The 60 Minutes episode called Screen Addicts has caused much concern amongst parents and early childhood educators.
I’ve been inundated with parents of young children asking me to share my insights so I thought this blog post would answer some of your questions and help guide you in terms of how to manage children’s screen-time in healthy and sustainable ways.
The full 60 Minutes episode can be viewed here: http://www.9jumpin.com.au/show/60minutes/stories/2015/july/internet-addiction/
Raising “screen-agers” isn’t easy. Many children today are plugged in and switched on constantly, leaving little time for other pursuits. This isn’t healthy and it’s impacting adversely on their development. And it’s terrifying parents and educators.
So it would seem natural to assume that they’re “addicted” to screens.
But is it an addiction or is it something else?
Toddlers and young children aren’t addicted to technology
The 60 Minutes episode suggested that toddlers and young children are “addicted” to technology. I don’t believe this is the case, especially with children aged under 8 years of age.
Instead, I propose that young children, under 8 years of age, have formed unhealthy “attachments” to technology. They’re not addicted.
Toddlers and young children can certainly form “obsessive” or compulsive” relationships with technology. The techno-tantrums that often result when you ask for your smartphone to be returned, or to switch of f Peppa Pig are intense (I’ve weathered the storm too!).
So we often think that this means that our child’s addicted. But they’re not. They’ve simply formed unhealthy attachments to the technology.
Many of today’s young children have simply formed unhealthy attachments to technology.
Toddlers and young children don’t yet have the self-regulation skills required to manage technology. As parents, it’s a digital prerogative to show children how to manage technology… otherwise it will manage them.
And this is beginning to happen with many children today.
Why are they mesmerised by devices?
When young children use technology their brains are often getting squirts of the neurotransmitter dopamine. This is the feel-good transmitter that the brain releases. They naturally want more and more of it.
So does this mean that we should abstain from using technology with little children?
No, it means that we have to be careful about what technology we use with our little ones and we need to have clear parameters about when, where and how long they can use technology.
Not all screens are created equal. Some screen activities are more likely to lead to stronger attachments to technology. For example, using apps and websites where children are constantly rewarded and praised is much more likely to lead to stronger attachments to technology. They simply want their dopamine squirts.
It’s not “digital heroin”. Problematic and psychological issues arise when technology isn’t carefully managed.
We don’t want our children to have a digital dependence. We want to empower our children to manage technology, as they’ll inherit a digital world that constantly pulls on their attention.
Children need moderation not abstinence. We need to come up with a “media management plan” with each of our children. This will evolve and change over time, but we need to proactively plan how our children use technology. Otherwise we’re making decisions on the fly and we all know how clever children are at “pester power”.
How do we avoid the digital pitfalls with our kids?
We need to establish and enforce boundaries with technology. We need to plan how much they watch each day or week (depending on your). This is a “media management plan”.
We also need to think about what they’re watching, with whom they’re watching it (using technology with someone is so much better than using it in solitude), why they’re using technology (is it always being used as the “digital pacifier” or are we using it intentionally?) and when they’re watching it (we know that sleep habits and hygiene can be compromised by screens).
Parents need practical strategies to help them manage children’s screen-time so that they don’t form unhealthy attachments to technology. We need to be able to cope with the “techno-tantrum” and not give in to their (desperate) pleas for “just one more level and then I’ll switch it off”. We need to establish and enforce limits and this isn’t always easy (as a parent I know just how hard this can be).
This is such a critical issue that we must discuss. We can’t ignore or ban the technology altogether. This isn’t a feasible solution for our kid that will inherit a digital world.
Instead, we need to equip our children with the skills and strategies to tame their tech habits (from the moment we hand over a smartphone to a toddler).
How do prevent children getting seduced by the digital vortex?
It sounds so simple, but it really comes down to balance.
We need to value and encourage children to play, be physically active and foster relationships. These things can happen with technology, but they must also take place away from screens and gadgets.
We also need to teach children how to switch off. This is a critical skill that many adults are struggling to master. We need to teach our children how to tame technology or it will tame them. Mindfulness training is critical in the digital age.
We need to teach our little ones how to manage and direct their attention. This is the most critical skill we can equip our children with in the digital age.
In the comments below, do you think young children are addicted to technology?