John Ernst, PhD, LPC
CHILDREN AND TECHNOLOGY
It used to be that the only technological issues parents had to be concerned about were how much time their children spent in front of the TV or on the (corded) telephone. Times have certainly changed. Today, kids desire a variety of video and computer games, cell phone talk, text and imaging capabilities as well as Internet access for desktops, laptops and tablets. Youngsters are drawn to these forms of technology like a magnet and many parents often tell me that their children are much more tech-savvy than they are. Nonetheless, it remains a parent’s responsibility to provide guidance for their children in today’s continually evolving technological environment.
How Parents Can Keep on Top of Things
• In my practice, a lot of parents ask me if their kids are spending too much time on video games, their cell phones, or the Internet. I often tell them that if they have to ask that question, it may be time for some adult intervention or at least closer scrutiny.
• Parents should always be aware of the content, graphics, and messages that their children are creating and observing. Moms and dads should preview (and regularly review) their child’s electronic usage for content.
• Evaluate the time your child is spending in front of any type of screen, whether it’s handheld, the TV, or on a computer. Ask yourself: ‘Is it more than I would like?’
• Review whether your child’s use of technology is becoming a problem with other areas of their development. Is it affecting their sleep? Is it interfering with academics? Is it changing their behavior patterns? Are they more concerned about Facebook friends than developing healthy social interactions with their peers?
• Don’t use technology as an electronic babysitter. Children need to develop physically as well as mentally. Playing outside and being involved in exercise is much better than sitting in a dimly lit room developing strong thumb muscles and (maybe) hand-eye coordination by playing a video game or texting on a cell phone.
The Internet: A Few Suggestions
Kids should be supervised based on their level of maturity. Place the home computer (or their laptop) in a common space where you can see what your child is doing. What is more, parents should proactively install safeguards and software to limit the sites that their children can access. Teach your child about the benefits and risks of the Internet and have family discussions about content that may or may not fit your family’s values. Finally, regularly check your family computer’s (and your child’s device’s) history to examine and evaluate the sites that your children have visited.
Alternatives to Technology
Video games and the Internet can certainly educate and entertain, but in excess, they can promote social isolation from others. In contrast, face-to-face interaction with peers through individual and group activities promotes genuine human engagement, and this is what builds a developing child’s social skills and self-esteem.
As often as possible, let your child’s creativity flow out from within them rather than being limited by prepackaged ways of viewing their world. For example, you may want to give your youngster some blank pieces of paper and crayons or paints as an alternative to a constrained ‘video game way of thinking.’ It’s important find ways to nurture your child’s unique capabilities and imagination.
Further, don’t forget about classic board games such as Scrabble and Monopoly; a family night of ‘unplugged’ activities can be fun as well as a way to promote healthy conversations with your child.
Some Final Thoughts
In moderation, many forms of age-appropriate technology are just fine for kids. But children need a balanced diet of activities to grow both physically, intellectually and emotionally. However, if you find your child playing video games in the house and you look outside and see other children playing in the sun, please ask yourself, ‘What’s wrong with this picture?’
Lastly, if you’ve struggled to limit your child’s use of electronics and still feel that you haven’t been successful, maybe it’s time for you to enlist some professional help. Parenting and/or family therapy can be useful resources to learn about enhanced parenting skills, limit setting, and ways to develop a better understanding of your child or teenager as a unique, developing individual.
Copyright – 2023 – John Ernst, Ph.D., LPC
John Ernst, PhD, LPC treats children, adolescents, families, individual adults and couples in outpatient psychotherapy for diverse clinical issues. He is presently accepting new patients. To establish an appointment, please contact Dr. Ernst at 414-329-7000 and ask for him specifically to discuss your initial questions.