What to Do About Kids and Technology

This topic has been coming up a lot of over the last couple of weeks or so as Huffington Post released an article about the 10 Reasons Handheld Devices Should Be Banned for Kids Under 12.

While I don’t think the government has any responsibility in determining and limiting how much exposure our kids get to technology, it is just that – OUR responsibility, as parents.

Why Limiting Screen Time is Important

In our home, when we allow a lot of screentime (I’m talking probably an hour and over), whether it be iPad or computer or videos/tv shows, we have noticed a strange phenomenon that occurs.

The kids zone out while watching or participating. That’s ok, kind of normal, we even do that as adults. But once they’re finished, I’ve continually seen them unable to function as “normal” after the fact. It’s almost as if, during the time they were “occupied”, their brains shut off and they stopped thinking. So once the screens go off, they’re goofing off like crazy, being silly and ridiculous, lose control and get into trouble.

Of course, I realize, kids are kids and have definitely get very silly. But this seems a little more over the top. Coincidence? I think not.

Now I’m not trying to start arguments over what is the “right” amount of time, or at what age it should be allowed, what’s too much or if there should be screens on at all. That’s not my point on all of this.

My point is that exposing our kids to too much screen time is detrimental – not only to them, but also to us. When we allow the screens to take over, we can be tempted to cop out on our parenting and engagement, and miss out on precious bonding time with our kids.

Shouldn’t we be keeping up with the “technological times”?

I used to think we were doing our kids a disservice by not “educating” them more in the technological realm. We don’t have a Wii, or xbox or Nintendo, we BARELY have a computer that works for them to be on, and other than that, we “just” have an iPad, used mainly for school, on which they are allowed (sometimes) 15-20 minutes at a time for games.

How are they going to learn to navigate all of the cool stuff out there, learn to do presentations, use programs online and on the computer, become cutting-edge in their knowledge of technology, if we don’t expose them to it now?

But then I think about my brothers-in-law who, though they grew up with older siblings on the computer, didn’t really spend much of their days on technology until they were quite a bit older. And though they were somewhat “deprived” (as some would say), they’re practically computer geniuses now, (check out this optically triggered mouse!) and it only took them a few years to get there.

Our kids will be exposed to plenty of technology and opportunity to learn over the years to come. Why dampen their creativity with an overabundance of it now? They learn fast, there’s no need to spend hours honing their skills now. We do have computer time for typing, things like Time 4 Learning online programs and educational games, as well as satellite learning classes. But other than that, it’s very limited.

Creative Outlets and Sanity

playing together

Right now, my boys are 9 and 7, and they LOVE playing together. Lego, building, drawing, dressing up, having adventures, reading. The girls, 5 and 1, aren’t as close in their playtime, but there is still great opportunity for bonding and playing together.

Of course, they ALWAYS ask if they can play on the iPad or watch something, and unless they’re done their school, music and chores, and have already been playing creatively together, my answer is usually no. Even then, sometimes I just don’t feel they “need” to be doing it. They’re just better off without it.

Now, there are 4 kids in my house. And there are absolutely days where we need more screen time, for sanity’s sake! When Miss E was born, the kids spent more than our normal amount of time as we were adjusting to having a new baby and mom being a little tied up at more often. When the kids are sick, we will hang out together and watch movies. During holidays from school, we tend to increase our screen time somewhat also (though we try not to, TOO much, as then we REALLY have a problem keeping the creative juices flowing).

But in general, I think it’s so important that we don’t allow screens to be on unless they have exhausted their creative outlets. We need to limit exposure to TV and technology, and NOT feel guilty about it.

So what DO we do about kids and technology?

While it’s all fine and good to say limit screen time, ra, ra, ra! …. how do you practically help your kids do something else?

For one thing, be available for them! They need your interaction with them, and I bet they also love it! Find something creative and fun to do together, whether it be crafting or reading, playing a game (we love board and card games!), doing some baking or cooking, or simply playing Lego, trains or ponies with them.

creative time

Siblings are also a great distraction from technology! I have such great memories of playing together without any computers or iPad/iPhone games and some of the creative adventures we had. I wouldn’t trade any of that for being more tech saavy. Obviously, siblings aren’t an option for everyone, which may make things a bit more complicated, but if there is more than 1 child in your family, don’t take away from their opportunity to grow together by allowing too much time in front of screens.

If you’re on the road a lot, or just plain tired of reading aloud, Librivox.org is an amazing site that contains public domain audiobooks. You can download them or listen to them directly from your computer. This is a great option for us when we’ve run through our library’s selection of audiobooks.

Set the Example

As parents, we need to model good technology habits. How can we expect and require our children to learn to be disciplined if we can’t even do so ourselves? It’s hard, so hard, but so very necessary. Our kids need our eyes and our minds, not our foreheads and our continual “just a sec” or “mm hmm” responses. And with technology in our back pocket all the time, it can be easy to get wrapped up in it quickly.

I can’t always control when I’m on my phone in front of the kids, but I do know I try my best to limit it when I’m around them (bathroom break! :D). And if I do need to be on it while they’re around, I will tell them “Mom needs to do this for just a minute, then it’s gone and you have my attention”. That way they’re understanding it’s short-term and I’m limiting it and keeping myself accountable.

The bottom line is, TV and screens aren’t bad. They are a tremendous addition and help, especially for our homeschool, when used properly. But if they are taking the place of creativity and family interaction, then that’s not a good situation.

You decide what’s right for your family, and don’t use “keeping up with technology” as an excuse for allowing more exposure to screens. There will always be time for that, but there won’t always be the same opportunities for time and engagement at the level you have with them now, while they’re young. Don’t take this time with them lightly, it will be gone before you know it. And parents, stop feeling guilty about saying no to screen time!

Some more thoughts on parenting and technology:

Sarah Mae – I’m Sort of Panicking Because We’re Throwing Out the TV

Granola Mom 4 God – Put the Phone Down

On my reading list – Hands Free Mama: A Guide to Putting Down the Phone, Burning the To-Do List, and Letting Go of Perfection to Grasp What Really Matters! (quite the title, AND the challenge!)

How about you? What are your rules for technology in your home? How do you encourage your kids and yourself to engage in other activities?

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