March 31, 2023
by Alexa Sanwo
There were a lot of surprises I experienced when I had a baby. One was how frequently people asked me, “How long are you guys waiting until you get him a phone?” Technology is so integrated in our everyday lives. Children’s snow days are now virtual learning days. Many restaurants present QR codes where the customer must access the menu on their smart phone. Technology is everywhere, yet we know there are limits for its use. Technology especially presents unique issues during childhood.
Young children with excessive amounts of screen time have greater risk for emotional problems, anxiety, depressions, aggression, social problems, low attention spans and obesity. Many parents of young children struggle with their child’s sleep, and perhaps it’s because screens can affect a person’s sleep duration, quality, and stability.
Older children and teens are certainly not exempt from problems associated with technology. While they are more developed, they are still forming their identities. and can easily be influenced by peer and social pressure which exists online, as well as in-person. Social media affects adolescents’ views of self-worth as well as their overall mental health. Technology doesn’t just affect a teen on an individual level, but it has also been seen to affect real-life relationships. Concerningly, companies are aware of these issues but prioritize profits ahead of protecting kids online. Sinister byproducts of technology, such as pornography and sex trafficking, also threaten today’s youth.
With all the problems and dangers associated with technology use, I’m far from chomping at the bit to hand a phone over to my son. This isn’t a call for banning technology though. It is necessary in our modern world. I have fond memories of playing Battlefront with cousins, family popcorn and movie nights, the excitement of my uncles showing me Star Wars for the first time, and finishing an episode of PBS’s Cyberchase to frantically call my friends and talk about what happened.
Parents, you may be comforted by the clarification a researcher gave when warning against screen time: “We are all doing the best we can. This is really about… making parents conscious of their practices and balancing active play with screen time, and modeling that behavior.” Luckily, parents can pull from information provided by studies and development experts to establish healthy and safe technology behaviors for their family.
Screens can be a quick and effective way to soothe a child in special situations such as during a medical procedure or flight. However, parents should use methods other than media to calm children during normal, every day circumstances. The American Academy of Pediatrics explains that “there is concern that using media as strategy to calm could lead to problems with limit setting or the inability of children to develop their own emotion regulation.” Parents should instead teach children to regulate with a stuffed animal, talking, hugs, or relaxing.
It is recommended that young children not engage in solo media use and that parents make screen time interactive. This is because young children often don’t understand what they are watching. Many shows targeted for this age are actually too fast paced to be developmentally appropriate. To lessen the negative effects of screen time, parents should make comments and ask their children questions about what they are watching. My son and I love to talk about his real-life emotions and struggles that are depicted through Bluey episodes.
Technology usage is problematic when it interferes with a child’s social activities, physical activity, and sleep. Even adults understand how mindlessly scrolling through social media can accidentally turn into an hour-long activity and take away from time that could have been used for accomplishing something. Despite technology’s addictive nature, and reports of kids spending a concerning amount of time with screens, a survey found that 89% of today’s youth would rather play with their friends in person than online. Kids might simply need a parental push to remind them that real-life experiences are more fun than online ones. Parents can get their kids back out in the world by making time for them to be social.
When technology is used in the home, it must also be coupled with healthy parenting behaviors. When children engage in conversation, creative play, curiosity, and strengthening friendships, these activities offset the negative effects that inevitably come with technology use. It is only in environments away from technology that children build their self-esteem. When kids engage in team activities, they build a sense of self. Hiking, board games, and puzzles advance resiliency skills. Experts stress the importance of these activities in making children less vulnerable to technology’s negative effects.
Unfortunately, part of navigating technology is addressing its sinister, dangerous parts. While parents have the freedom to decide screen limits and rules that fit their family, in our modern world, every parent is also tasked with teaching their kids internet safety. Parents must have conversations with their children about cyberbullying and phishing. Children need to know the importance of not sharing personal information. To keep kids safe from predators, it is vital that parents are clear and direct when explaining to their kids what they can and cannot do online.
As parents, we are not alone in navigating technology usage with our children. Advocates are present in schools, politics, and organizations to help protect children. Schools in New Jersey and Illinois provide lessons in media literacy for students. Illinois is fighting to ensure that high schoolers know how to be responsible content creators and healthy content consumers. The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act is one piece of legislation that is aimed at protecting children. Organizations such as The Foundation United’s Speak Up initiative provides a curriculum for parents, schools, and churches to use to help navigate topics such as sex trafficking, sexual abuse, and pornography.
Technology is everywhere. Deciding exactly what rules to implement at home can be tricky. But parents have a plethora of tools at their disposal to help make these necessary decisions. Be informed, smart, and safe when establishing these rules. Equally as important is to get kids outside! Prioritize children’s real-life experiences over online ones.
Alexa is a senior at Brigham Young University – Idaho and will graduate in April 2023 with a Bachelor’s degree in Marriage and Family Studies. She enjoys exploring Utah, traveling, working on her house, reading, and being a wife and mother. With her degree, Alexa plans on working to strengthen families, which are the foundational units of society.