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  • Michael Philp

Parenting in the digital age

The continual rise of technology has presented a set of unique challenges for today's parents. The use of technology and devices are so common today, you'd be hard pressed to find a family that does not have some sort of device in their home. Schools have also adopted the use of technology in classrooms from smartboards, to the use of tablets, and even submitting work online. It is impossible for parents to outlaw their children from the use of technology; however, I would encourage parents to set appropriate boundaries in regards to the use of technology at home.

The modern day challenges of technology

Some of the challenges that parents face in today's world is the amount of screen time that our children experience on a daily basis, and the consequences (both positive and negative) of that screen time. There is plenty of information on the internet in regards to cyber safety and talking to your child about being safe on the internet (see this tipsheet for examples), however, I'd like to focus on the impact of technology on children's wellbeing. Some of the examples that I see in my clinic is with children and teenagers where technology and devices have encroached in their lives in a detrimental manner. This includes poor sleep routines, poor study habits, and even refusing to see friends in person because they cannot play a game online together. Research has also demonstrated that increased screen time is linked to obesity and attentional difficulties, and other issues. There are, of course, many benefits to technology including access to educational information, problem solving and team-work (in online gaming for example), and connection with peers. So as parents, the challenge is finding the right balance of access of technology.

Firstly, it's important to remember that parents are still in control around their children's use of technology, devices, and screen time. What's more, it's important as parents that we help our children understand the limitations of screen time. Playing a game on a device is fun and gives the child plenty of positive emotions and chemicals that are set off in the brain that make the child want to continue to play a game. Likewise, a teenager using social media and receiving 'likes' for their posts or pictures, provides them with pleasurable feelings and a desire to keep checking or posting more on social media. Without any boundaries, it is very easy for a child to spend several hours using a device. As parents we know this is not healthy, but a child is not able to have this awareness or self-discipline to stop.

Boundaries on technology use

To start with, it is important to recognise that technology is part of our lives and that our children will be exposed to technology no matter what. However, parents can and should set healthy boundaries on technology use, and set up clear expectations with their children on how much time they can spend using their devices or screen time.

Appropriate boundaries include:

  • Devices (including gaming consoles, tablets, mobiles) should be used outside of the child's bedroom and the bedroom should be a technology-free zone. This is to encourage healthy sleep routines. For teenagers who have mobile phones, set a time limit of when they are no longer being used and are placed on recharge outside of the bedroom. If your teenager needs alarm clock, buy a separate alarm clock rather than use the feature on the phone (you can guarantee they will check any incoming messages no matter the time).

  • Set a routine for child after school that builds in allotted screen time as well as other activities you need them to complete. For example, you may want your child to complete their homework first, any chores they need to do, then can access screen time. Depending on the amount of time after school, you may want to consider limiting use of games to weekends.

  • Discuss with your child how long they can use their device for, monitor the time, and provide your child with ample warning their time is about to conclude.

There are many other challenges that technology can provide in our households, and many other solutions to try. This is a brief overview of some of the common complaints that I see in my practice and how to set up limits so that our children engage in other activities in the household or outside. If you feel that despite these attempts at setting limits, your child is still having difficulties with technology impacting on their lives, please feel free to discuss this with one of the psychologists at Grove Psychology.

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