A Swipe Away

My “ah ha” moment regarding my kids and technology came when I realized that if my kids were entertained by their bright, shiny new Kindles we purchased for Christmas, I could get more work done. Yes, I had a babysitter right under my nose! I could take additional clients, make dinner uninterrupted, and anywhere requiring a “wait” would be much more tolerable if they were scrolling, swiping, and quiet. It bums me out thinking about it.

One morning, my husband and I took our kids to breakfast. One rule we have is to put away devices at mealtimes. As the waitress delivered our food, she cheerfully informed us that a couple at a table near us purchased our meal. They were happy to see us coloring and interacting with our kids, not mesmerized by cell phones. That day we realized that if we remove ourselves from our kids if we give them an extension to their arm that is not our own hands, we lose. And people will notice.

Currently, the average time a child spends on a screen is 7+ hours a day. You will be hard pressed to find a child under the age of 12 who have not been exposed to pornography. If at a young age, their thoughts, moods, and actions become motivated by information they stumble upon on Google and an addiction to video and apps, we're concerned. If what they view on screens robs them of joy, peace, and self-worth, we're not sold. Our kids could be one swipe away from something we never want them to see, be it painful comments or images that hurl them into addictions they will rail against into adulthood. Yet, here lies a major dilemma for us as parents.... keeping them safe from the crazy happening on the Internet and teaching them how, when, and why technology can be used for good; essentially technology etiquette.

The other day I showed my daughter a photo I had posted on Facebook 8 years ago, her brother holding her as an infant the day we brought her home. She looked up at me and asked, “How many votes does it have?” Inside, I cringed, and my mind lurched forward to her as a tween or teen seeking the elusive number of “likes” her photos would receive should we let social media creep into her tender adolescence. I seem to vacillate between “the Internet and smartphones are the devil” and “how can we use our time and devices more wisely?” I think most parents would agree that what’s missing in this new normal of everyone with devices in hand is that we’re uncertain how to navigate it. We need to teach our kids how to use devices, not be used by devices- which requires us to limit and delay screen exposure. As they age, we can empower them to have empathy online, create and maintain healthy relationships with family and peers by putting it away, and we can ask questions that help them discover technology as a tool instead of promoting self. Technology has created limitless conversation.

Facebook continues to hijack my thoughts, and occasionally I get so annoyed that I deactivate my account. There are times when all I can think about are comments I want to make in a political debate or the videos and news I receive in my feed. The Center for Humane Technology, which was created by former tech insiders and CEO's admits that four distinct forces make today's technology different from anything in the past, including TV, radio, and computers. 

  1. No other media drew on massive supercomputers to predict what it could show to keep you scrolling, swiping or sharing perfectly. 
  2. No other media steered 2 billion people’s thoughts 24/7- checking 150x/day-from the moment we wake up until we fall asleep. 
  3. No other media redefined the terms of our social lives: self-esteem, fear of missing out, and the perception that others agree with us. 
  4. No other media used a precise, personalized profile of everything we’ve said, shared, clicked, and watched to influence our behavior at this scale. 

Nicholas Kardaras, Ph.D. who wrote the book "Glow Kids," states that recent brain imaging studies conclusively show that excessive screen exposure can neurologically damage a young person's developing brain in the same way that cocaine addiction can. Because our brains are wired for reward, it is no surprise that when we tell a child to "turn it off" we get a cranky, irritable, sometimes physical response. We just took away the dopamine! At this point, it's hard to be skeptical of research suggesting that social media and screen addiction cause sleep deprivation, depression, anxiety, and that it's changed our behavior. If you just look up and look around, you'll see that most everyone is looking down! Technology is so appealing! But if hobbies and people get thrown out, it’s time to reevaluate.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends avoiding digital media for children 18-24 months (except video chatting). Limit screen use for preschool children, ages 2 to 5, to just 1 hour of high-quality programming. The academy also recommends co-viewing and co-engaging with your children during screen time- it encourages social interaction, learning, and bonding. Children must learn to cope with their emotions. When devices are used to calm an unsettled child it is much like using a pacifier to soothe a crying baby, a difficult habit to break. Children’s brains need time to form critical pathways necessary for healthy emotions and attention spans.

We must model the behavior we want to see in our own children. Let’s set aside our own devices A LOT more often and extend our hand as a replacement to the smartphone or device. If our children know they have our full attention, it will fill up the spaces in their hearts and minds that technology can steal away if we’re not looking.

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 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. 

Originally printed in the pages of Simply Family Magazine’s January 2019 issue. 

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