Digital devices are now the norm, and not just for adults; children are more plugged in than ever. If you have kids, they most likely have access to tablets, smartphones and computers. If you have ever wondered or worried about the effects of being plugged in on such a constant basis, you are not alone. There are risks associated with letting your kids use their devices whenever they feel like it. Excessive use can cause stress and addictive-like behaviors. The average child in the U.S. spends nearly 10 hours every day consuming media of all types. This includes using cell phones, accessing the Internet, using tablets, playing games, texting, and watching television, many doing more than one such activity at a time. Pediatricians have set guidelines suggesting children and teens not exceed two hours per day of device time. Parents should also keep children’s rooms free of TV and Internet access, according to a policy statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Council on Communications and Media. “We’re not media-bashers,” said Dr. Marjorie Hogan, one of the statement’s lead authors. “We love media.” The question, she said, is how to use it for good. Hogan, from the University of Minnesota, pointed out that media can influence kids’ lives in many positive ways. Such television shows as Sesame Street have been shown to help preschoolers learn or to promote empathy, for example. “For teens, connectivity, being connected to your peers, having a chance to create your persona, can be a really positive thing,” she told Reuters Health. But too much TV and other media use have been tied to obesity, sleep and school problems and aggression. So how do you help your kids unplug? Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Avoid absolute cutoffs — It can be tempting to cut your children off entirely from their devices. After all, you never had these things and your childhood was great, right? Well, we live in a different world now and unless you want your kids to be totally out of the loop, they need some connection.
- Set limits — Absolute bans on devices are not terribly practical, but you can set limits. Consider an hourly total for each day. When the time is up, the devices get turned off. For older children and teens, you can begin to instill lessons about time management by setting weekly limits. They will have to learn to use their time wisely or face a whole weekend without being connected.
- Provide alternatives — Your kids have learned to count on their devices for entertainment, information, and simply to pass the time. If you want them to truly disconnect and learn that they need not always turn to their devices, you need to provide them with alternatives. Try getting them into reading actual books and teach them how to use the library. Take them outside to play interactive games. Take trips to museums and other cultural events. Play board games together or start up a non-electronic hobby.
- Encourage imagination — One of the big concerns about relying so much on media and devices is that kids may not develop the creativity, critical thinking and imagination that they would otherwise. When not plugged in, help your kids learn to be imaginative. Think back to your own childhood and remember how you engaged your imagination. Maybe your kids need some boxes for constructing a robot, or they need to build a fort in the living room.
- Be patient — Letting your kids hunker down with a tablet or game console is an easy way to get peace and quiet. It’s one of the reasons many parents allow hours of device time. This is not best for your kids, however. When you first cut back on device time and help your kids learn what to do in their absence, expect some challenges. Things may get loud. There will be messes. Be patient during this transition time. Be strong and stick to your guns; your kids will thank you later.
The bottom line when it comes to media consumption and device usage for your kids is that they need balance. They need to digest media, but they also need to learn how to live without it and how to connect with others and with their imaginations when devices are out of the picture. With a little creativity on your part, and some patience, you can help your kids get there.