Monday, March 4, 2013

Technology and Kids: Finding the Balance

The world today is filled with endless avenues of technology every turn we make and kids are inevitably surrounded by it. Studies have shown that half of all kids today have access or own a mobile device of some kind. Even 3 year olds seem to know how to navigate a mouse before even figuring out how to tie their shoe. What is the fascination with these gadgets that so easily consume the minds of our kids these days? Well, it is safe to say that kids are growing up in a completely tech-savvy world and because of this reality, the less real-world skills the seem to be capable of learning and implementing on their own. Let's face it, there really is no easy way to escape it but to only gently embrace it. So, how can we try to find a healthy balance so that our kids can experience all the wonderful and life-changing experiences we all did when growing up such as looking forward to spending time outside with friends, knowing we can wander and be free until the street lights come on or actually communicating to one another face to face by knocking on our neighbor's door without texting or sending an email.

No wonder parents are frustrated that even basic everyday chores, trying to entice and hopefully engage their kids into sports and team-building activities or making basic eye contact with another person can be such a challenge. Having been a teacher for many years and now a therapist providing direct care for children/adolescents, I have been privy to the fast-growing and ever-evolving tech world and have seen firsthand that kids are more digitally plugged in than ever. But there is hope. There are very basic and effective ways to help you and your child find a healthy and promising balance.

One profoundly important job of a parent is to assist and support your child with learning how to find balance in their life. Not only is it essential to encourage and provide them with outside experiences with friends, exercising, etc., but there is also much to gain such as knowledge, skills and other life-lessons to be learned through technology.

So here are some easy and basic tips to help your child grow into a well-rounded individual since we all know and accept that technology is a part of all of our lives in todays' ever-changing and growing society.

1). Create a tech-free zone in your home. This can be the bedroom or kitchen where no technology is allowed. This will provide an opportunity for your child or the family to experience things to do whether it be creative, interacting and talking "face to face" with one another, or ensuring that your child get the right amount of sleep without the temptation of video games or the internet.

2). Plan off-line time or un-interrupted time. Try to create at least one computer free day a week. Make this a family game night or focus on other interests and/or hobbies where the computer or other forms of technology are not needed.

3). You may want to consider taking part in some of your child's online activites. This can be a very bonding and positive experience to partake in with your child. It shows them that you, as the parent, are taking an interest in their lives when in the "online world."

4). When the kids want to go online make sure to fit in all of the "have-to's" (i.e., homework, chores, etc.,) with their "want-to's" (i.e., gaming and facebook).

5). Consider using media as a jumping-off point. Whether it be a game that encourages  entrepreneurship, a strategy-type game or a piano/guitar how-to video on youtube, think of ways to extend and expand upon their favorite electronic interests/hobbies into the real world.

6). Be sure to consider the example, you as the parent, are setting. Be a "digital role-model." This means setting limits for yourself. Turn off the computer at a reasonable hour and instill the notion to your kids that we can set healthy limits and boundaries for our online/computer time and what we can't get done tonight, we can always resume the next day.

7). Most importantly, remember to help your child understand that it is okay to be BORED!!! Let your child's mind wander and maybe even encourage them to READ a book!! There is a magical world that awaits those who pick up a book, particularly one of the classics we read as a kid. In in the words of a genius: "Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life's coming attractions.”
Albert Einstein

Keep plugging along and know that there IS balance even in the most hectic of times. Cultivate and nurture your relationship with your child and keep the lines of communication open. They will be forever grateful that you did.

Lisa Polisano, MFT