04.09.2013 Family & Parenting

How to Keep Your Kids From Becoming Addicted to Technology

How to Keep Your Kids From Becoming Addicted to Technology
04.09.2013 LISTEN

It's impossible to keep children from interacting with all manner of screens today: TVs, computers, tablets and smartphones have permeated society. Screen time exposure is higher than ever for today's little ones, especially when so many parents model that behavior. (If you find yourself checking your email on your phone every time you stand still for more than a second, your child is probably picking up on that behavior with the intent to mimic it.) That screen time isn't necessarily bad, either, especially considering that today's children are going to need to learn tech skills to survive in education and the work force. However, there's a difference between aptitude and addiction, and it's all too easy to become overly dependent on technology if you're not careful. To make sure your kids don't become addicted to technology, keep these tips in mind:

Regulate Screen Time
This is probably the most important thing you can do. Children are still learning impulse control, a process that goes for years. (Researchers have actually found that the ability to opt for delayed rewards doesn't start to level off until your 30s, meaning it takes you that long to get the hang of it.) Because of this, they won't be able to naturally stop and start using tech devices like smartphones, video game consoles/handheld units, tablets, TVs, computers, etc., without some external guidance. Your goal is to show them that technology is a tool, whether it's being used for entertainment, education or work, and that like all tools, it requires attention to be used correctly.

Start off by setting screen time limits. If it's a school night, carve out how much time your child will be allowed to zone out with technology. Some parents set limits of 30-60 minutes per night, with the limit pushed up to two hours for weekends or holidays.

There are a few ways to do this:

Keep an eye on your kids. This means keeping tech devices like video games and tablets in common areas like kitchens, living rooms or studies, where you can get a general idea of what your child is doing.

Let the technology help you when it can. Some devices, like Amazon's Kindle HD, have parental controls that let you set a time for the device to automatically switch off when it hits its limit of videos or games for the day.

Dedicate a certain part of the day for heavier tech use. This means keeping devices and usage away from the breakfast table, and it also means keeping those devices away from your children overnight and when they get up. They don't need to roll out of bed and check their phones immediately. Have them leave their devices in your room to charge overnight to avoid any temptations or misuse.

Focus on Family Events
The more time your kids spend with technology, the more sedentary they become, which increases their risk of disease and poor health. Too much screen time can also contribute to behavioral issues and bad grades. To combat this, it's crucial to help your children focus on the real world.

In addition to limiting screen time, be sure to set aside time every day for your kids to play outside and with each other or with friends. Social play is how children learn to solve problems and interact with other people, skills that you just can't pass along through a tablet screen. Encourage your kids to read, explore and pursue other activities away from their devices.

You can also set up tech-free zones to help everyone regain their focus. A great starting point: meals. Don't allow phones or other devices to be used around the dinner table. Nobody's so important they can't take an hour away from their screen, especially children. Another idea: spend an entire day away from devices. You can go hiking, walk in the park, head to the library, visit a museum, explore your city, see relatives, catch a movie, go to a ballgame, etc. There are an endless array of things you can do as a family unit away from the presence of technology. This will help your kids see that, while technology can be fun, it's not the be-all end-all.

Practice What You Preach
Many adults may not realize how much time they spend on their own tech habits, but such things will become clear when the children arrive. Set a good example by being the kind of active, present person you want your child to be. Limit your own screen time, and don't be afraid to talk with your spouse or partner about solutions if your problems are escalating. Spend a day without technology. When you're gathered around the table or out to dinner, play the phone stack game and focus on the people around you, not the status updates from people miles away. Consider getting something like this box that gives you a place to stash your phone while focusing on your family for a while. Remember, your children will model the behavior they see you doing, so it's important to set a good example as early as possible.

Is technology unavoidable? Not really in this day and age. But that doesn't mean it has to rule your life, or your children's lives. With the right attitude and a few key tips, you can keep your kids from becoming addicted to technology. And you might even learn a few things, to boot.

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