In an age when selfies count a diagnosable condition and millennials don’t check voicemail, it’s easy for parents to become completely overwhelmed with the new normal. While there is a hint of pride that the little ones know how to swipe through a photo gallery when Grandma doesn’t, we are all aware that the immediacy and allure of smart devices takes a toll.
And part of the unease is actually transference; adults spend more hours on their phones and tablets all the time. Our manners have changed so that now it is totally acceptable to text while having a face-to-face conversation, it’s typical to interrupt a meal at a nice restaurant to take a picture of the food.
It’s important to point out that for parents of young children, this constant distraction has significant effects on development. We know now that children cannot grow, learn skills, become socially functional people without the constant input and interaction of their parents and caregivers. For older kids, the exchange is more abstract, but decision-making, communication, logic and other social attributes have everything to do with consistent parenting. So the threat to normal development is real.
What are the things we can do to mediate our device usage for our children and us? Here are some suggestions recommended by the experts:
- Laptops are for Work. With more of the workforce becoming remote all the time, the line between working and being at home is becoming increasingly blurred. When the workday is over, close that computer and keep it closed. Same for homework, when the task is complete, teens need to turn it off, not spend hours trolling social media sites.
- Dinner Time is Device Free. Once parents start making the exception at dinnertime because they have to respond to a work email, they open the door for a meal where no one is talking, sharing or making eye contact. Dinner should be sacrosanct, a time set aside to hear about everyone’s day, to discuss plans or events, not to text or scroll through facebook.
- Use Vacation Time to Unplug…From Everything. When it comes to family activities, show up and stay present. One child in a study on technology said that her dad must think she is boring because he even texts on the ski lift. Make sure your kids know that your attention is on them. That means having a dialog with them and actively participating in their interests. Even on family trips, parents can become so consumed with getting a photo, they aren’t actually in the game. Let some things go undocumented.
- For Teens, Part of Their Allowance Goes to Data. Older kids have higher expectations about what is a right. In the digital era, that often means it’s a right to be constantly in contact with friends. To keep device use reasonable, parents can incorporate device use into the allowance agreement, letting kids older than 8 trade household chores for gaming and chatting time.
- Make the Time Online Count. Digital tools provide a wealth of opportunity to engage with our kids. Showing them how to research their interests or solve a problem opens up more conversation and discovery. Sharing the experience of information or playing and educational game can be a positive.
- Set a Good Example. No matter how old your children are, they are watching you and taking their cues from you about what is acceptable. If you prioritize your screen in front of family, friends or even people on the street, you send them the message that it is ok to be rude as long as you were engrossed in your device. You wouldn’t text while driving in front of your kids, so apply the same consideration by taking that critical call out of the restaurant, and turning the phone off in public spaces where you are interacting with other people.
The digital era has brought immeasurable rewards to our lives. It presents us with instant information, a world of entertainment, a way to communicate and share that we never thought possible. But we have a social responsibility around that power and it starts with our children. We owe them the dignity of listening to them, of helping them grow and teaching them good manners.