Striking a balance: Teaching kids & ourselves to unplug at times
This is the first generation of kids to live through Instagram, Snapchat and Fortnite. Kids today also don't know a life without smartphones or instant answers from Siri and Google. So how do we help them strike a balance between life on-screen and face-to-face?
Maurice Elias, psychology professor at Rutgers University, said this generation’s biggest challenge is sorting through the vast digital world. It's about being able to determine which sources of information are reliable and vetted. He says helping kids avoid being passive media users will give them a better chance at resisting peer pressure in-person, too.
Elias said that for adults worried about this generation’s fixation on technology, first reflect on what examples are being set at home. Can parents stick to a no phones as the dinner table rule? Are text messages consistently interrupting family time? There needs to be clear boundaries set when it comes to screen time and content being watched.
According to federal statistics, adolescents spend an average of over two hours each weekday on media and communications activities. These include watching TV, playing video and computer games, surfing the internet, listening to music and calling or texting. that average doubles on weekends to over four hours a day.
Elias, director of the Social-Emotional and Character Development Lab and co-director of the Collaborative Center for Community-Based Research and Service and of the Academy for Social-Emotional Learning in Schools, suggested parents take a more active role in guiding social media use and monitoring time. He added that kids are often looking for guardrails when put into "action through caring conversation." Regulations do of course change as kids get older.
Some resources for families:
There's a documentary "Screenagers" that continues to spark conversations about screen time and how to intervene. The doctor-turned-filmmaker maintains a weekly online forum about current digital world issues, including the newer hit video game, Fortnite. As a third-person shooter game, it has sparked issues beyond the amount of time spent playing.
The Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood promotes an annual Screen-Free Week each Spring and also has seven tips for reducing screen time in homes:
1. Rearrange the furniture
2. Start the day screen-free
3. Enjoy screen-free meals
4. Encourage sensory play
5. Explore the outdoors
6. Create activity kits
7. Limit your own screen time
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) offers age-based screen-time guidelines:
Children younger than 1 1/2 to 2 years: Avoid media use (except for video chatting with family and loved ones).
Preschool children: No more than 1 hour per day of high-quality programming, such as "Sesame Street."
Grade-schoolers and teens: Don’t let media displace other important activities. Make sure they get at least 1 hour of exercise daily, media-free meals, “unplugged” down-time, and a full night’s sleep.
Be your children’s media mentor: Co-view media with your kids (enjoy using media with them, playing, sharing, and teaching), and model healthy screen-use habits yourself.
There's also resources for creating a Family Media Plan.
Proud Jersey Girl Erin Vogt’s first reporting gig involved her Fisher Price tape recorder. As a wife and momma of two kiddies, she firmly believes that life’s too short to drink bad coffee. A fan of the beach, Dave Grohl and karma, in no particular order.