By Michelle Boyle
How much is too much?
As parents we struggle with this question all the time. Are they eating too much junk food? Attending too many activities? Accumulating too many toys? And the question that plagues all 21st century parents: Do they spend too much time looking at a screen? On the one hand, in this ever-growing and changing world of technology, we worry that our kids won’t be able to keep up if we don’t expose them to certain technologies, and on the other hand, we don’t want them to be consumed by the screen.
It is interesting to consider that some tech moguls keep their kids away from technology completely. In fact, they seek out “unwired” schools–like the Waldorf School in Silicon Valley–where there is no technology to be found anywhere in the school until 8th grade. Alan Eagle holds a computer science degree from Dartmouth and works in executive communications at Google, yet his 5th grade daughter doesn’t even know how to use Google. He argues, “It’s supereasy. It’s like learning to use toothpaste. At Google and all these places, we make technology as brain-dead easy to use as possible.”
This is one position, but this doesn’t work for every child or every family. Like art or music, there are some children who use technology to express their creativity. When they use technology, it’s not a passive experience where information just washes over them; it is just the opposite–technology helps them to create and problem solve. For example, Collette Loll Marvin, who teaches at Duke Ellington School of the Arts, and is a mother of two, stopped imposing limits on screen time for her son, Quinn, 14. “Now a freshman at the Lab School, a school for kids with learning difficulties, Quinn is thriving,” she explains. Marvin says increased screen time has helped him academically and socially. He has turned technology into a serious pursuit, building his own computer.”
“We need to define what is right for our own children and family,” asserts Jared Matas, Educational Technology Teacher Leader at JCDS. “There are many resources on how to manage screen time in your household. One excellent resource is Common Sense Media (https://www.commonsensemedia.org/). This website provides excellent information on what type of media is appropriate for your child depending on his/her age and interests. It allows you to be a critical consumer of the media rather than just being a passive recipient of all the millions of apps, games, shows, etc. out there.” Matas, who is also a long-time educator and a parent of two seven year old twins takes the-middle-of the-road approach. As someone who teaches technology and engineering to students K-8, he reminds parents that they are the adults, and regardless of how tech-savvy they are, they are the ones who are responsible for managing their children’s screen time. “Don’t just leave it up to your child to decide what’s right and how much. Even if you don’t know much about technology or don’t feel comfortable using it, it is your responsibility to get involved with your child’s technology use.”
Here are some tips from Matas on how to get involved with your child’s technology use:
- Conduct research on Common Sense Media to determine age and content appropriate material.
- View material beforehand so you can ask your child questions about a show, movie, or game; answer your child’s question; and know what to expect.
- Try to play the games and apps yourself so again you know what to expect and you can play with your child.
- Have your child teach you how to play a game he/she has learned at school. Allow him/her to be the teacher and you take the position as the learner.
- Identify games, programs, apps that encourage your child to be the creator–games like Scratch (computer programming/coding), photography and filmmaking apps, GarageBand, Toontastic (creating animations), and G-dcast has a few good Jewish apps.
- Model the “technology behavior” you would like to see in your house. If you don’t want your child with an ipad at the dinner table, then you shouldn’t be on your phone talking, texting, or answering email.
- Create “technology-free” times (which includes the adults) that everyone abides by. Make these times fun when everyone in the family participates in a game, craft, song, etc. together. (This should not be seen as a punishment.)
- Along the same lines, carve out time to use technology with your child. Ask your child questions, allow him/her to ask you questions, solve problems together, create something together. Have fun with it!
- Although we all do it now and then, try not to use technology too often as a babysitter. Technology isn’t a substitute for parents (or teachers).
For more tips on Managing Kids & Gadgets, check out these 12 screen time rules from the Huffington Post.