A common concern I hear from parents I meet at my office relates to technology and the amount of time kids spend on “screens” these days. Ironically, simply defining “screens” presents a conundrum, as a screen can be as small as a cell phone, or as large as an 80″ television. When you loosely define screens in this way, it includes phones, pads, computers, and televisions….and yes, kids definitely spend a lot of time looking at all of these things. For the most part, kids do the same things on screens as we do, with some time being devoted to important things (i.e. school), and other things not so important (i.e. endless gaming!). Should kids spend so much time on screens? Or, perhaps a better question, is it even possible for kids to spend less time on screens today when so much of our lives runs through screens?
Many people today deal with technostress, defined as the stress experienced when unable to adequately adapt to or cope with information technologies in a healthy manner. There is a unique stress associated with always feeling “connected” and sharing updates by means of posts, pictures, and videos. For young people especially, much of their personal identity and self-worth hinges on being “liked” and accepted by others after making a social media post, and this can be yet another form of technostress. Being constantly tethered to social media can be exhausting at times, and it can steal from time that would otherwise be spent doing real, live things. In fact, for many kids it’s not technostress, but techno-exhaustion.
The technology blend
Another interesting perspective about technology today is how omnipresent it has become, often blurring lines between the real world and tech world. For example, the pandemic has forced schools nationwide to implement various online modalities to deliver education. While this approach has helped kids stay afloat during these tough times, it has also created an obligatory connection to screens by means of school. Many kids are online for chunks of their day, and then for free time go right back to their screens again to game, engage in social media, or surf the web. As you can see the lines blur quickly, prompting more focus on healthy boundaries when it comes to technology — especially as this applies to kids.
Tips to help
It is important for parents to stay actively involved when it comes to kids and technology, especially as this applies to safe and healthy boundaries. Below are a few ideas to help you help your kids broaden their interests and activities beyond screens:
- Provide examples of other things to do besides screens. Rather than simply telling your kids to get off their screens, provide real-life examples of other things they can do instead. When providing these ideas, display genuine enthusiasm and try and get your kids to do the same.
- Reinforce and reward non-screen behaviors. When you see your kids playing outside, provide positive reinforcement by means of verbal praise. If you really like what you see, consider an occasional token reward to drive the point home.
- Provide feedback about long-term positive outcomes. Sometimes kids can’t see the value of life endeavors in the moment, providing parents a perfect opportunity to link childhood behaviors to long-term positive life outcomes. For example, socializing in real-life with other kids can improve communication skills, stress coping, and conflict resolution — three invaluable life skills with broad utility.
Screens aren’t going away, and if anything will become even more enticing to kids in the future as artificial intelligence expands and new platforms emerge. Parents, therefore, will need to stay proactive, aware, and understanding when it comes to the attraction kids have — and will have — staying locked in to screens. Try and strike a healthy balance that allows kids to responsibly use and enjoy technology, while at the same time staying involved in real-life activities and pursuits.