Many parents today have concerns about the way their children use technology. This is understandable since many of us didn’t grow up completely immersed in technology. I still remember cassette tapes and have vague memories of a time before widespread Internet access. To my son, this is incomprehensible. Today’s children are digital natives. They’re growing up in a world of devices and connections.
While we might have an instinct to ban our children from using technology, or at least try to restrict it, that probably isn’t the answer. After all, many of our children learn how to use computers starting in kindergarten. Besides, chances are you know a two-year-old that knows how to use a tablet computer or smartphone to play games or watch TV. Rather than trying to restrict technology, it makes more sense to teach your child to use technology responsibly.
Set the Example
First of all, it’s up to you to set the example of appropriate technology use. How can you teach your child that it’s not acceptable to use a phone or play a game at the table if you’re texting when you go out to eat as a family. Show your child that you can put the technology down as well. I’ve made a conscious effort to model responsible behavior with my devices, making it a point to keep them put away at dinner, to enjoy the outdoors without needing to be constantly connected, and turning off the entertainment and engaging in meditation or other activities when my son can see me.
Show your child that there is a time and place for the use of technology, and show him or her that there are other worthwhile things to do that don’t involve being constantly entertained or holding a device.
Encourage Other Activities
Make sure to encourage other activities for your children. Show them how much fun it can be to play outside. Get them interested in playing with toys that foster creativity. My son loves Legos and tinkering with his circuitry sets. These activities are engaging and fun, and don’t require screen time. He is also encouraged to ride his bike and practice music.
My son also knows that he needs to accomplish more important tasks before playing video games. Just as we want to teach our children that work comes before play, you can teach your child that homework comes before video games and puzzles played on the smart phone. My son also knows that he needs to complete chores before using technology. The habits your child develops now are likely to carry over later in life, so it makes sense to get him or her used to completing essential tasks before engaging in entertainment.
Enforce Proper Time and Place for Using Technology
A few weeks after my son received his smart phone, my husband and I were baffled by his behavior. He seemed tired and uncharacteristically moody. After some thought, we realized that he was watching YouTube videos on his phone well into the night, instead of falling asleep. We instituted a “no phone in the bedroom at night” rule. We also make sure he doesn’t keep his laptop or other devices in his room.
There is a time and place for using technology. We talked to him about the effects of backlit devices on the brain when preparing for sleep, as well as the importance of using rest time for rest — and not playing around. We’ve also had to enforce not taking his phone or Kindle into the bathroom. We follow our own rules as well. I don’t use my computer just before bed, and I leave my devices behind when I enter certain areas of the house. Talking about when and where to use devices, and talking about time and place, help my son see that it isn’t always appropriate to be connected.
Discuss Appropriate Use
Finally, make sure you discuss appropriate use. I don’t watch videos that are inappropriate for my son when he’s in the room. I also make it a point to use my laptop in common areas of the house. My office door is always open as well. This reinforces to my son that we don’t hide our technology use. My son and I have also had discussions about appropriate behavior online, from how he interacts with others (no cyberbullying) to what is appropriate for him to view. I have some parental controls set up, but I prefer not to be too heavy-handed, since I would rather talk about appropriate use and encourage him to make good decisions than take away any ability for him to learn to make appropriate choices.
It’s a delicate balance, but it’s one that’s important to maintain if possible. The reality is that your child is going to use technology. Start now to help your child develop good habits, and there’s a good chance you won’t have serious problems later.