One of the greatest gifts a parent can give a child is a set of healthy boundaries. What does that look like when it comes to technology?
A recent study by the Kaiser Family Foundation uncovered several sobering facts. The average child aged 8-18 takes in 7 hours and 38 minutes of entertainment media every day. And, because part of that time is spent taking in multiple forms of media at once – i.e. listening to music while they play a video game – the number jumps to 10 hours and 45 minutes. That’s an incredible amount of stimulation.
Studies have shown an excessive amount of time spent on media has a negative impact on social and cognitive development. Kids who lack boundaries with technology:
- spend less time reading
- do less homework
- exercise and sleep less
- are at greater risk for childhood obesity
- spend a reduced amount of time interacting with family or friends
- have weaker decision making skills
Finding balance is the key. Keep in mind only 30% of families set boundaries about media use. We’ve left most of the decision making to our kids who may not have the best judgement about how much Mario Kart is too much. Internet use isn’t only about safety, it’s also about time management.
Start a discussion with your kids and get their feedback. Help them understand your goal in setting boundaries isn’t to punish them but give them tools for success. The technology at our fingertips is nothing short of amazing. Where would society be without images of a monkey in a shearling jacket walking around an Ikea parking lot? But even good things, when out of balance, can be harmful. Help them understand you want them to develop healthy relationships, positive attitudes toward education, nutrition and exercise, as well as strong problem solving skills.
Set the example yourself by being willing to have a “blackout” time for your family. My family has a very hectic schedule – my husband often sees clients in the evenings, my eldest daughter is in university, my youngest in Grade 12 and working part time. Add my schedule to the mix and family dinners have become as rare as Bigfoot sightings and almost as mythical. So, when we finally do get the chance to have dinner as a family, I have a no-tech rule. For at least 30 minutes, we connect with each other and put the rest of the world on pause . Do I need to say those 30 minutes are invaluable?
Be consistent. If you’ve set boundaries, stick to them. Rules that aren’t enforced aren’t rules, they’re suggestions. Consistency demonstrates that the boundaries have real purpose and reinforce your authority as the parent.
Show your kids there’s a world of fun offline and unplugged. Go outside and play. Dust off a board game. Play solitaire with real cards. Dust off the Legos and build a castle, a pirate ship, a town. Open a book! Imaginative play is becoming a thing of the past.
Get moving. You can play tennis, baseball and hockey without a controller in your hand. You can dance without mimicking the movements of a figure onscreen. You can bowl in a real life bowling alley!
Whether it’s relationships, food, or hobbies, healthy boundaries equip your child with decision making skills they’ll apply the rest of their lives.