Raising Children in the Digital Age: Risks and Benefits of Technology for Children

Short of going off the grid, there is no escaping the plain fact that we all are living in a highly digital society and technological advancements have rapidly changed the very nature of how, when, and why we send and receive information. The technological advances that continue to unfold have also changed the way we are interacting and connecting in our families, schools and communities. The tricky part is for conscious parents to know how to find balance when it comes to raising well-rounded, healthy children.

There are risks and benefits of technology for children. Parents do best to view technology as a tool to be utilized without allowing technology to overshadow the importance of play time on the floor with three dimensional toys and face to face interactions.

Recent research shows that excessive time in front of a screen for children under the age of 5 results in developmental delays. The reason for this is that young children are wired to have active, exploratory play in order to develop motor skills and relationship to the world around them. Too much screen time robs young children of this necessary developmental play time.
(This study can be read in its entirety at JAMA Pediatrics).

The American Pediatric Association discourages the use of any kind of media other than video chatting for children under the age of 2. Young children need to interact with caregivers and other people in real time, face to face and need to be able to explore, express and experience the world around them.

The nature of video screen lighting can disrupt normal brain activity, impeding quality and quantity of sleep necessary for children to be healthy. Too much screen time can affect a child’s physical health because healthy body movement is neglected. Many children develop what appears to be a dependency on playing video games and being entertained by what is on the screens.

On the other hand there can be great benefits to including a regulated level of technology in a child’s life. There are amazing applications, for example, that provide interactive activities to allow children to creatively explore and express and to learn new concepts. Technology allows children to see and hear relatives or friends far away whereas in the past they may have never known those people due to distance.

Parents can provide technology for children in a way that strikes a healthy balance so that benefits can be had and risks can be mitigated.

My 8 Top Tips for Managing the Risks and Benefits of Technology for Children:

  1. Set limits. As mentioned above, the American Pediatric Association recommends children under 2 not participate in screen time activity other than video chats and they go on to recommend children ages 2-5 be limited to one hour per day. After age 5, I like to recommend parents keep it around one hour each day and only after house hold jobs, homework and an hour of play outdoors or with real toys or friends.
  2. Keep close tabs. You need to be up front and close, knowing exactly what your child is seeing, hearing and playing on those screens. Use parental controls, choose applications or programs that will be not only entertaining but enriching. Stay close by and supervise your child’s online activity at all times. Try to avoid using the computer, tablet or television as a babysitter.
  3. Choose interactive activities. Programs that invite your child to interact keep your child fully engaged which is better for brain development than passive watching.
  4. Avoid advertising. Pay for the plans that eliminate ads and commercials as the content on ads and commercials can be inappropriate and there’s not much you can do about it.
  5. Create technology-free zones and times and encourage building, drawing, painting, sculpting along with sand play, water play, garden time and good old-fashioned outdoor play time.
  6. Establish a tech zone. Keep all devices in one room. Don’t allow your child to abscond with the family Ipad to her bedroom. This will aid in having healthy boundaries and better supervision of online activity and will help manage the time limits you’ve established too.
  7. Have a weekly board game night. Practice playing together as a family one night each week with board games which encourage face to face interaction and fun time minus the technology.
  8. Be the example of what it is to have healthy relationships with technology. Practice what you teach and preach yourself. Cut out the mindless scrolling on social media or the chronic phone-checking behaviors. Commit to using technology mindfully and set a good
    example for your children.

If you feel overwhelmed and need some help sorting out a plan for your family so you can find balance with the risks and benefits of technology for children in your family, contact me today and let’s schedule a parenting consultation session!

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