Question: I’m reading more and more about the potentially negative impact of digital devices and the amount of “screen time” on today’s children. Is this a real problem and, if so, what can we as parents do to constructively deal with it?
Many of you who took an Intro to Psychology course in college remember the experiment where the Russian researcher Pavlov trained his dog to salivate at the sound of a bell because the dog had been trained to associate it with food.
Sadly, many of us have allowed technology to turn us into a kind of Pavlov’s dog. When our phone or iPad pings, rings or vibrates, we, hopefully, don’t salivate but we do drop everything we’re doing, even an important conversation with our kids, and answer it.
I often see moms and dads who are chatting or texting and virtually ignoring the children they are obviously caring for. There are preschoolers’ who can’t be apart from their iPad and Grandmas’ who are addicted to Candy Crush. The ever-present distractions of technology make it easy for us to forget what the “main thing” is and to become slaves to the tyranny of the immediate and, by default, allow that to crowd out the real relationships in our lives.
I agree with Sylvia Hart Frejd, Executive Director of the Center for Digital Wellness at Liberty University, who wrote, “We need to be intentional about confronting this ‘digital invasion’ by moving from a culture of distraction to a culture of engagement. A culture where ‘real’ relationships and conversations become more important than ‘virtual’ ones.”
So what can concerned parents do? Here are some suggestions.
First, become aware of you and your family’s usage of technology. What are you modeling for you kids?
Second, when you’re with your kids pay attention to them. Be present. Stay present.
Third, establish your own digital boundaries and be an example for your kids. Limit your own “screen time” and what you allow to interrupt your time with them.
Fourth, create digital-free spaces in your home where conversation can happen; for example the kitchen, dining room or the car.
Fifth, set aside some “media free” times for conversations, homework, games ect. for being a family.
Sixth, ask God to help you be more responsive to the voice of your son, daughter or spouse than you are to the ping, ring or vibration of a digital device.
In Philippians 4:8, Paul gives a list of things that God says is good for us to focus on. Ask God to give you creative ways to help you and your kids’ “minds dwell on these things.” Use some of your media-free time for creative conversations on what that might look like.
Oliver is the director of the Center for Healthy Relationships. He can be reached at GOliver@jbu.edu.