Back to School, Back to Tech: protecting your kids and maintaining healthy habits
New backpacks, new shoes, new pens, and pencils; the fast-approaching school year is an exciting time for many kids and parents. These days, to ensure quick connection amidst everybody’s busy schedule, the start of a new school year is also when new tech enters the home. Of course, parents want their children to feel prepared and geared for success, and the need for reliable, on-demand communication is legitimate. The long-term effects of early exposure to technology often go overlooked when buying that first phone for a child.
The jarring facts and statistics, however, speak for themselves. “Nearly half of all children 8 and under have their own tablet device and spend an average of about 2.25 hours a day on digital screens, according to Common Sense Media” (Cross, 2020).
“…Children who spent more than two hours a day on screen-time activities scored lower on language and thinking tests, and some children with more than seven hours a day of screen time experienced thinning of the brain’s cortex, the area of the brain related to critical thinking and reasoning” (Cross, 2020).
Technology can be dangerous and detrimental to children if not paired with responsible guidelines and balanced regulations kept within the home. Regarding this, parents can take comfort in knowing they are not alone in their concerns for their children. Healthy tech habits can be established and maintained in the home during the school year when they consider a few principles: manage the pressures of new trending technology, separate academic tech and recreational tech, and encourage proactive activities and extracurriculars outside of school.
Managing social pressures for new tech
The high-price standard smartphone is rarely a purchase made willingly by a parent. More often than not, that first phone purchase is rarely the parent’s idea. The social pressure to carry the latest trending device is tangible for kids. Within the first few weeks of the new school year, if they do not already have smartphones, kids are likely to come home from school begging for one of their own, firmly planted in the logic, “But all of my friends have one”. After so many weeks of that, the easiest solution for most parents is to indulge the child’s plea.
“More children at a younger age are feeling pressure to get a cellphone as more of their friends own one” (Higginbothom, 2012).
Parents are considering and even giving in to purchasing a phone for their child, usually before the child is ready. And while the consequences of this indulgence might not manifest themselves right away, the long term effects of premature exposure to technology can be severe:
- On average, kids are exposed to pornography by age 11.
- Kids ages 12-18 spend at least 7hrs on average daily on their phones.
- Kids are 2 times more likely to suffer from depression if they spend more than 7hrs per day on their phones.
Rule 1: be informed.
Parents must educate themselves on the facts before they can make an informed decision for their children.
“Today’s kids are tech-savvy. Most of them know more about electronics than adults do. Parents need to stay up-to-date on the latest apps, games, and social media platforms, and trends” (Morin, 2020).
“Look to organizations like Common Sense Media for reviews about age-appropriate apps, games, and programs to guide you in making the best choices for your children” (Cross, 2020).
Analyze statistics; research product options beyond what is trending. Being well versed in the facts can help parents ward off relentless pressures and enable them to do what they feel is best for their kids.
Second: be prepared.
Difficult decisions are easier to make when they are determined beforehand. Parents need to make informed decisions on what kind of tech to give their kids and when-long before the time comes. Popular demand will have little effect on a parent firmly planted in their resolve to wait for the right time to introduce their kid to any technology.
Finally: be communicative, be open.
The battle is less problematic when the parent and the child are on the same page. Parents who keep an open dialogue with their children regarding the potential dangers of technology and the importance of a gradual introduction to tech are less likely to be at odds with each other when peer pressure finally comes.
“Parents need to talk regularly with their children about their relationships with their peers. This can help identify concerns about a lack of real-life relationships as well as the social benefits a child perceives from their online activities. It can also help the parent be aware of inappropriate content or cyber bullying that may be negatively impacting your child” (Beurkens 2020).
When the conversation is open, parents and kids can be confident in the decision to start introducing technology when the time is finally right.
Tech for School vs. Tech for Fun
Technology is a viable tool that, these days, kids often need to accomplish school tasks. However, using tech for schoolwork can quickly turn into using tech for fun if not monitored or regulated. This is often how screen addiction starts to creep in for young kids. Standard smart tech comes conveniently equipped with a calculator and other homework aids, but also social media, uncensored browsers, games, and far too many other dangers and distractions.
Parents have every control over what kind of technology is allowed in their home and when, even for schoolwork.
If a child is required to use the internet for a school project, parents can invest in and install additional security software. This precaution will prevent inappropriate pop-ups and advertisements.
An open, communal area is an ideal location for a family computer. This way, children can use the internet for homework as needed, and parents can stay in the room to monitor their computer use.
Lastly, efficiency is key to avoiding prolonged tech use and exposure. Parents can make a game out of homework time by allowing only a set amount of minutes on the computer to complete an assignment. For more demanding projects that require more computer time, parents can still regulate their child’s computer use by splitting the time, allowing for a family activity or household chore in between. When children make the most of their computer time and finish their homework efficiently, they can enjoy the rest of the evening with family and friends.
This same principle can apply to recreational tech time. Parents can encourage balance in their children’s after-school activities by allowing a set number of minutes of daily screen time or on certain days of the week.
Encouraging Extracurricular Activities
Ultimately, the more time kids spend “living beyond the screen”, the less time they will have to sit in front of a screen. Especially during the school year, parents can encourage an active, balanced lifestyle in their home in various ways.
First: parents can lead by example. Children generally perceive and emulate the behaviors of their parents. Over time, a child’s home environment and standard of living become their understanding of what is “normal.”
