Apps, games and videos on devices are designed to keep you scrolling.
As an adult it’s easier for us to be more self-aware of how much time we are spending looking at our smartphones.
But for a child they can struggle to recognise when it’s time to put the iPad down without adult intervention.
Perhaps I’m showing my age…
I first started thinking about this issue when going on meals out, there was always some kid needing to be entertained, watching something like Paw Patrol on a Kindle as they waited for dinner to arrive.
Perhaps I’m showing my age, but I couldn’t help thinking how pissed off my dad would have been on one of the rare occasions we went out for a meal, that I didn’t even converse as part of the family outing.
Yes, back in the 80’s and 90’s there was many a memory, sat in my seat restless, impatiently salivating over a table, ready to chew on it, because I was “starving”.
The convience of small devices has resulted in children transfixed to tiny glowing screens in all social settings, meaning you actually get more conversation out of a store dummy at Baby Gap.
And don’t forget about the mood swings…
In our house you shouldn’t even think about taking the Kindle off my two year old without having a strategy to distract her, unless you want her turning green with rage.
So Hulk like are her tantrums, I’ve taken to saying, perhaps inappropriately,
“You wouldn’t like me when I’m ANGRY!”
But as my wife doesn’t get comic book references and my two year old is, well, only two, it’s a private joke only I can appreciate.
The fatherly instinct in me, partly guilted by the fronting holier-than thou aspirational fathers, can’t help but wonder if all those bright colours and whizzing sounds is just too much for a young impressionable age.
And no parent wants to feel they enabled their child towards an addiction having life impacting consequences.
But on the positive…
As much as the likes of CocoMelon and their ilk make you want to see how far the Kindle will fly after 10 minutes, I have seen positives in my toddlers learning and growth, flourishing in recognition of colours and the alphabet.
She also grasps sentences from those annoyingly repetitive, catchy songs, which results in her coming out with some bizarre statements.
Recently she’s started randomly saying
“I’m not scared”
And as her mother and I were imaging a social worker paying us a visit, we were relieved to find out she’d picked it up from a song about a child with a wobbly tooth going to the dentist.
The parents worst nightmare – being seen as a bad parent…
A part of me thinks this is just something else designed to strike fear in parents, technology that impacts your child’s ability to grow into a normal, functioning, human being.
But reflecting on the past, you think is it just the latest villain?
As a kid video games were the bad guy, and before that television. If you look way back you can see propaganda saying why the telephone was the death to teenage society!
But of course, the perfect parent brigade, the people whose kids only eat organic food, and learned to potty train before they left the womb are always happy to weaponise whatever they can against you to make you feel inferior.
Addiction or disorder?
Child Mind Institute, highlights that Internet addiction isn’t real, perhaps getting into semantics a bit too much by saying it’s just a disorder.
“With addiction you have a chemical that changes the way we respond, that leads us to be reliant on it for our level of functioning. That’s not what ‘s happening here. We don’t develop higher levels of tolerance. We don’t need more and more screen time in order to be able to function.”
Child Mind Institute
The Institute goes on to state it would only be considered serious, if it came at the expense of avoiding socialisation and other activities.
This type of thinking is actually a relief, as a lot of other opinion-makers make you feel like you are inviting them to the bathroom to cut up a line of hard drugs.
By keeping alert, monitoring usage, and recognising when enough is enough, is responsible parenting, despite what tutting judgemental peers say.
But what does the science say?
However Green Child Magazine gives us the doom and gloom perspective:
“Research shows that the physical structure of the brain actually changes with repeated experiences. But it’s not so much the experiences that are as important as what the child makes of them that creates this blueprint for brain development.
Each time a child has an experience, nerve impulses are fired in the brain. With repeated experiences, these neural pathways are fired over and over again. The more frequently neural connections are used (impulses are fired), the stronger they become. So, a child who watches TV or plays video games regularly will have a physically different brain than a child who doesn’t.
Similarly, areas of the brain that are not regularly used can fall out of practice. When neural connections aren’t fired habitually, they eventually stop firing at all. (Have you noticed that some children who text as their primary means of communication eventually develop poor face-to-face communication skills?)”
