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Like many lately, my friend Alice’s son is addicted to Fortnite, the current video game. Alice wasn’t sure what to do and offered her 12-year-old several hundred dollars to give up Fortnite for a month. He refused without hesitation. A few weeks later, when I asked a young man in his twenties to explain the sensation to me, he immediately compared Fortnite to “crack”.
For many parents who may already have to annoy their kids to put down their phones or log out of social media to do homework, this kind of technical addiction – where parents have to pry away their seemingly enchanted kids – is on a new alarming level .
In an article in the Wall Street Journal on Fortnite dubbed an “unwinnable war,” Betsy Morris wrote, “The last man video game captured American childhood, shoved other pastimes and hobbies aside, and changed family dynamics . ” Even for parents who admit technology can be a powerful learning tool for kids, the family conflicts that arise from the Fortnite phenomenon or incessant text messaging are frustrating reminders of what technology has become for users of all ages: one numbing distraction and waste of time. Is it possible for families to strike a balance between raising their children to be savvy and tech-savvy without suffering developmental damage?
Mountains of research reveal how technology affects children and teenagers’ language skills, brain development, social interactions, sleep, and more. Common Sense Media found that 50 percent of teenagers feel “dependent” on their cell phones. The Pew Research Center found that 59 percent of US teenagers were bullied or harassed online. Negative reports make it difficult for parents to find a happy medium and accept technology as useful, especially when trying to protect their children or simply to get their attention.
A look at the good side
As parents, we are so concerned about our children’s reliance on their devices and the negative effects of technology that we overlook the positive aspects. A study by the American psychologist “The Benefits of Playing Video Games” concludes that the skills learned while playing video games lead to positive social behavior towards friends and family members.
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The Family Institute at Northwestern University also emits a brighter light. A review of numerous results on digital effects revealed encouraging news for parents: “Several studies have shown that digital forms of communication do not determine the quality of interactions and relationships [for children and teenagers]. Rather, the quality of the pre-established relationships often determines what impact the use of digital form communication will have. “
In other words, “For children and adolescents who already have well developed social skills, using digital media to interact does not harm their relationships or their social development. Conversely, if a child or teen does not have strong social skills or a personal social network, that child or teen should be encouraged to continue looking for ways to build those skills and align time with screen time for that goal bring. “
Whether it’s developing social skills, optimizing time management, or simply learning to use technology wisely, parents play an important role.
Technology is ubiquitous and a teaching tool that is increasingly used in schools and for homework. Likewise, SMS, Facebook, Instagram and the like do not go away. Despite excessive hours devoted to technology, parents can teach children and teenagers to seek balance and use technology so that it does not harm them.
One major caveat: According to a study of BMC obesity, the amount of time kids 5 and under spend on screens is likely to increase by 20 minutes a day if they take devices away from a very young age or use screen time as a reward. This probably also applies to older children and teenagers.
With acceptance and understanding approached, parents can encourage children to be reasonable technology “users” in all of its forms. Diana Graber, CyberWise founder and international digital literacy attorney, takes an approach that helps parents relax. While technology is relatively new to many parents, children grew up with it, but Graber is confident we can help our children “develop healthy relationships with technology”.
In her book, Raising People in a Digital World, she explains the role parents play in ensuring that children have the skills they need to act responsibly. Parents can guide their children to think critically about how they use technology and what they are releasing in the world.
13 Parents Help Children Get Tech-savvy
Graber makes these useful suggestions for building social skills:
- Teach children and teenagers to look people in the eye when you speak to them.
- Have consistent, unplugged family time.
- Set up an email account for younger children and practice writing emails with subject lines, greetings, and unsubscribes.
- Get in touch with them online: read a book or rate a restaurant you like. “Like” someone’s photo or Facebook post.
Early on, make sure that you and your children understand the scope of the media and how information can spread far further than intended. Graber believes it is important for both parents and children to understand the meaning of:
- Social media page
- To mark
- post Office
One important lesson to be taught is the importance of the digital footprint a child may make online that will affect them in the future. Graber recommends these lessons that will save the reputation:
- Drive home the fact that what they put online is very difficult to erase.
- Make sure they understand who will be watching their social media in the future: college admissions staff; Potential employers; expected dates.
- Protect your current and future digital reputation by making selective choices about what to share.
- Share community service, commitment to a cause, commitment to a project, or an idea you’ve created.
With so many potholes to avoid, parents can quickly turn their children into savvy digital users. While the jury has not yet been cast and studies on many aspects of children and technology often lead to conflicting results in terms of data protection, time spent on devices, games and computers, no one can disagree: technology makes knowledge available to everyone. Following Diana Graber’s lead goes a long way toward calming parents’ many worries.
For more information, see Raising Humans in a Digital World: Helping Children Build Healthy Relationships with Technology.
Copyright @ 2019 by Susan Newman