I recently had a discussion with my husband about “the good ole days.” So many kids today have their heads buried in something with a screen. We used to immerse ourselves in creative play. I remember creating haunted houses and charging neighborhood kids 10 cents to enter. Sometimes we’d build tree forts with twigs and rope — not the sturdiest things in the world, but a lesson in the fine art of construction just as well. We’d decorate the road with chalk art and hold major league jump rope contests.
For kids today, free time often presents a different scenario. Instead of taking advantage of the warm weather or creating an indoor carnival, many kids obsessively engage their cellphone, iPad, laptop, game console, or watch marathon re-runs of “SpongeBob SquarePants.”
Parents should encourage their kids to ditch the electronics on a regular basis and enjoy life the old-fashioned way. This may be easier said than done, due to the fact that life in general this millennium is a technological one; but it is doable — not to mention healthier — for your children no matter what their age. Here’s how:
Dr. Lisa Strohman, a clinical psychologist, co-author of “Unplug: Raising Kids in a Technology Addicted World” and founder of Technology Wellness Center (www.techn
“I reward them when I witness them doing other things, such as going out on their bikes.”
Strohman points out that it’s critical that kids get used to stepping away from technology early on and that they also learn the importance of finding alternative pastimes.
Sue Scheff, a nationally recognized parenting advocate, author, and founder and president of Parents’ Universal Resource Experts Inc., agrees that parents need to be cognizant of their own behavior in order to be positive role models for their kids.
“Mom and Dad, it’s about leading by example. If your kids watch you check your devices at mealtime or rudely in front of guests, that’s a green light for them to mimic this behavior,” she states.
Scheff also advises parents to encourage activities that provide for intellectual and social growth, such as summer internships and community service.
“Offer suggestions such as volunteering at a nursing home or animal shelter. Exercising is another great activity to get disconnected.” She advocates going on regular power walks with your children. “It’s about unplugging.”
Technology isn’t all bad. When it is used in conjunction with other creative activities, it can definitely be positive, but parents need to make an effort to join in on the fun.
“We’ll read a book, then watch the movie up until the section we’ve reached in the book. Then we discuss how the book is different from the movie,” Strohman offers. She also encourages parents to suggest do-it-yourself activities that inspire team work, such as writing short plays and then filming it together.
Obsession and red flags
Common Sense Media reports, “More research needs to be done to help us understand when, how, and why people use the internet and other devices in harmful ways. The American Psychiatric Association has identified only one internet-related condition, internet gaming disorder. Sometimes, what looks like addiction is simply problematic behavior. A balanced approach to using media can correct problematic behavior.”
Common Sense Media suggests that parents pay attention to how children act during and after watching TV, playing video games, or hanging out online.
“If they’re using high-quality, age-appropriate media, their behavior is positive, and their screen-time activities are balanced with plenty of healthy, screen-free ones, there’s no need to worry.”
Unique issues with special-needs children
According to Autism Speaks (a world-wide autism and advocacy organization), “Parents and autism therapists have long noticed that many children and teens with autism become deeply engaged with video games and other forms of screen-based media.”
Special-needs kids might also react more outrageously (i.e. tantrums) if technology is taken away. However, the organization reports that video games can be useful for teaching social skills and other behaviors. Therefore, finding a balance is pertinent.
Parents should work together with their child’s therapist and other professionals to assess whether or not their child’s electronics use is stymieing his social skills development.
Strohman suggests that parents have consistent communication with their child’s classroom teachers.
“Teachers can easily assess your child’s social skills in relation to their peers,” she says.
General signs of addiction for all children
• Loss of interest in hobbies
• Lying about or hiding use
• Loss of interest in social interactions
• Inability to self-monitor time spent on cellphone, video game, etc.
• Keeping devices accessible at all times
• • •
In next month’s issue, part two of “Is There Life Without Electronics?” will focus on setting guidelines, monitoring usage, and parental controls.
Myrna Beth Haskell is an award-winning author, columnist, and feature writer. Her work has appeared in national and regional publications across the U.S. as well as internationally (www.myrna
Positive tech time that includes physical and social activity
We are surrounded by technology, and it’s not going away. Families need to strike a balance. Here are some positive ways to incorporate technology into family life:
• Find a new recipe online and watch videos together for how to prepare it. (For example, foodn
• Plan your vacation using the internet: study various destinations with your kids.
• Exercise with your kids using video games such as Wii Dance, etc.
• Keep track of friends in other countries — their cultures, language and lifestyles — via social media.
• Play electronic games and watch movies that have an educational focus. (See Common Sense Media for ratings and reviews of products.)
• Use technology to create gifts for special people in your lives (photo calendars, digital art, etc.).
• Build a family tree and find out more about your family history (i.e. ances
• Use texting for convenience and safety as opposed to a substitution for in-person connection.