Digital devices are here to stay. In fact, they can be educational. However, constant concentration on such a small screen has been proven to have negative effects on a child’s brain and eyes. De-digitoxing is my word for the ability to remove technology devices from your children’s hands without experiencing a total meltdown! So, what’s a parent to do about this?
- Enforce only one or two device-viewing general rules. One parent I know says there will be no technology during the week – only on weekends. Really? Will this work for you? It works for her and her kids! They actually play outside, do homework, and enjoy each other without the interference of the almighty cell phone or tablet to distract them. They look forward to the weekend when they can have their technology! But guess what? There are so many other things to do, that the technology takes a back seat… which is a good place for those devices – on the long ride to visit relatives or to fun locations.
- If that doesn’t work for you, then set aside at least an hour, preferably two, each day when the kids hand in their technology. Encourage reading, playing cooperative games (see the suggestions for non-competitive games HERE), and creative endeavors like drawing or writing. This should be a fun time, free from the demands of homework, chores, sports, and other obligations. In other words, set aside some time for fun!
- Look for ways your family can interact without playing competitive online video games. The premise behind Chef Cappy’s Kitchen is that the entire family, from Grandma down to two-year-old Georgie, can participate in the preparation of family meals and snacks. Using this method, everyone knows what role he or she plays in the preparation of the recipe. No squabbling! Everyone has a place to be in charge. And isn’t that the best feeling in the world?
- Ask your children for ways they would like to spend their de-digitoxing time. They may come up with some creative ideas you never considered. Start a list on the refrigerator and check off each time you go to the park, visit the animal shelter, or visit a museum, etc. You might even develop a reward system – for every ten non-digital activities you do as a family, you all get a trip to get ice cream, perhaps.
- Finally, and this has been a hard and fast rule in my house, even before the advent of the technology era – never take away something time that the child has earned. For example, if the child has earned 15 minutes of technology time because he cleaned up his room, don’t then take it away because he’s fighting with his brother. Simply delay those 15 minutes until it is more appropriate. When you take away something that the child has earned, that child will see that he or she will have less motivation to earn a reward next time.
Just a final story here – I was in a restaurant the other day and sat across the room from a family of three. The son, around age 10, was quietly reading a book while Mom and Dad chatted and waited for the food to arrive. (No technology – not by son, mom, or dad!) As soon as the food arrived, son put away the book, and mom and dad included him in the conversation. I wanted to pin a ribbon on them for their outstanding family values! Lesson learned – you don’t always have to use technology to calm the savage beasts in a restaurant or a car ride, consider other options like reading, puzzle books, and other mind-expanding activities.
Technology time is a necessary evil these days. However, it doesn’t need to be all-encompassing. Children need that little bit of technology time so they feel that they are part of the 21st century, while you occasionally return them to the technology-absent 19th century!