My friend and I were having lunch not too long ago and we noticed a family of four: mom, dad, and two kids, approximately 6 and 8, boy and girl, respectively, sitting nearby in a booth. There was no conversation between the family members other than placing their order. Mom and dad made some small talk, as the kids kept their eyes on their electronic devices. The boy had dad’s iPhone and the girl had an iPad. There was no effort to engage the kids in a discussion of any sort, which got me to thinking and discussing with my friend whether parents have given much of the time they could be bonding with their kids over to the many gadgets we have today. So, ‘Am I using my iPad as a babysitter?’….I am so glad you asked!
Technology in Today’s Family
It’s pretty evident that technology is here to stay and there’s no way of going back, even if we wanted to do so. Technology can help kids of all ages with tools for learning in fun and engaging ways, while expressing their creativity, and connecting with others. With the positives of integrating technology into the lives of our families, how much is too much when kids are tethered to today’s gadgetry?
Health care professionals say that, as with most situations, a balanced approach to the challenges of technology and maintaining a personal tie to the world and family is needed. The most important step in this approach is to establish a balanced and sustainable relationship with the technology in our lives. Kids innately understand the concept of balance; they know that it’s important to eat a healthy diet, with veggies, fruits, etc. along with an occasional dessert or candy. There’s a time for screens, but that should never be at the expense of time for physical activity and connecting with family and friends in the present.
The idea of balance won’t look the same in your family as it does in your neighbor’s. There’s a sweet spot to getting it just right and you won’t get it right the first time. Every family is different, unique with parenting styles and values that vary.
What Does Unhealthy Tech Time Look Like?
There are a few warning signs that healthcare professionals say parents should look for in their kids to determine if the time with tech is out of hand.
- If your kids complain about being bored or unhappy when they don’t have access to their technology.
- Poor behavior or all out tantrums occur when tech time is restricted.
- Time with technology interferes with sleep, school work, or face-to-face interaction with others.
Tech Time: An Ongoing Struggle
As your kids grow, their reliance and involvement with technology will change, too. With all the advancements, it is hard to know exactly how technology will evolve in a short time. Your definition of healthy and unhealthy tech usage will need regular re-evaluation and updates as your kid ages. Some things to remember are:
- Is the info your kid watches/listens to age appropriate?
- Are the apps they use most interactive and thought provoking?
- Are there privacy settings in place to monitor social media and keep strangers from contacting your kid?
Whatever age your child is, never turn on technology and plop them down in front of it for mindless media just to keep from being bothered by him or her. When at dinner, at home or in a restaurant, everyone, including the adults, should put gadgets aside and do something earth shattering…talk! What a concept, right? You will never get that precious time back, so don’t let technology horn in on family time.