A common complaint among parents these days is that their kids spend too much time on technology. In fact, it’s the reason why many families call our office. Parents often notice that their child seems disengaged and less interested in other social activities, and thus prefers the tablet or video games. After arguing with their child (and sometimes even their spouse) for days and months on end, they often seek therapy out of frustration. Here are a couple of strategies we offer to help families strike a balance with technology use and family time.
1. Avoid discounting technology all together. Taking extreme measures like banning all technology does not help teach balance. Of course there are sometimes when restricting privileges is appropriate, but those should be on a case-by-case basis.
2. Recognize that kids may experience connection through technology, and instead of always complaining about it, use it as a chance to connect by expressing interest in their world.
3. Model appropriate use of technology. If you expect them not to use their phone at the dinner table, then it is a good idea for you not to use yours either. Kids will repeat more of what they see you do than what they hear you say.
4. Set clear boundaries around the use of technology ahead of time if possible. Before your child gets on the device, for example, let them know how long they have, and what is/is not okay. It is important to follow through with this as well.
The bottom line is that if adults are going to complain about the over use of technology in today’s youth, then WE need to be prepared to engage them. I’ve always thought that the interesting thing about the technology debate is that adults are typically the ones that put children in front of a television or tablet in the first place. Now, we want to unplug the TV, and take the tablet away, and we expect them to occupy themselves. It sends a very mixed message to them. Children do not innately know a variety of ways to occupy themselves. It is our job as adults to show them.
Don’t get me wrong, I think that a balance between technology and face-to-face social engagement is a wonderful thing. I think it creates well-rounded children who become well-rounded adults. We should be prepared, however, for what that really means. It means that we as adults have to put down our technology at times too; it means we have to stop attending to work emails, to cleaning the house, and all the other things that make life constantly busy. It means to stop doing all of those things in an effort to connect and engage in the lives of our children. To show them the other fun and entertaining things around them. Perhaps you play a new board game with them, spend some time outside together, or chat with them over a snack, to name a few things.
Just remember, the next time you want your kid to take a break from the latest technology gadget – be prepared to step in and do your part to engage them.
Marie Woods, LMFT, CSAT