We tend to vilify technology use among kids, and of course, parents do need to limit screen time (no more than two hours
a day total using televisions, computers, phones and other electronic devices, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics). But technology is an ever-present fact of modern life. How can we use it in a positive way?
“Whether technology is a good thing, or a bad thing, I think it is an inevitable thing. If we neglect technology, we are neglecting an important part of our children’s lives,” says Jennifer Crawford,
PhD, a staff psychologist with Menninger’s Adolescent Treatment Program
A mother of four young children, Crawford understands the inclination to restrict technology from our kids’ lives. However, she believes it can be a powerful tool to connect with our kids. Here are her tips on how to use technology wisely:
Discover together. Spend some time exploring apps, videos, television shows and games together with your child to see if the content is safe, and to learn what your child likes. In Crawford’s case, that means lively discussions about the complex world and characters in her son’s favorite video game. “Being present and interested in what interests your children gives you insight into their personalities,” she says.
Connect through curiosity. In the past, parents had to answer their kids’ difficult, “secret of the universe”-type questions on the fly (Why is the sky blue, Mommy?). Fortunately, we have Google. When your kids ask you the tough questions, use it as a shared learning opportunity. Looking up information together also ensures safety. “An Internet search can yield a lot of information inappropriate for kids, so parents should be on hand to help.”
Reach out to far-away family. Use whatever tech tool you prefer – skyping, social media or texting – to close that long-distance gap between your kids and their grandparents or other family members. Crawford regularly sends videos of her kids’ baseball games to her parents who live across the country. “They aren’t technologically savvy but with the touch of a button on their cell phones, they are instantly a part of our lives.”
Communicate throughout the day. Use texting not only to check up on the whereabouts your tween or teen, but to give much-needed encouragement and support. “It could be as simple as sending them a message saying ‘thinking of you’ or texting a heart emoticon,” Crawford says.
Parents should use these tips within the framework of a family plan on technology use, she adds. A good plan is guided by recommended limits on screen time and includes input from all members of the family. Parents should enforce the limits, and also model the behavior they hope to see in their children (for example, not using phones at the dinner table or family events).
The success of any technology plan hinges on an open and trusting relationship and a continual dialogue between parents and their kids, Crawford emphasizes.