By Dr. Jan Hittelman
In the fast-paced world of ever-evolving technology, it is difficult for parents to keep up. Children are spending more time in the virtual world resulting in less time for old-fashioned activities like having a face-to-face conversation, playing outside, or going for a bike ride. We have yet to see what impact if any, these changes in socialization patterns will have on children’s development, but there are certainly reasons to be concerned. Like any skill, social skills are not inborn, but rather require practice to learn and develop. With shorter recess times and nightly homework, our children have less and less opportunities to simply socialize with peers and family members. The speed of this technological evolution often outpaces a parent’s ability to develop effective strategies to address it. While we cannot stop technological progress, here are some ways to reduce technology’s negative effects:
• Be aware of your own behavior: How much time do you spend in front of a screen, talking on your cell phone, or watching TV? Like it or not we are the role models for our children and need to try and practice what we preach.
• Create technology-free days: Consider setting aside time in the evenings and/or the weekends for everyone in the family to turn off cell phones, iPods, televisions, videogames, computers, etc. and actually interact with each other.
• Discuss technology etiquette: Make sure that your children understand appropriate uses of technology in terms of treating others with respect and only communicating in ways that would make you proud.
• Make technology a privilege, not a right: Consider having your child earn technology time as a function of meeting their responsibilities at home and in school. Imagine if every hour of technology was a function of actually interacting with others in the real world without plugging in to something!
• Develop family rules regarding technology: Include your children in discussions about turning their phones off after a certain time at night, how much is too much daily screen time, the importance of other activities like exercise and in-person social interaction, as well as how to prioritize other responsibilities with leisure pursuits.