Kids and Technology: Learning the Digital Balance

kids and technologyHow many parents would raise their hands if I asked about their concern with the amount of technology in their kids’ lives? There will likely be just as many of those that enjoy the positive outcomes resulting from some of the technological influences. How much is too much? What is good enough? Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of technology in our kids’ lives.

Technology can Help Communication and Education

Melissa Maypole (@MelissaMaypole), Head of Corporate Social Responsibility for Qustodio, a parental control software that helps parents monitor children’s activities from connected devices, and a contributor to empoweringparents.com, says technology can help with Social Play. You can find her on the front lines of the uphill battle to successfully parent four kids in a high-tech world.

“When we think of kids and video games, we often conjure up images of zombie kids sitting in the dark alone, eyes glued to screen. Often, though, gaming is a much more social experience for children,” she says.

A recent study revealed that kids enjoy playing video games together as much, or perhaps more, than playing alone, notes Melissa. She points out that

“both cooperative and competitive game play can teach kids valuable social and emotional skills such as teamwork, sportsmanship, and negotiation.”

So you can arrange a playdate for your child to play video games with him. Research shows that kids benefit when their parents play video games with them as well, so perhaps if you participate, there will be more communication and you can perhaps learn something new about your child.
Let’s not forget how omnipresent technology is in our educational system. Many schools have iPads and other devices in class and teach using the web as a resource finder. Denise Lisi DeRosa from Good Digital Parenting thinks one of the positives of technology is that our kids have access to information, news, entertainment and ways to explore our globe that we could never believe was possible.

“They can stay connected to far away friends and family with social media, face-to-face online interaction, texting, etc. The downside is that sometimes they miss what’s in front of them or are exposed to material and behavior that is not appropriate.  So it is important to have a discussion with your kids about the use, and abuse of technology.”

This brings me to the point about quality.

Quality as important as Quantity

The American Academy of Pediatrics set a 2 hour screen time daily limit. Although setting time limits for media consumption can be helpful, Melissa Maypole says it’s just as important to monitor the quality of the media your child is consuming, including which video games he’s playing:

“An hour spent playing Angry Birds, for instance, is not the same as engaging in creative play with Minecraft, which has been touted as one of the most educational games for kids.”

Melissa notes commonsensemedia.org as a great resource to learn about the quality and content of games.
Of course, our job as parents is not just in influencing or setting limits but also monitoring what your child is doing online or on a digital device. Another good resource is fosi.org/good-digital-parenting, with helpful information and advice for parents on navigating the online world. Denise Lisi DeRosa suggests parents should ask their kids what the kids are doing online:

“Learn from them. Ask them what their favorite games, apps or websites are and why. Then try them out for themselves.”

Kids are becoming less active

Now that we’ve talked about the positives, let’s talk about every parent’s biggest concern with the prevalence of technology – kids are becoming less active. Kids spend a lot more time indoors, in front of screens, than was the case just 30-40 years ago. Len Saunders, author of “Keeping Kids Fit”, says:

“From my perspective, as someone who works on helping children lead healthier lifestyles, I am concerned about the use of technology, so much that I created a web site about it, called the 2:1 Club“.

Len says he is mostly worried about the sedentary lifestyle facing kids today.

“As you may be aware, heart disease and obesity are on the rise as well as type 2 Diabetes in the US and rest of the world. So, reducing tech time, and increasing activity time is a positive thing to me.”

He does not discount the values of technology – increased communication, entertainment value, and medical help – but really emphasizes that increasing physical activity is a must. Kids are exercising less as their screen times increase and parents are often lax about it. So Len encourages us to get kids moving and perhaps give up some technology time in favor of exercise time.

Monitor the Effects on Sight

While such technologies create educational opportunities, they can also take a toll on students’ vision and can cause eye strain, fatigue, blurred vision or headaches, all signs of computer vision syndrome (CVS). I checked with the California Optometric Association (COA) on how to prevent or reduce eye and vision problems associated with CVS and there are their tips:

* Check the height and arrangement of the computer. According to optometrists, a computer screen should be 15 to 20 degrees below eye level (about 4 or 5 inches) as measured from the center of the screen and held 20 to 28 inches away from the eyes.

* Check for glare on the computer screen. If possible, windows or other light sources should not be directly visible when sitting in front of the monitor. If this happens turn the desk or computer to prevent glare on the screen.

* Reduce the amount of lighting in the room to match the computer screen. A lower-wattage light can be substituted for a bright overhead light or a dimmer switch may be installed to give flexible control of room lighting.

* Keep blinking. To minimize the chances of developing dry eye when using a computer or digital device, make an effort to blink frequently. Blinking keeps the front surface of the eye moist.

Most importantly, students should see a doctor of optometry for a comprehensive eye examination to ensure their eyes are healthy and functioning properly. It is recommended that school-age children receive an eye exam before entering kindergarten and annually after that.

Learn to Balance

Ultimately, we need to learn the balance. Denise Lisi DeRosa of Good Digital Parenting says

“the best approach is for parents to aim for their kids to live a balanced life, incorporating technology in a way that represents your families’ goals and values. As long as your kids are involved in activities, focusing on school, getting exercise, socializing with friends in person then they are probably already using technology responsibly.”

This Family Online Safety Institute initiative group advises parents to talk to their kids about their use of media devices and set ground rules, time limits and if necessary, hard and fast rules, including no devices at family dinner, no gaming before homework is done and all devices off by “X”pm, no cell phone use while driving, etc.

Kids today do not know the world without technology – I often get puzzled looks when I tell my kids stories about “before the Internet/cell phone, etc” – and they navigate the web quickly and efficiently. Denise agrees,

“kids are already adept at incorporating tech in their lives better than we as adults are. Our kids are digital natives, they’ve never known a world without the Internet, email, or even texting and social media. I do believe it is important for parents to model responsible online behavior. If you don’t want your teen attached to a smartphone, make sure you put yours down and away enough as well.”

The bottom line is take the advice from the American Academy of Pediatrics and devote no more than 2 hours screen time a day – your child will learn to prioritize that time and will still enjoy the activities that don’t involve tech – from playing outdoors, favorite board games, creating with crafts or Legos, or something as simple as playing charades, dancing to the music or just talking to friends. I think the prevalence of technology in our kids’ lives is partially the often unintentional parental influence, but if you go outside to play or decide to make a treasure in a bottle, they might just follow you.

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