A Facebook friend posted a link to an article about Gen X-ers parenting in the age of technology. It is a great article and describes the tension parents today feel between what is available and what kids are ready for. I read the article the same day I heard a report on NPR about a study of 100 kids in California. They discovered the more screen time a child had, the less able they were to read facial expressions/emotions. Five days at a camp, removed from screens and reliant upon face to face contact, the kids improved this ability.
So what does that say about screens?
The world is full of screens. As a librarian I love the access to information. If I have a question, I can find an answer within seconds. Recipe for 45 lbs of apples? Done. Hamstring aching? In seconds 3 possible reasons and ways to fix it. Technology is a useful tool. It has given my husband a great job. It keeps me connected to family when we are hours away. It gave me a creative outlet for all the crazy that bounces around my head.
But do I think my 10, 6 and 4 year old need an tablet?
Do I think they need a phone?
Not on your life.
Is a hand held game system a necessity?
What kids need is creative play. They need to be outside in the dirt, rolling around in piles of leaves, tromping through fields, canoeing down rivers, staring up at the sky, counting cars that go by, being bored. Technology will always be here, which is why I am not in a hurry to introduce it into their lives.
That’s not to say we are a no screen family. They are allowed to watch TV and play computer games and the Wii. Sometimes I let them play a game on my phone or take pictures with it. I like my phone. I use my laptop constantly. I keep in touch with my husband throughout the day through texts. It would be ironic for me to not let me kids use technology when it is a huge part of my life. But, just like I do with any other aspect of my life, I need to show them with my action, an appropriate boundary with technology.
The debate that rages about screens is usually an either/or, which is always a mistake. The best decisions usually land somewhere in the middle and not on either extreme. Our lives have been changed by the advances in the past twenty years, our lives are enriched, and how we interact with people has changed. We are still the parents, and just like we don’t hand over a bag of candy and tell our kids have at it, we need to be more respectful of the good and harm access to screens can have on our children.
1) Educate yourself. You are not the only parent facing this dilemma. There is an increasing load of research about how screens affect our kids. Some is for screen time and some is against. Do your homework and understand the possible approaches before you make a decision.
2) Set a clear boundary. This will be different for every family and there is no right or wrong answer. Take the research you read, the personalities of your kids, and with confidence decide how your family will interact with screens. What is an appropriate amount of TV, phone, and gaming per day for YOUR family?
3) Be flexible. Nothing is ever set in stone, but with clear boundaries your children will know what is expected of them. And they will be grateful for days of grace.
4) Your kids will be fine. Whether you decide only screens on weekends, or screens in the evenings, or no screens at all, the possibilities are endless. And no matter what you decide, your kids will be okay. What they need to see is the routine, the pattern, a guide for how much technology we need in our life. They aren’t going to be thirty and not know how to use a keyboard. It is everywhere they go, the problem isn’t if they will learn to use it, but how they will learn to use it.
5) Have a conversation Don’t set rules without following up on the why, and don’t shut your kids out of the conversation. Listen to them, hear them, and explain to them. Depending on the age of your kids, include them in the decision making process. There will be push back, because you set a rule. What kid doesn’t yell when you tell them not to do something? Tell your kids you love them, and because you love them you want to show them the best way for living.
6) Reevaluate. As kids get older, as kids mature, as their nature changes, the boundaries will need to change. Teenagers have different needs when it comes to screens than an 8 yo does. Always be open to reexamine and rethink what needs to be done. But keep using the process of educating, setting boundaries, conversing, flexibility, and reevaluation. You can’t go wrong when you are confident your decisions are well thought out.
We are navigating uncharted waters as parents. As phones, gaming systems, computers, tablets, and other technologies become cheaper and more available we have to decide how we want our families to interact with this world. Nothing happens to us, we get to respond. I challenge you, parent to parent, decide how you will respond.
Screens may be the way kids communicate today, but does that make them better communicators? I don’t know, but I do know it is something I need to explore. Will be kids be left behind because they don’t have a DS? I think they will be okay, and besides their friends have them.
My daughter asked me recently when she could buy a phone. She asked if she could have one at the same age I did. I had to laugh, because I didn’t get a phone until I was 21. She doesn’t understand that there was a world before cellphones, laptops, and Wii’s. But I do, and I want my kids to experience what I had growing up. I have the best of both worlds. My childhood was relatively screen free and my adulthood expanded to include the world at my fingertips. It wasn’t necessary to have a screen in my hand at birth, I learned and I continue to learn all I need to know to exist in this world.
And I believe they will too.
The tension then, is how do you want to parent? What is your objective in raising kids? Know that first, and then decide how you want your kids to interact with technology. You might just sleep better at night.