We are a plugged-in society, and technology’s influence on our lives grows daily. And that’s not always a good thing. The omnipresence of electronics can get in the way of quality family time as parents and children alike fall victim to the allure of high-tech gadgets. A study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that children between the ages of 8 and 18 spend an average of 7.5 hours per day in front of at least one screen for entertainment. This screen time can contribute to ADHD and is one culprit for the rise in childhood obesity because the more time children spend staring at a monitor, the less time they spend being active. Their social lives also suffer as their ability to interact with others dwindles.
Here are four ways to preserve a different type of connectedness with your kids and perhaps avoid the other negative effects without being too big of a meanie.
1. Regulate exposure to electronics.
To prevent technology from ruling your kids’ free time, set and adhere to limits for electronic usage. Perhaps only allow electronics to be used in shared family areas (rather than in bedrooms) or have specific times each day when the kids can use their tablets or laptops. To make sure these restrictions are heeded, consider finding a parental-control program for each device, such as FreeTime for the Kindle Fire HD, which helps control usage and content available to your child.
2. Regulate your own electronic usage as well.
It’s easy to lose track of how much time you spend on gadgets, but your own usage may be sending mixed signals to your kids. Challenging though it may be, put down the phone and avoid sending that one last email until office hours the next day. Perhaps log the amount of time you spend on an electronic device, and then set limits for yourself. And more importantly, follow those limits. Having rules, such as “no cell phones at the dinner table,” also help set boundaries and keep you focused on what is important. You’ll be providing a good example for your children and reaping the benefits for yourself as well.
3. Provide alternative non-electronic activities.
If you notice that your child is spending too much time on a computer or in front of a TV, suggest a family activity such as a board game, or encourage them to play outside with friends. Kids can lose their sense of time while playing with electronics, so they may just need a little push in the right direction to put down their device and be more active. For younger kids, building with blocks or working on art projects can help foster creativity; for older children, playing sports or joining a club can help improve social skills.
4. Make electronics work FOR you
Try to find apps, programs or TV shows that bring the family together. Perhaps playing a multi-player drawing, thinking or fitness video game or watching a family-friendly TV show together can create a great bonding experience for you and your children.
Let’s face it. High-tech devices aren’t going away and most likely will become even more inescapable as time goes. But if you incorporate some of the above tips, you can rein in the control and prevent electronics from draining your own family’s ability to connect to one another.