Think back to when you were a kid. Do you remember sitting around the TV on Thursday nights to watch prime time with your family? I sure do. We would watch The Cosby Show (gulp) and Family Ties together. When a commercial would come on we would race to the bathroom or to refill our drink. When the show was over we would shut it off and patiently wait a week until the next episode aired.
Now think about how your kids consume media. It never ends. There aren’t traditional commercials. As soon as one episode ends, the next one begins and the binge watching ensues. Move that into other realms of technology and the same concept applies. Whether it’s the never ending feed of social media or the You Tube videos that loop into the next three minute clip, technology aims for instant and constant gratification.
What is this doing to our kids? How does this affect their development? What are we teaching them? Some of these questions have answers. There is data showing that screen time when less than 18-months-old has lasting negative effects on language development, reading skills and short term memory. Studies show that screen time doesn’t translate into real skills. Kids learn through human interaction and practice, not by watching it on a screen.
The National Institute of Health has started following 11,000 older elementary kids for the next decade to see how screen time affects their development. Early results are showing that greater than two hours of screen time a day lower test scores especially related to thinking and language skills. I will be watching to see what these results show regarding communication, resiliency, and creativity in these kids just to name a few.
In the meantime, as the first generation of parents to have to deal with these issues, what can we do? Here are a couple of ideas…
- Check out apps like “Our Pact” that let you set up schedules and time limits for when your kids have access to their apps. Control their phone or iPad from your phone. Genius.
- Watch your own habits with electronics. Kids are always watching and learning from our behavior, whether they are a toddler or a teenager. How much mindless scrolling are we modeling?
- For all you early elementary school parents, make a pact with other parents in your child’s grade to have “no phone, no social media” until a time you all agree upon. Trust me, once one domino falls in the friend group everyone else is close behind. It helps to collectively be on the same page as others in your child’s social circle.
- Start tough! Your phone is yours, not your toddlers. Once you do enter the age of personal devices for your kids set stricter rules and regulations from the get go. You can always loosen the rules but it’s hard to put the genie back in the bottle once a habit starts. Keep those phones out of bedrooms. Let your kids know that you will have access to their phones to make sure they are learning a safe online presence and social media manners. And keep them away from the dinner table!
- Set up screen free time for the whole family. Summer is upon us. What a great time to get kids out of the house on a walk or a bike ride. Can you do it without your phones present?
This is a tough subject to navigate as a parent. I now have two young teenagers and I will be the first to admit I epically failed on most of the ideas I listed above. I caved on Instagram when their friends got the app. “But I need an alarm” is the answer I get when I try to get the phone out of their room. And ten bucks says the next time you see me waiting in the carpool line I’ll be scrolling through Facebook. But I’ll keep trying to do better. Parenting doesn’t come with a manual. And it really doesn’t come with a manual for doing it with technology. But time and technology don’t go backwards. Life with screens is the new normal. So let’s keep talking and learning from each other how we can make sure our kids are developing into their healthiest selves.