As a mother of two budding technophiles, I sometimes get panic attacks imagining the hazards my kids face in the burgeoning digital age. Cyberbullying, stunted social skills, short attention spans, being on-call 24/7…these all pose potentially unhealthy consequences for the next generation.
While my daughter’s Facebook days are a ways off (she is only 5 after all), it’s never too early to start being smart about technology use in the family. Recently, I had the opportunity to attend a panel discussion about the impact of digital media on the modern family. Whether you’re a tech savant or newbie, when it comes to kids, it turns out we all have a lot to learn.
Corral Your Kids’ Media Consumption
While your teen might truly believe texting her friend is a matter of life and death, parents need to set limits on technology and media use.
“Electronic media can be so seductive,” said Dr. Alan Greene, columnist for Parenting magazine and author of Feeding Baby Green. “Parents need to make time for other fun things.”
While Dr. Greene is a proponent of the great outdoors, quality family time doesn’t mean you have to shun all technology-based media. Games like Zombie Run and Wii Play allow families to have fun together while incorporating physical activity.
For younger children, panelist Katie Chin, cookbook author and food blogger, views technology as a privilege to be earned. Chin awards points to her 5-year-old twins for completing certain tasks. Getting themselves dressed, for example, could be worth one point that might translate to five minutes on the iPad.
Establish a Family Media Plan
The panelists all stressed the importance of creating a family media plan to set limits on technology use. Most significantly, parents should enforce electronic curfews at night, particularly since poor sleep patterns are a very real problem for many families, according to Dr. Greene.
Dr. Tanya Altmann, spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatricians and child health expert for numerous talk shows, said it’s not enough to limit quantity: the quality of the technology consumed is equally important; parents should aim to include educational media, too.
Keeping Kids Safe
With rising concerns about cyberbullying, parents need to be hyper vigilant about monitoring their kids’ tech use. Dr. Altmann recommends keeping a hard wired computer in a central location of the home. She also advocates having a family cell phone that must be relinquished each night.
“Kids will outsmart us. Ultimately it’s our responsibility as parents” to monitor them, said Chin.
That monitoring should extend to your child’s friends, too. Before a sleepover, Dr. Altmann has a laundry list of questions for the parents of her kids’ friends. Questions include asking if there is a dog in the house, a gun, or easily accessed medications, as well as determining who will watch the kids and monitor their media consumption. This likely won’t make you very popular, but Altmann tells parents they can offset their childrens’ ire and blame it on the pediatrician.
“You have to go out a limb and be the uncool parent,” said Chin.
Makes sense. After all, parenting isn’t a popularity contest.