Not a day goes by without my husband complaining to me about how our kids seem to be addicted to technology. The truth is, it’s not just our kids — it’ all the kids in our lives, from family to friends. When kids get together, it’s their first inclination to play games on their iPhone against each other instead of talking to one another. Group projects are done over Facetime instead of face to face. Playdates are sometimes so quiet I have to not-so-subtly tell everybody to actually play together or make up an excuse to have them go outside. When we’re having dinner, we often make everybody put their phones on the table — and sometimes it’s scary to see just how anxious they will get not being able to look at their phones.
If we are truly honest, it’s not just affecting children. Adults also seem more dependent than ever on their devices. According to a study done in 2014 by a marketing agency, almost four in ten uses admitted to feeling “lost” without their gadgets. A previous study by Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers in 2013 found the average user checks their phone close to 150 times per day.
When I was growing up, adults complained about how much time kids liked to spend in front of the TV and now we are faced with something that is even more pervasive. Theoretically we could be connected 24/7, which is neither desirable nor healthy. I want my kids to embrace technology but without forgetting human interaction, so aside from being more mindful about how much I rely on my phone we’ve found a few ways to get our tweens to disconnect for longer, without giving us the stink eye.
We make alternatives easily accessible.
We always make sure to have non-battery operated games that require actual interaction in plain eyesight. Board games are great and are really fun, but a few rounds of Tic Tac Toe or Hangman also work and only require paper and a pen. It’s important that these games are easily reachable because out of sight, out of mind.
We stock up our home library — and not just the Kindle.
We make sure to have actual printed books at home for our kids to choose from. We also “award” a set amount of minutes to play with a tablet, smartphone, iPad or Xbox after a set goal of pages is read. A recent study showed reading on a tablet can disrupt sleep, so it’s important to show that a book is an effective way to disconnect.
We encourage outside play.
Many kids just forget how much fun it can be to shoot some hoops instead of playing the virtual game on the Xbox.
We distract them.
If you see kids getting anxious without their devices, find a way to distract them — like having them play I Spy or UNO. We also engage them in conversation about a sports game, movie, or musician that they like.
We recharge their minds … but not always their devices.
We never keep chargers inside our kids’ rooms. Why? Because it makes it all that much easier for them to disconnect before bed. We also teach them to use the “Do Not Disturb” setting at night so that their sleep is not disturbed.
We lead by example.
I cannot stress this enough. Our kids learn more from our actions than our words and the older they get, the more they will call us out when we’re asking from them something we are not willing to do ourselves. Aside from not checking our phones obsessively, we make it a point to have conversations with our kids and do fun things together while concentrating on them and looking them in the eyes.
And when we get desperate … we disconnect the wifi.
When all else fails, we have resorted to disconnecting the wifi. This is an extreme measure but trust me, it’s very effective. Kids discover other ways to entertain themselves aside from browsing Instagram, playing “Clash of Clans” or watching YouTube.
Remember that even if your kids complain, it’s your job to do what you think is best for them. At times they also need to be bored to be compelled to use creative thinking, so don’t fall into the trap of constantly trying to keep them entertained during technology blackout periods. Above all, I also keep reminding myself that my children need to be able to learn how to deal with people face to face and not only through a screen, and the only way to do that is by setting limits on how much we use and rely upon technology.
Image courtesy of Jeannette KaplunMore On