When my kids were growing up, we were a pretty tech-savvy family for that time period, the 1990’s into the 2000’s, but the amount of tech in our home was pretty simple. A Nintendo system, a PC, and the television, of course. We limited our kid’s “screen time,” because, since we homeschooled, we were home a lot and it would have been very easy for them to spend hours and hours on the computer or game system. That’s not to say that there were not times that they did play games for hours, especially as older teens, but we worked hard to make sure they had time for other things in life, like reading, playing outside, or finding ways to be creative and learn to entertain themselves in healthy ways.
I’m thankful that smartphones and tablets came into being after my kids were all pretty much grown.
I cannot imagine the difficulty parents experience trying to monitor what their children access on their smartphones and tablets. We want our kids to enjoy technology – we sure enjoy it – but how good is it for them to be “connected” almost every hour of the day? When do they get to be kids and play outside or build a fort in the family room? What about Legos and Lincoln Logs? I remember my kids covering the entire family room floor with creations from Waffle Blocks, Lincoln Logs, and regular wooden blocks. Would they have done that if they had unlimited access to a smartphone and all the apps and games available on it? I know I’m reading less lately because I have become addicted to Quizup.
What should parents do about kids and technology when it comes to smartphones and tablet access? I know lots of parents let their kids play with their smartphones or iPads while riding in the car or sitting in church. It keeps them quietly occupied, which is wonderful – I remember when we bought our conversion van many years ago. It had a TV and VCR in it that we used to entertain our four kids on long trips. I was in heaven. But should parents allow their kids regular time with the high tech gadgets that we enjoy so much? We might take a hint from the creators of these wonders.
A number of articles were published recently about how Steve Jobs was a low-tech parent. While we might expect his home to be an oasis of technology with everyone in the family and their guests plugged in, that was not the case. According to Jobs, when asked how his kids liked the iPad, he replied, “They haven’t used it…We limit how much technology our kids use at home.” Other tech giants like Chris Anderson, formerly of Wired Magazine, Alex Constantinople of OutCast Agency, and Evan Williams, a founder of Blogger, Twitter, and Medium, agree with Jobs and put more or less stringent restrictions on their kids’ tech use.
What, then, are some reasonable limits for parents to impose? Most parents do it by age.
“Children under 10 seem to be most susceptible to becoming addicted, so these parents draw the line at not allowing any gadgets during the week. On weekends, there are limits of 30 minutes to two hours on iPad and smartphone use. And 10- to 14-year-olds are allowed to use computers on school nights, but only for homework.”
These limits make the guidelines we set for our children seem positively libertine!
The reality is, of course, that many children are not subjected to such limits. One recent survey of 2000 parents found that children in the 2 – 4 year old age group spent up to 2 hours, 35 minutes per day using a digital device, and the numbers ranged all the way up to 4 hours, 50 minutes per day for kids in the 14 – 16 year old age group. Kids, just like their tech-addicted parents, love their smart devices!
Overuse has its negative consequences. Eyestrain can be a problem, especially with developing eyes. Obesity is more and more common among many young people, and playing with a smart device does not encourage exercise. And some studies suggest that the particular light emitted by a smart phone or tablet can wreak havoc with our natural sleep-wake cycles.
How do parents allow their children to enjoy the benefits of screen time and reduce the negative consequences? First, set a good example! Put your devices away during family time, especially at meal time, and insist that your kids do so as well. Plan fun activities that don’t depend on a screen. Exercise together and get out in nature. Read out loud to your children from an early age. Determine reasonable time restrictions for devices and stick to them. Help your kids develop good sleep habits by encouraging them to turn off the smartphones and tablets about 45 minutes before going to sleep. Parents should give this a try as well, especially if they have trouble sleeping at night.
Like I said before, I am really glad that this was not an issue I had to deal with as my children were growing up. Considering how much I enjoy my devices, and I have several, I would have had a hard time setting limits with my children. Now, let’s see if I can go up a few levels on Quizup before I shut things down for the night…..