Technology Talk: Going on a Digital Diet

It's midsummer, and you might be thinking, “My kids need a new plan for screen time!” The glow of Fortnite is blazing in their eyes, and the iCloud can’t hold any more selfies. We all feel the pangs of guilt when overindulgence in media has occurred. Hold tight! 

Years of psychological research have gone into developing social media, apps, and games that keep our brains begging for more. The autoplay feature keeps us hooked for hours whether we are binge-watching Netflix or scrolling through Facebook. Dopamine is released in the brain while playing video games or when we see how many “likes” our photos get. For that reason, it is tough for a child whose frontal lobe is still developing to turn it off.

Katey McPherson, an internet safety expert, suggests we follow a “digital diet.” To keep minds and bodies healthy, follow the simple plan of playtime, downtime, and family time. If you’ve noticed behaviors such as irritability, anger, or frustration, back off from screens. Be clear with your kids that screen time is a privilege. Growing up, I don’t remember a day when I wasn’t told to “get outside!” Chores, homework, exercise, reading, and creativity should be first on the to-do list. Also, consider “screen-free” time during meals, short car rides (to allow for daydreaming and conversation), or when friends and family come to visit.

Services such as Our Pact allow you to block or grant access to apps and set device bedtimes and schedules. Circle by Disney is a device that pairs with your Wi-Fi router and manages every device on your network. In June, Apple announced their newest iOS update (coming this fall) would have a tool called Screen Time to help combat iPhone addiction. Google has a device management app for Androids called Family Link. Parental controls and device management tools take time to research and integrate, so if you’re concerned that your kids need a way to get in touch with you for safety reasons, a simple flip phone might do the trick. We hand the world to our kids when we give them a smartphone, iPod, or iPad with no restrictions or filters. Set clear rules regarding devices and talk to your kids about why you’ve set those rules. All devices should be turned in at night and notifications turned off. Screens should not be allowed behind closed doors.

Kids are watching our media habits closely. I recently took a funny video of my child and wanted to share it with friends in a text. This caused a considerable upset, and I eventually deleted it. I learned a valuable lesson about asking permission from my child about what I am welcome to share. There is irrefutable value in evaluating (and teaching kids) the cost and/or benefit to photos and stories shared within these platforms.

Some parents are creating “No Phone Zone” baskets during play dates. This alleviates the stress of monitoring what another child may have access to on his/her device. In our home, we teach Tic Tac Toe- turn it off, tell an adult, and turn to something active, from White Ribbon Week’s Internet safety program. You can also follow the CAN DO plan from the book Good Pictures, Bad Pictures. So that no matter where your kids are, they have a plan if they see something online that makes them uncomfortable. A young man named Bray Hallman recently made a video explaining how he had been exposed to pornography on Snapchat at the age of 12. Unfortunately, this is one of the most used apps for young kids. Instagram, Pinterest, and YouTube contain pornography access within a few clicks.

Research indicates social media and screens have potential to do great harm to kid’s and teen’s mental health. Girls are bombarded with images of perfect bodies and perfect lives, and it can be tricky to discern what is real while your brain is still developing. We can often feel pressured into the idea that this is the ONLY way kids connect these days. Technology is fun and inspiring if balanced with real life and real connections. Being the parent that goes against the grain, and by default the kid who has limited access to social media or a smartphone, can feel lonely. But there will be long-term rewards for letting kids stay kids a little longer! Invite their friends over for a device-free meal or board game night. Use conversation starters at the dinner table if you need a little help!

Once you've decided your kids are mature enough to handle the responsibility of a smartphone, commit to engaging in weekly tech talks. Ideas for topics can be emailed to you from www.screenagersmovie.com. Being the “safe place” for your child/teen will keep the doors of communication open, and your guidance and compassion will fulfill their need to be understood. We all can use technology in ways that are bigger than ourselves, to spread kindness and goodness! “Use technology only to the extent that it inspires you.”- Christine Caine

about the author...Andrea Nemitz is married to her hardworking husband, and they are the proud parents of two amazing children. She works part-time from her home salon as a hairstylist, and advocates for kids to have more face-to-face relationships. She loves spending time with friends and family, laughing her head off, working in her yard, and taking long walks.