Tackling Technology with Children

Today’s post is from guest author and CPLS Guidance Counselor Melissa Gossard.

Today’s post serves to reach out regarding the significant role screen time plays in our children’s’ lives.  Some days it feels like a blessing and other days it can be tough to sort through as a parent.  I’m of the mindset that ongoing dialogue can promote awareness, encouragement and accountability to help us navigate these uncharted waters we all find ourselves in today.  May I remind you I’m right next to you in this dance of raising kids in the age of technology? There is nothing expert about me (I think you must write a book for that status, right?) but I sure do love and care about your children and value authentic connection.      

If you have a child(ren) born in 1995-2012, they have been given the name “iGen”.  They are named as the first generation with smart phones for their internet connection.  Most experts agree that when the 2012 smart phone debuted, there was a significant rise in anxiety and undoubtedly, social media and screen time are playing a part in this. Studies have shown that there was also a significant increase in teen suicides in 2015 compared to 2007.  Some would say it’s a mental health crisis that is directly related to constant internet access, social media and gaming in a variety of forms. There are even some Apple investors that are recognizing a need to help parents navigate the negative influence of the internet on iGen’s.  Are there other contributing factors to mental health issues?  Yes, but these factors have been around for a long time and we are at risk for being less attentive to the influence of the screen because it has permeated almost all aspects of daily living.      

According to author and psychologist, Dr. Margaret Wehrenberg, “Young people spending 10+ hours per week on social media are 56% more likely to be unhappy than those who do not. However, the opposite is true of in-person time with activities/friends”.  While young people will tell you having access to this internet world is the only way to be socially connected, we must ask ourselves at what costs will we allow this viral connection and are we ok with this substituting the old fashioned social connection that we grew up with?  Is there room for both?  Most would say yes but it isn’t always as easy as it seems. The research continues to show that there is a certain level of anxiety that can surface as students are thinking about whether their post will be liked or not, how many likes will I get, when will you text back, etc.  As their brains are still developing, they find themselves in a steady place of comparison to others phony perfection and are often distracted as their brain bounces from one screen to the next.  The anxiety can surface again with poor social decisions (that is a part of most kid’s normal development), as they are haunted with the possibility of it going viral.  This is all happening so fast for them and they most often don’t even realize the anxiety that lurks from all the ambiguity. Then the anxiety continues when they happen to be away from the screen for fear of missing out (known by many young people as “FOMO”).    

The enemy surely wants us to be overwhelmed by this information.  We know as believers we don’t need to be. Instead, we can choose to keep being intentional with our kids as we trust there is nothing new under the sun for our God (Ecclesiastes 1:9) and He will direct our paths (Proverbs 3:6).  Our generation, and those before us, were able build a foundation of social skills and human connection practices that didn’t compete with the connections that screens allow.  However, forms of communication have evolved over the generations.  Most of us agree modern technology has provided some great advancements and the use of screens can be helpful, fun and engaging for the good.   However, the deterioration of something sacred and valuable is often a slow fade rather than an abrupt crisis we see coming right at us.  How do we learn this dance of parenting iGen’s? I propose we keep the dialogue alive as we strive to model and teach healthy connections in our families. 

What Can We as Parents Do?

  1. Make decisions about use of screens based on maturity of child, not only a specific age.
  2. Conversation is healing! Have regular face to face conversations with your kids, no matter their ages.  This provides a security that is authentic and intimate. 
  3. Turning phones off and putting them away sends a message of “You matter to me and I am engaged”.  Schedule a “No Screen Day” or afternoon.  Not as punishment but just a break. 
  4. Discuss media usage in your family. Engage them in your conversations while you remain ultimately in charge of usage.  
  5. Encourage children to still use the phone verbally for family phone calls, thank you’s or invitations. There is meaning in hearing someone’s voice. 
  6. Look for ways for kids to practice their face to face interaction skills. Eye contact is one of the most powerful means God gave us to connect as humans.  Discuss the LOOK UP concept. 
  7. Avoid screen time around the dinner table.
  8. Set limits for 1-2 hours of screen time per day.
  9. Avoid isolation with screens. Even teenagers need to be engaged face to face daily. Respecting their privacy is not the same as allowing isolation.  Keep children in sight when they are in front of a screen. 
  10. Require screens to be turned in at night so sleep remains a priority.
  11. Discuss the practice of listening and then reflect on whether our own listening involves undivided attention away from our own screens.
  12. Help your child to prioritize and evaluate the most valuable part of his/her screen time. Encourage reflection on what app (or way of using the screen) betters them or brings out the worst in them.  I have heard kids and parents report feeling relieved, after the initial battle, that they were restricted or pulled off an app/video game/social media even if it was for just a break. 
  13. Play games where no electronics are needed.  
  14. Limit car ride phone usage so there can be conversation. (i.e.  Mondays are no-screen days)   
  15. If your child is experiencing significant stress in his/her personal life, be aware of the heightened influence social media might be having and monitor closely.

It might be tempting for us to look at this list and think in terms of parental success or failure. I pray, instead, we would give ourselves grace in the places we need it and simply press on to improve our connections with our children.  A dance worth dancing.  After all, it sweetly resembles what our Heavenly Father wants with us; healthy, deeper and authentic connection.