For example, “parents who keep the TV on for constant background noise or take every spare minute to scroll through their phones may not be modeling the screen-related behavior they hope to see in their kids” (Morin, 2020).
If the parents live by the same principles, house rules about tech use will seem more ordinary and reasonable to the children.
Second: invest in the success of children. “Extracurricular activities are vital to help kids to develop the well-rounded set of skills-as well as the sort of passion, ambition and curiosity that can lead them to a more successful and fulfilling future. No wonder that extracurricular participation has repeatedly been linked not just with higher grades and graduation rates, but also with higher accumulated earnings and less risky behavior later in life” (Warner, 2017).
“Parents can help their child find other activities that can help reduce the amount of time they spend online. For instance, enrolling them in art classes, summer camps, parent-child bonding time, sports lessons. Being involved in these activities has shown positive effects on children” (Effects of Technology on Children & Mental Health: Children’s Bureau 2019).
Parents are far more likely to see less screen time in their home if they take a genuine interest in their children’s schoolwork and hobbies, encouraging them to develop their chosen skills. Children naturally seek the approval and attention of their parents. It is a significant contributor to their self-esteem and motivation to excel, knowing that their parents are proud of them.
Parents can shift the family dynamic by involving the entire family in each child’s special interests: cheering from the stands at each soccer game, attending the youth art show, helping them memorize their lines for the school play, etc. Each child will feel validated and supported in their craft. They will work harder and spend more time developing their talents instead of misusing their time glued to a screen. At the start of this new school year, parents can take advantage of the many extracurricular opportunities available to their children and help each child find productive, motivating pastimes to enjoy outside of school.
Third: allow children to be bored. “Unstructured and offline play stimulates creativity” (Healthy Children, 2018). Creativity and innovation are skills that require consistent and continual stimulation and development.
“Unless we are intentionally creating opportunities for focus, for delay of gratification, and for boredom, the portions of the brain that regulate these functions have the potential to show less robust, and possibly even diminished, function” (Vinopal, 2019).
These days, kids come home from school, finish their homework, and immediately turn to their devices to keep them entertained. In this hyper-tech world, with on-demand entertainment and distractions constantly at their fingertips, kids no longer know how to sit for just a few minutes to devise a fun activity to enjoy. The art of innovation and creativity is diminishing. Parents can combat this by limiting screen time in their homes and encouraging kids to find ways to entertain themselves: riding bikes through the neighborhood, building forts in the basement, sidewalk chalk, new games; kids need the opportunity to use their creativity and find fun in the basics. This school year, parents can remove the time-consuming distractions from their homes and encourage their kids to stay active with innovative and purposeful pastimes.
Finally: live actively as a family. What better way to bring the family together after a busy day of work and school than an unplugged outing or activity? Parents can instill healthy tech habits in their kids by making it a collective family endeavor.
“Encouraging kids to buy into less screen time will be much easier for parents who engage in positive, fun, and authentic ways. Kids are more likely to resort to screen time to escape if parents are constantly reminding them about their messy room or a difficult school assignment during “no screen time” (Morin, 2020).
“Less cell-phone use also usually means less screen time, which enables kids to get outdoors and be more physically active. When teens spend more time actively engaged with their parents, they tend to set higher educational goals” (CHAMP, 2017).
By using after-school hours to enjoy time together as a family, parents can stay connected with their kids, children can maintain healthy, personable relationships away from social media and internet interactions, and the family can have fun.
Back-to-school can be an exciting but intimidating time for parents. With new and trending technology on the top of their kids’ wishlist, parents can remember that by practicing certain principles, balance and healthy habits can be maintained in the home.
Beurkens, N. (2020, July 21). How Does Technology Affect Children’s Social Development? Qustodio. https://www.qustodio.com/en/blog/2020/07/technology-child-social-development/.
CHAMP Uniformed Services University. (2017, June 19). Are cell phones ruining family time? HPRC. https://www.hprc-online.org/social-fitness/family-optimization/are-cell-phones-ruining-family-time#:~:text=The%20way%20you%20use%20your,family%20can%20affect%20your%20relationships.&text=Using%20a%20cell%20phone%20for,and%20overreact%20to%20being%20interrupted.
Cross, J. F. (2020, October 5). What Does Too Much Screen Time Do to Kids’ Brains? NewYork-Presbyterian. https://healthmatters.nyp.org/what-does-too-much-screen-time-do-to-childrens-brains/.
Effects of Technology on Children & Mental Health. Child Abuse Prevention, Treatment & Welfare Services | Children’s Bureau. (2019, September 30). https://www.all4kids.org/news/blog/effects-of-technology-on-mental-health/.
Healthy Children. (2018, October 8). Kids & Tech: Tips for parents in the digital age. Healthy Children. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/family-life/Media/Pages/Tips-for-Parents-Digital-Age.aspx.
Higginbottom, J. (2012, April 22). Growing number of children with cellphones adds pressure to purchase. Deseret News. https://www.deseret.com/2012/4/22/20408543/growing-number-of-children-with-cellphones-adds-pressure-to-purchase.
Morin, A. (2020, September 17). 10 tips for limiting your Child’s screen time. Verywell Family. https://www.verywellfamily.com/tips-for-limiting-electronics-and-screen-time-for-kids-1094870.
Vinopal, L. (2019, May 3). Why Kids Chase That Screen Time Fix. Fatherly. https://www.fatherly.com/health-science/screen-time-hurts-kids-dopamine-addiction/.