I know what you are thinking…either something truly traumatic happened to this child or this is one of those crazy parents who thinks technology is from the devil. I can assure you that neither of these assumptions are true.
Our three children (6, 4, and 3 months) are happy and well protected from the “evils” of technology such as pornography and cyber-bullying. That has not (yet) been an issue in our household, although I am sure we will confront one or more of these issues at some point in our parenting journey.
And as for me, I love technology. I am a “digital native” who has wholeheartedly embraced every new technological advancement over the last few decades…from the time that I first began using AOL instant messenger in my middle school years to this past Christmas when I received my second iPhone. Back when I was teaching, I was the first to volunteer to implement technology in my classroom. And, although I am careful not to allow our boys too much screen time, I have found technology to be beneficial for them as well (especially the learning apps like these, these, and these). I am quite certain I would have a difficult time living without all the technology I’ve come to know and love.
But over the last several months, I have become slowly convicted that all this technology isn’t a good thing.
It’s one of those nagging feelings that you just wish would go away…but it doesn’t.
You see, I’ve been observing the behavior of my boys over the last several months. One child is especially drawn to electronics and his behavior began to worry me. Although he was only engaged in technology for 1-2 hours a day (max), he talked about video games all the time to anyone who would listen. He started sneaking around to play his VTech tablet that he got for his birthday and hiding it under his pillow (he would much rather have done this with the family iPad, but it is passcode protected). And after he played with the iPad or Wii for any length of time, he began to be withdrawn when he was back in the “real world’.
My husband and I began to wonder whether our son was addicted to technology. Not the type of nonchalant “I’m addicted to chocolate” kind of addiction… but the type of addiction that was changing his behavior and his personality. The possibility scared the be-jeebers out of me.
This fascination with technology, this draw to be immersed in a digital world rather than the real one, was intense. There for a while, he would rather play on the iPad or wii than do just about anything else. And when he wasn’t playing a video game, he was either talking about it or sulking. Gone were the days when my happy-go-lucky boy got excited to do just about anything.
He was no longer content to go outside and have stick “sword” fights with his brother.
He didn’t want to paint or draw.
He stopped asking for me to read to him (which used to be one of his favorite things).
If given the option to play at a friend’s house or play with the iPad, he would have chosen the iPad.
I am not exaggerating when I saw that the iPad was stealing his childhood. It was robbing him of the quintessential elements that make up a magical childhood: the wonder and excitement of playing outside, engaging in play with friends, and having time to simply be creative.
My husband and I both agreed that something needed to change. It all came to a head when I listened to a Focus on the Family broadcast from the writers of The Digital Invasion. After listening, I immediately wanted to learn more. So, naturally, I ordered the book! This book was eye-opening and, to be honest, downright scary.
The Digital Invasion (Hart and Frejd, 2013) provided research on how technology is changing our relationships and even how our brains process information. In addition to interfering with real-life relationships and overdosing the pleasure system of our brains, technology (even educational games) can actually reduce both learning and creativity.
“When people (and this includes our children) keep their brains busy with digital input, they forfeit downtime. Downtime is what the brain needs between learning tasks so that it can process and consolidate the information it is learning” (p. 67)…”We are only really thinking when our brains are idle. It can’t do much thinking when other demands take precedence” (p. 72).
Technology has changed life as we knew it in an incredibly short amount of time, yet it has been wholeheartedly embraced by the majority of society (including parents and educators) without fully understanding the long-term effects.
We decided that our family’s time engaged with technology should be monitored on a daily basis to ensure that we are giving our brains and our relationships the rest that they need (and I’m not just talking about the kids). My husband and I have come up with some ways to help keep our lives digitally balanced.
Here are the steps we have taken to create a healthy technology diet in our home:
1. We are limiting our own usage on mobile devices. I have realized that I am a pretty bad role model when it comes to technology usage. This is tricky for both my husband and me because both of our jobs rely heavily on the use of technology. Because there are times when we must still use our iPhones or computer, we have cut back on much of the “social” aspects of technology. I recently removed the Facebook app from my phone and only get on once or twice a day now when I have a few spare moments while on the laptop. We changed the settings on our iPhones where we must manually retrieve our e-mails rather than having them pushed to our phones (and dinging every few minutes). We also are doing our best to eliminate all phone usage during meals so that we are giving each other our undivided attention.
2. We no longer allow the boys to play the iPad or the Wii during the week (not even educational games). They can still watch television (one minute for every minute that they read), but they are only allowed to play the iPad or Wii on the weekends. We have been doing this for a couple months now and it has made a HUGE difference, especially for our child who is most influenced by video games. I firmly believe in the old adage “all things in moderation” , which is why we decided to allow it on a very limited basis. Now that it isn’t a part of our everyday routine, it has eliminated the majority of the negative behaviors.
3. We try to spend time outside every day. The fresh air and exercise is good for everyone!
4. We give our kids time to be bored. This is something that is lacking in our society. With all of the entertainment options available and the temptation to hyper schedule our kids in a variety of different extracurricular activities, there is no time for kids to just be kids. If a child has a structured activity every minute of the day, there is no time to use his/her creativity. I truly believe that children who are occasionally bored end up being better problem-solvers and more creative thinkers.
In conclusion, we all want what is best for our kids. Technology is here to stay and will be a part of our lives, whether we like it or not. We can, however, do our very best to ensure that our children are not negatively impacted by its accessibility and frequent intrusiveness. After all, our kids deserve to have a childhood full of stick sword fights, playdates, and grass-stained feet.
What are your thoughts? Has technology positively or negatively influenced your children?