Friday, September 19, 2014

Tech Time/ How much is too much?

Dr. Schwanke is an avid reader who often sends me copies of articles that catch his eye. The other day, he sent me one about Steve Jobs being a low tech parent. Many of you may have seen it:

I realize that this is a topic that affects most of us.

There is no disputing that we live in an ever changing world. Those who try to ignore all the technology won't be able to keep up. As much as we may be tempted to wrap the Luddite cloak around our households, is that really fair to our kids?

On the other hand, I want kids outside playing, not inside glued to a screen (for the purpose of this post I am referring to screen time as anything computer, tv or video related.) I want my patients to know what it feels like to turn the pages of a real book, not just to swipe their fingers across an Ipad. I want them to know how to get messy with fingerpaints, not just how to create virtual art. I want them to interact with friends in person, not with avatars online. How can we find a balance?

You are still in charge of how much screen time your child gets.
I think that there is absolute value in getting some. Technology offers a vast array of education and entertainment. We can learn so much from computers. The games are fun. Television has some nice programs. Having some down time while you get something else done and your child is happily engaged can be very helpful. How many of you have been in the position when you want to strangle your partner because they voiced the "no computer or videos for you ALL week!" as a consequence for some errant behavior. Some of you need that down time more than the kids!

The key is figuring out how much is too much. This is a plan that each family should discuss and create. Some families will allow more than others. Your own family should be the only one to make rules that make sense to you, but please, set some sensible limits that apply to all of you. Don't sabotage each other. If you have a partner, figure out the rules that you both feel comfortable with. Make a plan and be consistent. If your kids figure out that the rules are meaningless, you have significantly weakened your credibility.

At my solid foods class when I discuss "safe eating" I tell parents that they need to set a good example. If you shovel food in your mouth and talk with your mouth full, why would your child learn to eat any other way? Put in a small piece of food, chew and swallow. Set the standard.

When it comes to being a role model, technology is no different.
If you are always looking at a screen, if your forms of relaxation are all technology related, consider making some small changes.

My goal is for your child to have a healthy relationship with technology. Learning how to use it at a young age will keep them on the level playing field with others. Let them enjoy their allotment of tech time, but focus on opportunities where they can have just as much fun reading a book, or doing other things that don't have a screen involved. There are so many options:

Having a no TV/ no computer environment is not something that I recommend. When your child emerges from that protective bubble, they may feel a bit like Alice in Wonderland. Back in the "olden days" when my kids were young, our screen was simply the TV. They had friends come for play dates who were not allowed any television at home. If I allowed it, the only thing those kids wanted to do was watch tv because it was such a treat for them. They had no balance.

Extra screen time (still with limits) can be a commodity that can be earned for good behavior. But because I don't want it elevated to the most important thing in their lives, I would rather make the rewards that they work towards be special non-tech activities with you.

Make sure you put some child control limits on your device:

There are lots of apps out there, with more being developed all the time. Some can help you make sure that all the sites that your child can access are safe and appropriate, others can help you limit the time allowed.

As your child gets older, it becomes much trickier. It is reasonable for rules to be renegotiated with each age. Have your child be part of the discussion and verbalize understanding of the family rules. Until they are a certain age, many experts agree that all computing should be done in a common room.
May the force be with you...this is a tough one. 

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