children an electronic device to calm them down, get some more time for ourselves or just so you don’t have to hear them complaining that they are bored. I have been there! I get it! I am a mom too.
Researchers these days are astounded by what they are finding with excessive usage and how it is having such negative effects for our children. They are finding that there are changes in early learning and development due to the reliance of the interactive technology. The overuse of technology is literally changing a person’s brain development. I for one have to admit that I have a very addicted 13-year-old son and writing this article has given me much insight in ways to help him as well and make sure that he is staying as safe as possible.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics no child should have more than 2 hours of digital recreation a day and no child under 2 should have any technology at all. The reality on the other hand is scary. In 2014 a study in the journal of Clinical Pediatrics found that half of US kids ages 6-18 far exceed the two-hour limit including nearly 16% exceeding more than 4 hours.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of using your phone as a crutch to pacify your kids as you wait in line, use the multimedia in your car even on a short drive to school, but as you do that you undermine your kids’ ability to self soothe or entertain themselves. As they get older, they look to that same technology to fill the gaps, every moment of downtime, and then fill every moment period.
We as parents also role model behavior that makes it hard to set limits for kids. They see us constantly check our phones, ‘working’ on our laptops or tablets, and our kids sometimes have to remind us that they are trying to get our attention.
We are now understanding that the reinforcement we get from checking and rechecking our social media feeds for example, stimulates the same areas of the brain that sugar or opioids do which for some people can become addictive.
How can you tell if you or your child is becoming addicted to your device?
- Less interested in other activities: in the case of your kids, when offered the choice of playing on a device or playing a game or going outside with friends they choose the device. In your case, you choose your device when your kids are trying to tell you about their day at school or your spouse is having a conversation with you.
- Constantly looking for the next time on the device/preoccupied with it: For your kids, negotiating constantly about when they can get back on the computer, talking about the game, video, etc. despite others lack of interest. For you, being more interested in getting the photo right for Instagram than enjoying the moment, checking back after you’ve posted on SnapChat to see who viewed your story even when your kids are right there still enjoying the event, feeling a little lost or uncomfortable when halfway through a movie you realize you haven’t checked your social media.
- Argumentative/Angry/Depressed when you bring up screen use: For kids or you, more than just a normal kid (or adult) being annoyed when you bring up stuff, this upset is intense and the type of response that can be explosive. Extensive and intense feelings of justification and protection of the behavior are generated and expressed to the point that the person who initiated the conversation feels attacked. Often after the exchange, the person with the problem feels bad/depressed.
- Withdrawal symptoms: For younger kids this often is manifested as temper tantrums, whining, and negotiating when the technology is initially removed. There is physical and emotional distress as the child is separated from their technology. For adults there is anxiety, agitation, difficulty with attention, intrusive thoughts about their device and phantom vibrations as they put their technology aside.
- Lying and sneaky behavior: A true addict will do almost anything to get their fix. A kid will sneak or lie to get access to their technology. Adults will lie to themselves and ‘sneak’ in the movies check their phones, or if dinner is a ‘no phone’ zone an adult may go to the bathroom during the meal to do a quick check.
So now that you’re completely alarmed J what can you do to limit you and your kids’ screen time? One approach is to use parental controls and timers so you aren’t the bad guy, the device is! This is also a great way for you to key an eye on what your child is looking at online. Here are strategies for each kind of device:
Safety features/tips for parents
Monitoring is key:
Windows PC: when you create an account, you can enable a Family Settings controls and you can monitor time and usage from child’s account and block certain apps and get weekly reports reviewing activity on account.
Macs: you can share screens if you and your child use separate Macs in addition to parental controls. Log into as an administrator on your child’s Mac, go to sharing preferences and choose Screen sharing. Continue to Allow Access for and choose administrator. When you are on your Mac, go to the Finder and choose GO: Network to see their Mac. Click on Share screen to see the activity.
Tablets; all tablets have their own parental control setting; often including timers for usage. Do not be afraid to use them!
Phones: If kids have any smart phones, backing up the device to the parent’s computer is a great idea. This way you can be aware of all the apps being used on the phone and also be able to see what calls and text messages your child is making. Make sure that you do not forget tat activate basic security settings including limiting usage before your child even begins using the phone.
Finally, here are some other expert tips to address screen addiction and remember practice what you preach and PUT DOWN YOUR PHONE!!
Tips to manage screen addiction in kids
From TIME magazine (Parenting for the Digital Age by Ratner).
Let the child if old enough have a voice: when they are a part of the decision-making process of how and when to use technology in the household; they are more likely to take ownership of the project.
- Find allies in other parents: connect with other parents to find out what they do to help protect and monitor their kids’ technology use.
- Don’t just limit media use: find ways to replace it and do things and activities as a family. Find entertainment for everyone to take a part of or take in a movie or concert or go for a walk or play a game.
- Be OK with the “attitude” that will come with setting the parental controls. Find out which rules work and stick to it. Kids will no doubt be upset that they cannot view something due to an age restriction but be firm and stick to with it.
- Find ways to make technology habits productive. A technology-obsessed teen might be finding a passion with programming, animation, or apps. Channel that if possible and sign them up for a class in the designated area of interest.
- Remember that technology use is not an all or nothing matter. Each family may have a different set of rules and what might work for one family may not work as well for another. Must be flexible and willing to make changes as they see fit.