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We live in a world of technology, and for the most part we embrace it. We use iPads to teach our kids how to read and do math, and are fascinated when they can navigate the Internet before they can walk. It's a fact that kids are demanding iPhones at increasingly younger ages. But the worst thing a parent can do is hand over a smartphone and hope for the best. Parents often think that setting limits is pointless, tech is everywhere and kids will do what they want.
Too much technology can have serious long-term consequences for children. Parents have to be aware of how technology affects kids, and how to moderate it. Here are a few things to be aware of so your kids can make the most of the technology they use:
1. Technology can actually alter the wiring of the brain:
An article published in Psychology Today states that the use of technology can alter the way the brain functions. By over-exercising certain areas of the brain, others can remain underdeveloped. More than a third of children under the age of two use mobile media through games and apps, increasing to 95% by age 12 at over three hours per day. This onslaught of visual stimuli, especially from video games, train the brain to remain concentrated on multiple stimuli, which can lead to difficulty concentrating on things like school work.
On top of that, children who spend too much time engrossed in visual media do not exercise creativity as much as children who participate in tactile activities. "Children who use technology too much do not have enough opportunity to use their imagination and think deeply about material", the study says.
Dr. Delaney Ruston, in the film Screenagers states; "I want every parent to know two main scientific facts: The first is that the part of the brain responsible for things such as planning, decision-making and impulse control (the frontal cortex) grows slowly over the teen years and is not fully developed until our 20s. The second is that screen time releases the chemical dopamine in the reward centers of the brain, and there is no other time in life when you’re as susceptible to that pleasure-producing chemical than in adolescence."
2. Technology can affect a kids social skills:
A study done at the University of Los Angeles found that “sixth-graders who went five days without exposure to technology were significantly better at reading human emotions than kids who had regular access to phones, televisions and computers.”
Overuse of technology can also affect a child’s own mood. A report from the United Kingdom stated that kids who engage in screen time for four hours per day do not have the same sense of wellbeing as those who used that technology for less than an hour. One expert explained that with less physical contact, children might have difficulty developing social skills and emotional reactions.
3. Kids who overuse technology are less physically active today and later on:
According to a New York Times Article, "On any given day, 70 percent of boys are playing video games, and they play close to 2.5 hours a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year." Kids in 2016 are more likely to stay indoors all weekend than go outside and play with friends. It's a fact that because kids spend more time indoors, they exercise less. In an article written on 2machines, mom Rachel talked about just how difficult it was to get her kids off their phones:
“Come on, guys,” Rachel cajoled them. “Let’s check out the treehouse.” Grudgingly, they trooped out and settled on the floor of the treehouse — iPads still in hand. Within a minute, their brows furrowed. “Mom — we’re too far away from the Wi-Fi,” they wailed. They wanted to go back indoors to get a better signal.
Today’s kids go outside for just over an hour each weekday, and fewer than five hours on weekends — a huge contrast to generations growing up in the 1970s and 80s, who logged more than two hours of outside play each weekday, and enjoyed nine hours of outdoor play on the weekends.
It's often easy to forget just how much technology can impact kids. Because their brains are constantly developing, the habits they incur from age 1-18 are probably the ones they will stick to for a long time.
So how do parents prevent their kids from becoming screen zombies?
1. Monitor technology use:
You can't cut technology out by you can instill moderation. Monitor the use of your kids technology, and encourage them to participate in setting their own guidelines. One family decided together to check their devices every evening between 4pm - 8pm to force conversation and connection. If your kids still refuse to get off their devices, change the wifi, they’ll be bored real quick.
2. Lead by example:
It’s going to be really hard to preach technology moderation if you’re swiping through Facebook or checking your email every chance you get. A British study showed that while six in 10 parents worried that their children spend too much time in front of a screen, seven in 10 children worry that their parents are the ones who are plugged in and tuned out.
The best way to instill commitment is to lead by example. Make sure adults stick to the rules. Jennifer Jolly, New York Times reporter writes "kids can't be punished for breaking the rules when you can’t put your own devices down." When you’re with your kids you aren’t on your phone either. It's amazing how stress-free and restorative activities that don’t require technology can be for the whole family.