Parenting in a Digital World

Over the past year, we have seen more than ever how technology and social media have had the ability to keep us connected, but how much is too much? Even though there can be so many great things that come with technology, there can also be many negatives that impact our daily functioning as well as our ability to socialize when not behind a screen. So what are the harmful effects that excessive technology and social media have on kids? And more importantly, how can parents look out for the warning signs and set boundaries.

Why are adolescents so susceptible to the negative effects of screentime? Brain development Brain development continues until about age 25 which is why experts worry about the long term effects of excessive technology use through the developing years. Digital devices can disrupt everything from sleep to creativity. Adequate sleep fosters positive brain development, and research has shown that blue light-emitting screen devices like smartphones and iPads before bedtime can disrupt sleep patterns by suppressing melatonin production. It is no secret that a large number of kids are on screens right up until bedtime, and many, unknowingly, on devices in their rooms past their bedtimes all hours of the night. Feeling Connected Kids have a strong desire for growing social influence, acceptance and feeling connected to their peers. Your child may think since all of his/her friends are on screens communicating and playing games then why shouldn’t they be? It has become the norm and has become even more important for staying connected (and educated) in a post-COVID world. Addictive Potential Additionally, excessive technology use releases dopamine which creates a desire to continuously stimulate the brain. As adults, we’ve all probably felt that feeling when we open an app on our phone and there’s a red notification that we have a comment, like or message. This is known as the “reward center” or “pleasure pathway”. With kids it becomes more necessary for their everyday validity and needs if they grow up constantly having this release of dopamine. And studies have shown that screen time affects the frontal cortex of the brain, similar to the effect of cocaine. Warning Signs Parents Should Look For As a parent, there are many red flags you can look for, and most likely you may have already noticed some of these, especially after the pandemic.

  • Worsening hygiene

  • Refusing to come out of room

  • Refusing to attend school

  • Having to get on a device the minute they wake up

  • Lying about being on a device or sneaking a device

  • Decreased interest in offline activities

  • Increased irritability when asked to disconnect or shut down devices

  • Continued use despite negative consequences at home, school, work or relationships

  • Preoccupation with online experiences even when offline

How Parents Can Set Screen Use Boundaries If your child is showing any of the above signs, there are things you can do before it gets out of control. Even if you feel it has gone too far, it is never too late to change the expectations and get back on the right track. Creating a family plan that outlines screen usage and availability is helpful for many families. A family plan would consist of how much time per day is allowed for each child, when and where it is allowed, and what exactly they are doing or watching. Many kids pick up on negative behaviors watching certain types of kids videos, or may come across inappropriate content that can leave them scared or anxious. Most of the time we parents don’t even know what their eyes are seeing. By becoming more aware of what they are watching, we are setting restrictions and letting them know we are involved and care what they are doing on their screens. Having your family stick to a set of guidelines will help promote healthy screen habits by ensuring your kids are not on screens excessively and that when they ARE on screens, they are consuming quality content. Do’s

  • Encourage your child to get involved in other activities (school, sports, community, the arts)

  • Get into a routine for “wind down” time at night without devices on

  • Have a “technology curfew”

  • Keep an open dialogue with your child

  • Model the behaviors you want to see

Don’ts

  • Don’t take devices away without a plan

  • Don’t set unrealistic goals or expectations

  • Don’t assume change is going to happen overnight

  • Don’t assume your child will be able to self-monitor and implement their own limits

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