I’ve been spending a lot of time these days talking to parents about how technology and media are affecting their kids’ lives. What do I notice? Parents are fearful. They are overwhelmed. They are anxious. The worry list is long.
I do notice an interesting shift though regarding the biggest fear. It used to be the focus of the fears had to do with cyberbullying, sexting, and predators. Although those fears still creep in, the biggest fear that most parents seem to have is the “addiction fear.” Parents think their kids spend too much time on their devices. Parents are concerned about the phone usage and the time spent on social media. They worry their kids won’t be able to have face-to-face conversations. They worry their kids literally can’t survive without their phones. They worry their sons and daughters are addicted to technology.
When I dig a bit deeper, I notice that what parents want more than anything is for their kids to have a balanced life. They don’t want technology to take over. They don’t want their kids lives consumed by media. They want them to have full lives. One that includes taking a walk outside, reading a book, playing board games, volunteering, traveling, talking face-to-face with friends, and enjoying quiet time.
Truth is though we don’t quite know what the perfect balance is just yet. This era of personal devices and social media is new, and we are all learning as we go. Adults struggle with balance as much as kids do some times. It’s difficult to know how much to rely on technology, how much to embrace it, and when to put it down or shut it off.
What do I tell parents who are afraid their kids are addicted to technology?
Here are my tips:
If you are concerned that your kid won’t be able to have face-to-face conversations, then, I
know it sounds crazy, have face-to-face conversations with them. A perfect time to do that is at the dinner table. Or at night before they go to bed. My kids love to talk just as my day is winding down!
If you think they should be reading more or going outside more, then set up your family schedule so that there is time for those things for everyone. Take a hike on a Saturday together. Read together. Plan a vacation at a place with lame Wi-Fi. My kids are seeing a lot of National Parks these days!
Do you want them to know what’s it’s like to be quiet and slow-paced every once in awhile? Do a puzzle. A real puzzle. With real pieces. Play scrabble. Real Scrabble. With real pieces.
Take an inventory of the tech balance in your life. Are you sending mixed signals? Do you tell
your kids to put down their phone as you are finishing texting? Are you watching TV when you tell your teenager to get off her computer? Don’t be a hypocrite. Kids and especially teenagers can smell a hypocrite a mile away. There is no faster way to lose your credibility.
If balance is what you seek, stop thinking about it in terms of “taking away technology” and think of it as “putting other valuable experiences into their lives”. I assure you that you will not mind when your son is playing video games all afternoon if you know he played soccer in the morning and he read for an hour last night.
If you are able to bring some balance into your home, then you can embrace the amazing things media and technology bring to our lives. Instead of worrying about addiction, we can enjoy our tech time as much as we enjoy our time off technology. Now, that sounds like balance to me.
Michelle Ciulla Lipkin has been the Executive Director of NAMLE since September 2012. NAMLE (National Association for Media Literacy in Education) is a national membership organization dedicated to advancing the field of media literacy education in the United States. Please visit their website for terrific resources and/or join this organization to help advance media literacy in the U.S.