How do you take away the tech without becoming a monster? I’ve lined up my top 5 tips on how you can balance your family digital time without ending up a sobbing mess…. Well, most of the time, anyway.
It’s an inescapable truth that we now live in a digital age; but whilst the march of progress is generally a positive one, it’s undeniable that the sheer overload of technology can have negative effects on our children. You know it’s scary when a study by AVG revealed that more children aged 2-5 can open a web browser than swim. Children are losing life skills to technology, and it’s an ongoing battle- relationships with other people, language skills and indeed, self confidence, all come from human interaction, not screen time.
So how can we redress the balance? Here's my top 5 tips for a tech-happy life.
1. One or the other, not all
How often has your child begged to watch something on TV, only to pick up a tablet the minute it’s on and play on that too?
A recent study from Childwise shows that children aged 5-16 spend an average of 6.5 hours a day in front of a screen, and whilst you may not realise it, giving them more than one tech option at once makes that screen time rocket up. Give them a choice; it’s one or the other. By having to choose you are showing them that it’s not okay to be on screen all the time, as well as improving their decision making skills at the same time.
2. Out of sight, out of mind.
It sounds really obvious, but we all do it- and I mean, all of us. I’m the worse when it comes to putting my phone down when I’m trying to relax (top tip, turn off your notifications- it’s a whole new world!!), and children are no different.
When the tablet isn’t in use, put it in the cupboard, in a drawer; even better, somewhere they can’t reach so they have to ask you to use it. Hiding it will make it a less obvious ‘go-to’ when they’re looking for something to do.
3. Screaming for the screen
They are screaming for the tablet, and sometimes the easiest thing to do is just to give them the damn thing. But children learn from repetition: if I scream= I get to play on the tablet.
Recent studies suggest that screen time causes Dopamine to be released, creating a feeling of pleasure (the same chemical as when we fall in love, exercise, and yes, addictive activities like drinking or gambling). Your child has a meltdown when they can’t have the tech because what they are essentially experiencing is withdrawal. Combat this by giving them other options to keep them busy, and if they do end up having a tantrum then often the best tactic is to simply ignore the behaviour- think of the tech as a reward, not a silencer.
4. Be the change
In one study by Boston Medical centre, 55 caregivers with children were watched by a group of researchers to see how often they looked at their phones. Of the 55, 40 used a phone during the meal. If children feel that they are competing with your smartphone for attention, they will quickly pick up on that technology as something which should be prioritised in their lives too.
The great thing about this situation is that it really is an easy one to remedy- ban phones from any table while you’re eating, social situations, or when you are spending quality time with your child- where possible, choose activities which you can do together to make it even more meaningful. Don’t feel like you can’t ever be on your phone, but just make sure that you are allocating time to your child each day where you are 100% engaged with them.
5. Use tech as a tool.
Don't worry, it's not all bad news! If you can use technology as a tool in your childs’ development you will find it has an incredibly positive impact on your family unit as a whole.
When looking for technology options, keep your eye out for educational games which also encourage interaction too- the guys at the Wire Cutter have compiled a great list of learning games, thoroughly researched and all with a focus on building skills and exploring creativity. Another great option is to use tech as a family- a great game for this is ‘heads up’, a modern version of ‘who am I?’, the post-it note on the head being replaced with your phone.
Anything which can encourage learning and interaction is a positive, but don’t forget that it’s still important to put time limits on any screen time.
Overall, we all know technology is a great thing, but it just needs to be used well in order for you and your family to get the most out of it. As Spiderman once said: "With great power comes great responsibility."
With thanks to these wonderful sites for their invaluable information: