Healthy (and Unhealthy) Tech Habits for Kids
Keeping families connected with a safe phone
Cell phones, including cell phones for kids, are a lot like power tools: Both can be used to build or to demolish.
If there’s a silver lining of the coronavirus pandemic, it’s how the virus has helped to connect families. For coming together from a distance, technology has been a godsend. Imagine if the virus had hit before phones, much less webcams and the internet. True isolation would have been a disaster for mental health. If you’ve given your kids a little extra latitude with screens during this time, don’t feel guilty. You’ve helped them stay in touch with their family and friends. Do, however, keep a close eye on it. Even during a pandemic, there are healthy and unhealthy tech habits that kids can develop.
Healthy and Unhealthy Tech Habits
How should and shouldn’t kids be interacting with screens during a time like this? Follow these seven simple rules:
Should: Socialize With Friends
It’s a scary time. Chances are, your children are feeling just as anxious as you are. A good way to calm their nerves is by keeping them connected to family and friends.
Be sure the tools you give them are purpose-driven: If they want to Skype their grandparents, give them the green light. If it’s a Zoom call for a school project, say “of course.”
Shouldn’t: Become Glued To Their Phone
U.S. teenagers spend an average of 7 hours and 22 minutes on their phones each day. That’s far more than is necessary for family connections.
Don’t let this pandemic be an excuse for your children to become addicted to their phones. Use the time to show how much fun real-world activities can be.
Give them a book to read, instead of purchasing a virtual copy. Encourage them to go for a run, instead of playing video games. Do a puzzle together, instead of watching a movie.
Should: Take Advantage Of Remote Learning
While most schools and universities have closed due to the pandemic, many of them have shifted to online courses. Even kindergarteners are learning from the convenience of their own home!
Don’t lump educational screen time in with entertainment-oriented time. If anything, encourage it: Kids need to see that technology can help them learn virtually anything, at any time, and from anywhere.
Shouldn’t: Rely On Tech For Motivation
With remote learning, children aren’t sitting in a room with their teachers. That means, unfortunately, that they may struggle to stay motivated.
The solution is for parents and educators to work together. Work with your teacher to set goals for your son or daughter.
For example, they may need to complete a set number of assignments each week. Create a reward chart at home, where they receive something tangible for getting their work done on time.
Should: Stick to a Schedule
Staying indoors can be boring, especially for children. And while tech can keep kids entertained, it’s important children have a schedule that balances tech time with non-tech time.
Keep your kids busy by creating a daily routine. Try to keep their schedule similar to what they were doing pre-pandemic, and include activities that have nothing to do with technology. Prioritize ones that get them outside and teach responsibility, such as gardening.
If your kid insists on a new schedule, ask her to design it herself. Planning a routine is an important adult skill. Insist, however, that the total amount of “just for fun” tech time you set for her doesn’t change.
Shouldn’t: Use Tech Alone
One sign that your son or daughter might be using tech to escape is that he or she uses it alone. Aside from overuse, there are other reasons to keep an eye on their tech use.
Even if you trust your kiddos, there are a lot of dangers online. Pornography is a problem. Child predators are always on the lookout for vulnerable victims.
If you have young kids, don’t be afraid to limit their tech use to times when you are together. If your son likes to play video games, grab a controller for a multiplayer match. If his classes are being held on Zoom, sit in with him.
Should: Be Understanding About Mistakes
If you normally give your son an hour each day to play video games, don’t jump down his throat if he goes over by half an hour one day. Accidents happen, and you know how easy it is to get sucked in by a screen.
If it happens repeatedly, sit down to have a conversation. We all need the occasional distraction during a time like this, but that doesn’t mean we should let ourselves drown in them.
Set a good example: If you give yourself the same amount of time each day to scroll through social media, set a time for yourself. When it goes off, promptly put your phone away. Chances are, your kids will follow your lead.
During this time, it’s important to keep your family connected, but it’s also important to keep everyone mentally, emotionally, and physically healthy. To do that, you might have to set some new rules—and enforce the old ones—around their healthy and unhealthy tech habits.
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