In this digital age, our children are faced with challenges, experiences, and opportunities that we were not exposed to, when our brains were developing. As parents, it is difficult for us to wrap our heads around what it must be like for our children to grow up in this time of instant access and constant stimulation.
Media use in our families is now included on the list of concerns for parents, right there with rest, nutrition and academic and social life. We are constantly enticed by what the immediacy of phones, tablets and laptops offer us throughout the day. As parents we often question what it means to prepare our kids to have the skills they need to thrive in this digital era? How do we become attuned to the challenges that growing up in a digital age present and also set limits that respect privacy and the digital experience?
There is little mystery around the effects of these constant shifts in attention, sedentary activity and distortion of body image as media use has been researched for decades. Despite what we know, it has always been seductive for families to rely upon the media, in some form, to occupy children and youth. We often see an escalation in use and dependence, during the winter months.This provides additional concern as it clutters the day and intrudes on our daily routine, yet we are not sure the best path to create change and also provide our children with the opportunity to practice with the reality of integrating media into daily life.
Developing Healthy Patterns
Patterns of use are established quickly and trying to change them is often something we avoid because we know there will be emotional interactions and behavioral consequences for our kids and within our relationship. These immediate consequences that parents dread may seem far worse than the neuro-developmental patterns that will impact attention span, emotional regulation and physical activity. However, what we can’t see in the present moment is that these patterns or habits for children and youth will derail learning, relating to others, and building coping skills. So for families who feel overwhelmed about how to address daily habits, media use is a priority for our interventions.
There are features that can help us start to understand our family use like the screentime app on iphones and parental controls on xbox, but many families address usage impulsively and reactively in a moment of frustration. Like other issues to be addressed, it helps when parents have been thoughtful and playful about how they will proceed with making habit changes at home. Like any new habit, developing new skills around media use requires a basic assessment, a foundational plan, the opportunity to practice, and consistency throughout the days, weeks and months. This can be a daunting task for families with little idea on how or where to start.
Resources for Support
In our Family Consultations at Room to Move we will provide the basic assessment of where you are starting and help you to understand and manage your stress responses around technology and media use to help you to feel more relaxed and hopeful. Once you understand how your responses are either reinforcing the reactive and problematic behaviors of your children or how they can be used as a tool to settle and help everyone regulate, you can take charge of the specific challenge in front of you.
Screenwise, Raising Digital Natives, by Deborah Heitner is a valuable resource to gain an understanding when it comes to creating healthy, engaging, creative, safe use of media and technology. Her digital expertise can provide a framework for how to guide your children through this transition and reduce the fear and emotional reactivity that can be in the forefront. As parents we must first gain an understanding that our children are the digital natives, not us and our personal use is the model for our children. Before we start making demands on our children, take a moment to assess how your daily routine involves technology. Are you distracted, detached, or preoccupied with media during family interactions? What example are you creating? Devorah advises parents to look at their role as a “mentor not the monitor” and allow your children to develop the necessary skills to manage their own use with your guidance and relevant life experience.
It is common when we don’t know what to do, that we might choose to ignore the challenge of an issue until it becomes a bigger problem, or we may choose to forbid whatever it is to come into the house and then react harshly when it shows up. Neither of these are setting examples that our kids can rely on. Like everything, kids need the opportunity to practice skills that will set them up for success. This also means developing skills to live in a “world fueled by technology.”