So there’s this new element to parenting that even starting out just ten years ago as a 21-year-old mother-of-one I couldn’t have anticipated. As an analog-leaning person in this increasingly digital society, the thought of a technology-influenced parenthood was not what I’d expected.
Starting out, we didn’t even have a TV. I had a desktop computer set up in the living room and from time to time we would stream “Annie” or “Mary Poppins.” As time moved on, we were gifted a TV, which slowly evolved into both of my kids — ages 7 and 9 — owning iPods and iPads, each with access to their own laptop computers (if we could just find that other charger…).
This all initially seemed like a good idea, since my kids spend half their time at their dad’s house and the thought of iMessages and FaceTiming in their absence was very appealing. I miss them like hell when they’re gone and getting to send them a message or two directly each day made all this screen-accumulating seem like a good idea.
But like any big decision (or medium or minute) in parenting, this has brought about its share of struggles.
For starters, my kids become pretty zombie-like after a little bit on their devices. Then there’s the friend drama that comes with technology and sleepovers.
And also, YouTube. I’m not standing over their shoulders all the time and even Kids YouTube can’t cut out all the things I would cut out.
According to a Ted Radio Hour, some of the issues with kids and technology (or any of us, really) is that technology demands all of your attention. Instead of turning on the radio, we are searching for our favorite songs, while getting text messages, checking social media and deciding we don’t want to listen to that song but another one and, oh, have you seen this video?
All this mental bouncing around disrupts our primary functioning while quickly becoming an escape from our reality.
In the kid world, screen time is an escape from boredom. But psychologists are increasingly reporting benefits of boredom — like growing creativity, problem-solving, and autonomy.
When plopped down behind a screen for the majority of their day, our kids are missing out on incredible opportunities that are birthed out of the quiet spaces in our minds. To fill their boredom (and antsy-ness) with screen time only further perpetuates the problem.
But the reality of our world is that we all are edging towards the increased digitization of our daily lives. How do we balance all the negativity surrounding screens with the positives that accompany them?
First, model healthy limits for your kids. As a parent, be aware of how often your iPhone interrupts your interactions with your children.
One thing I’ve (tried) to do is leave my phone on the dresser when nursing, that way I’m not missing out on such precious fleeting moments and my big kids can see me siting still — bored — and finding meaning in my interactions during those times.
Another way is to have joint interactions with media. My kids love to watch Nerdy Nummies on YouTube. It is pretty funny but has lots of science and measurement laced in. We watch these together and then come up with our own creations.
The other day, we watched an episode on MatPat about video games and designed our own from the ground up. Have a healthy balance of using technology together and then incorporating what you’ve done in your digital life to your analog life. (Try to avoid channels that are basically prolonged commercials, designed to get your kids to ask you to buy things, like HobbyKidsTV.)
Oh, and don’t forget about physical activity. There should always be scheduled screen free time during the day and, really, it’s not a bad idea to schedule your screen time.
Give your kids a finite amount and set a timer. Letting them have some ownership in this process by stopping when they hear the timer versus when you come in to tell them can help them set healthy boundaries for themselves.
The main thing in this newly-charted world of digital parenting is to find a good, mindful balance. To constantly say “no” to technology is not realistic and can leave your child feeling powerless, yet being overindulgent can be just as debilitating.
With screen time, as with most things in life, you never want too much of a good thing.
Photo Credit: Randy Rivera
This story was written for CharlotteFive’s latest channel for parents in the QC, called QC Playground. Sign up for the weekly QC Playground newsletter here.