Green Child Magazine
For me they might as well have just said letting your children use electronic devices is bad because an Evil Elf named Hafthor looks deep into your child soul and steals their social ability.1
The magazine continues:
When neural connections aren’t fired habitually, they eventually stop firing at all.
So what you’re saying is…
And I might have missed the point here, but essentially, what it sounds like they are saying is continued device usage is killing your child’s chances of being a functioning member of society.
Dare I fall into the trap of pitching my limited world view against “science”, but from my personal experience I was a child who would rather play Sonic than Soccer anyday, and although at the time I was quiet and shy, your choices as a child do not determine your future.
If you are a fat child, doesn’t mean you’re always destined to be that way. Like losing fat you can work towards building confidence and doing activities that put you at the centre of attention.2
“Rules” for device usage with children
As you can see, I’m in the camp for a logical, moderate approach, rather than the hysterical “electronic devices are turning your children into brain-dead zombies”
But there are some “rules” to consider when letting your child use a device.
Don’t use devices to keep them quiet
Your kid may be getting under your feet and won’t shut up, but don’t give them your phone as a default response to keep them quiet.
This is only teaching them if they make a load of fuss and noise, they can get their iPad.
Another way kids are being appeased is by saying they are bored. This doesn’t mean you should automatically submit and give them the device.
Some parents seem to be scared of ever allowing their child to experience boredom. You can’t keep them entertained 24/7, besides a bit of tedium can only do them good.3
Actually do stuff with your kids
In the evening it’s tempting to just veg out, after all, you’ve completed a day working, by yourself, commuting, by yourself and eating, by yourself, naturally you’re going to want a little “me time”.
But your kids being interested in you won’t last forever.
Don’t waste that opportunity by pacifying them with the flashy magic book, actually do stuff with them:
- Kick/throw a ball about
- Be interested in playing with them
- Ask them about a toy
- Read books
- Encourage them to tidy up, do their teeth and get ready for bed
- At weekends do more – crafts, go in the garden, go places
Make them learn the importance of family time
Like you learn that you put your knife and fork together when you’ve finished eating, you are responsible for teaching your kids manners.
Watching a device while waiting for (or having) dinner is not acceptable, when you go out make them realise this is a special occasion for the family to bond.
Be the example
When you enforce rules on your children, there is nothing that will make you feel a bigger hypocritic when you know you’ve spent hours today on your smart phone.
This article from MDedge: Parents’ smartphone addiction linked to children’s overuse of the devices, highlights the problems of parents too interested in checking the validation machine, to notice device usage in their own children:
“Parents distracted by their phones tend to communicate less with their children in the moment, and parents with smartphone addiction symptoms are “less likely to actively mediate their child’s smartphone use,”
Be the example – put your phone away.
Is your child looking at a device a bad thing?
Will overuse result in technology addiction?
Or is all this fear mongering and snobbery from perfect parents?
The truth, I feel, like a lot of things is somewhere in the middle.
As a parent you need to take responsibility to ensure something so powerful is used in moderation – always keeping an eye on what they are watching it, rather than using to pacify.
And just remember, just because you have been letting your child watch videos for the last hour does not mean they are destined to become a friendless, pasty faced, misanthrope.
1 I’m rubbish at sci-fi/fantasy writing, as you can tell from this name which I blatantly stole from “501kg deadlift” Strongman Hafthor Bjornsson. If you want to read a good fantasy writer check out Alexander Hellene.
2 You might call me an “introvert” (a term which I dislike as it encourages a fixed mindset telling you what things you can do and can’t do). Despite this I have pushed myself to do many “extrovert” things like stand-up comedy and presenting to an audience of nearly 250 people – not bad for a painfully shy boy.
3 They say boredom is good for creativity. If a child is occupied all the time, then no makeshift tents get made, trees climbed, horrible flower perfumes concocted from various contents of the garden, or crudely drawn comics get made.
This article was written from a perspective of a father to a two year old who is just starting to become more familiar with technology.
Some of the challenges may very dependent on their age.
At the moment I’m in a blessed position to have total control over device usage.
Additional references that influenced this article:
Melbourne Institute of Child Psychology: Does Your Child have a Technology Addiction?
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