We’ve all seen it: children who stare at their phones at the dinner table instead of making conversation, or who prefer texting over talking. Frustrated parents can’t turn the clock back to the pre-electronic age, but they can model the behavior they expect for their children’s use of technology.
Be aware of how electronics can distract you
If you want to change tech behaviors in your children, first examine your own use of electronics. For example, checking your email or answering phone calls during family time distracts you from the serious business of playing with your child. It also sends the message that it is acceptable to interrupt family time for this reason.
Consider a “no cell phones at the dinner table” rule. Put phones on the counter well out of reach so no one is tempted to look, no matter how often the phones ding, buzz or chirp. Even though you might have a busy career and may often receive phone calls and emails in the evening, consider taking that opportunity to talk to your kids instead. You can reply to the email in the morning.
Studies show that children depend on this “give and take” relationship with their parents to learn how they are supposed to act in their realtionships with their peers. If you do not actively express interest in their lives, they may not understand how critical mastery of this social skill is to the success of their freindships and work relationships.
Mentor while you monitor
Mentor your children regarding how they can employ digital devices and the Internet to find information and gain knowledge.
As a parent, try to ensure that your child’s technology and usage is age appropriate. Regardless of age, explain that they will find many things on the Internet that do not agree with your rules and morals. Let your children know that, while everyone is entitled to their own opinion, you are the parent. The limits that you set are for their protection and not open to negotiation.
Monitor your children’s online activity by staying connected to their world.
If you have teenagers, try to stay abreast of the apps that they find most appealing. You can connect with your child on Snapchat or Instagram, even if you never post yourself. Learning the platforms can lead to healthy discussions regarding stranger danger and the risks of posting too much personal information.
An important idea to introduce your children to is the T.H.I.N.K. method of posting. Is it True? Is it Helpful? Is it Inspiring? Is it Necessary? Is it Kind? If your children think of these five questions before they post and think about how they would feel if someone posted something similar about them, this method might persuade them to be more aware of the consequences negative posts can have on self-esteem.
The American Academy of Pediatrics also warns of “virtual violence” for children as young as six. In the increasingly media-rich world, children are exposed to violence at a younger age, whether through Internet browsing, online gaming or simply connecting with opportunistic individuals via social media. While no real-world scientific studies have created the linkage between online violence and human aggression, laboratory studies have shown that children exposed to violent media are more likely to act out in an aggressive manner. The study further cautions that children six and under should not be exposed to virtual violence, including video games, if possible.
Practice a healthy lifestyle
As opposed to when you were a kid – when children loved to hang out with their friends outdoors – today’s children often prefer to “interact” with their friends through Facetime or multiplayer online video games. These days, there are less opportunities for spontaneous outdoor play. Overcoming the trend towards sedentary play requires planning and commitment.
Consider introducing your children to the great outdoors. Whether the adventure is a simple walk around the city to see the sights or a day-long canoe trip, the fresh air, exercise and interaction with live people can greatly benefit your children. With childhood obesity rising, it’s time to show your child what it really means to play and use one’s body in new and challenging ways.
Psychology Today also notes that children who make technology a priority over real-life interactions suffer from anxiety and isolation. They tend to have poor social skills, a lack of self-esteem and unstable moods.
Follow your own rules
Monitoring and mentoring alone will not teach your children proper technological etiquette if you don’t follow your own rules.
If you expect your children to practice a healthy lifestyle, join in the activity. Playing with them instead of telling them to “go outside and play” shows that you value exercise. You can enjoy some one-on-one time with them without any use of electronics.
If you want your children to T.H.I.N.K., think about the things that you say and post. If you gossip or criticize, they may assume that it is okay for them to do so as well.
If you want meal times to be free of electronic devices, lead by example and put your phone aside.
Technology is unquestionably here to stay. To help your kids develop a healthy, balanced approach towards their use of phones, tablets, laptops, consoles, etc., model, mentor and be mindful of your own tech behaviors. Ultimately, your kids will thank you.