Put Tech in Its Place With Your Family

Arguably, the most profound impact on our lives in the last half century has been the influence of the digital world. Smart phones, tablets, and even our televisions put a world of clickable, downloadable and streaming content at our fingertips, and also within easy reach of our children.  As parents, we worry about our children’s safety and health when it comes to diet, activity, and where they go, but what about the virtual environment behind the screen?

HealthyChildren.org (sponsored by the American Academy of Pediatrics) offers up some useful ideas for thoughtfully managing your child’s digital use and access. Here are just a few:

Make a plan.  Healthy Children suggests considering the appropriate role of media content and access for your family, ensuring it does not detract from key life activities such as one-to-one communication, play, family activities, and “unplugged” time for relaxation and sleep. Want to see how a plan might look for you? Check out their planning tool here.

Set limits. Children thrive when they are given healthy boundaries. Limiting screen time encourages more well-rounded days that include playtime, creativity, and family interaction. Also, setting limits lets your child know that this is a privilege, not a given.

Interact. There are many opportunities to make digital use a shared activity. Play a video game, explore a topic together, or use it as a resource to learn a new activity or recipe. Be curious about your child’s activity and ask questions about what they might be doing or learning.

Be a role model. Often, we set limits for our children, but not ourselves. Practice what you preach and be aware of any media distraction that is taking you away from opportunities to be fully present and interacting with your children.

Make it age-appropriate. We’re not just talking about content, but how children learn. There is no substitute for you. Babies, toddlers, and preschoolers need two-way interaction to learn critical language and relational skills. Healthy Children recommends you limit screen use for ages 2-5 year to just one hour of high-quality programming a day.

Create no-tech zones. We’ve all seen the image of family members with their heads down engrossed in their phones at the dinner table. Don’t be that family. Keep mealtimes and other family/social gatherings distraction-free by turning off any background television or any device use. Ensure bedtime is just that and keep tech stimulants away. The result will be higher quality family time, healthier eating habits, and better sleep.

Tech is not a babysitter (or a pacifier). Most of us have been guilty of parking our children in front of the television or with a device to distract them and keep them quiet. Resist the urge to take your children and their emotions offline because it’s easier. Your children need to know how to manage boredom and strong emotions without the crutch of technology.

Know and control your apps. Be sure you have control of what your children download. Do your homework (not an easy task when there are tens of thousands of apps out there). A trusted resource such as Common Sense Media can help with reviews about what apps and games are both age-appropriate and high-quality.

Prepare your children. We don’t think it will happen to us, but the internet is ripe ground for predators and malicious use of content. Learn the dangers for yourself and equip your children with the knowledge they need to protect themselves and help them know what to do should they find themselves in a vulnerable situation.

Most of all, understand media and digital devices are both an unavoidable part of our world and very beneficial when used appropriately. Balancing your child’s media and social needs against the potential threats is key. Expect mistakes to be made. When missteps happen, treat your children with empathy and use their mistakes as a learning opportunity for you both. Just remember, nothing can substitute for the relationships we form with each other.

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