Children today will never know a time when phones, computers, tablets and other devices weren’t a part of our daily lives.
According to the Cyberbullying Research Center, about 95% of teens are online. Additionally, Erikson Institute reports at least 85% of parents allow their young children to use technology, and the Institute of Education Sciences says 70% of schools reported their teachers using technology for normal classroom activities. The growing presence of technology in children’s lives impacts their development, social interactions and future.
Since technology is deeply intertwined in our lives — especially our children’s — it’s important for parents to be mindful of how technology is used in their homes. While the technology itself is neutral, how children use it can have both positive and negative effects. Like most things, it’s about balance.
Technology allows us to easily communicate with loved ones from any distance. However, this increased use of technology for social interaction can ironically prevent children from developing adequate social skills, leading to more children being socially awkward and not knowing how to interact with other children or adults.
Socializing online distances children from who they communicate with, giving them more anonymity and less responsibility for their actions and words. Hiding behind screens has given rise to cyberbullying, a huge problem among young people today. According to the Cyberbullying Research Center, about 37% of young people between the ages of 12 and 17 have been bullied online. Thirty percent have had it happen multiple times.
This leads to low self-esteem and higher risks of suicide. It also hinders a child’s ability to develop and maintain healthy relationships with family and friends. One study even proved that excessive phone use leads to less smiling.
In addition to the negative impacts on social skills, relationships and mental health, research shows that overexposure to blue light given off by screens can negatively affect our physical health. Prolonged overuse can affect vision, hinder sleep and increase anxiety.
Since devices fill our homes and many people rely on them for work and school, it’s virtually impossible to remove technology completely from our lives. But healthy technology use is about balance.
As parents, it’s our responsibility to help our children develop healthy relationships with technology early on. If children develop addictive habits at a young age, the negative effects will follow them into adulthood and continue to negatively impact every aspect of their lives.
Set boundaries and limits for children and actually enforce them. Technology use typically increases as children get older, so teaching young children how to balance their screen time, homework, personal time and family time is vital to a healthy relationship with technology.
Plan to incorporate activities both with and without technology into your and your child’s life. By engaging in a wide variety of activities with your child, you can not only help your child find their passions in life but also strengthen the parent-child bond, creating and maintaining healthy habits for yourself and your child.
Parents must pay attention to how the adults in the home use technology. Young children learn by observing the adults in their lives. Use and view screens with your young children and guide them on navigating the deep well of information that technology gives us access to. This way, parents can be sure their children use technology for meaningful purposes and avoid any dangerous public content.
The decisions we make as parents are some of the most important decisions because it affects our children’s well-being. Technology will continue to be a huge part of our lives, and as our children grow, learn and develop, parents can help them cultivate a healthy relationship with technology by modeling healthy habits and using technology together.
Each family and child has a unique set of needs, so relationships with technology can look different from one family to another. Balancing tech use with non-tech use is the key. Showing young children how to use tech for learning, personal development and keeping in contact with loved ones far away while minimizing the amount of screen time for entertainment purposes can create that balance.