Walk down any street, sit at any bus stop, or stand in any line for coffee and it’s evident that most people don’t leave home without a device. For adults, phones and tablets are basically always within reach — on average they’re tapped, swiped, and clicked more than 2,600 times per day! So what does this have to do with kids?
We often describe children as sponges. They’re incredibly observant of sights and sounds and, in many cases, are taught to mimic those around them. Think of all the things we teach our kids over the years: how to brush their teeth, how to tie their shoe laces, how to color in the lines. So much of their behavior is modelled after the behavior of others — and kids know that. If parents were to go through life without ever brushing their teeth, children would probably resist learning.
The same can be said when it comes to screen time. Parents who are trying to curb a child’s use of technology will have a hard time if they’re holding tight to their own devices. So before we get critical of our kids’ desire to use the latest apps and social media platforms, let’s take a look at how our own actions might be influencing them — after all, 78% of teens said they check their phones hourly, but so do 69% of parents.
When parents check emails
...kids learn to value digital connections over real ones.
Checking emails and following up on deadlines after five o’clock has become increasingly common — it’s even expected by many employers — but this puts parents in a bind. Studies have shown that replying to emails outside of work is harmful to personal relationships. When children see parents checking their inboxes, they might not connect that to responsibility. We get that some messages can’t wait, but it’s helpful to consider which emails can be sent tomorrow so that parents aren’t entirely consumed by their devices at home, especially in front of little ones. If you find yourself unable to ignore a message, explain why; this can help kids understand what does and doesn’t need immediate attention.
When parents don’t put their phones down
...kids learn to depend on technology, too.
As children grow and become more independent, parents might want to use their spare time to take a shower, fold a load of laundry...or reconnect with friends on Facebook. Communicating with other adults can certainly be sanity-saving (particularly if you’re home alone with a child all day), but it also sets a precedent that downtime equals screen time.
Many children have been known to suffer from separation anxiety, which means they have a fear of being away from a parent or loved one. Adults today, on the other hand, can suffer from “nomophobia” — the fear of being separated from one’s cell phone. On the surface, this doesn’t seem harmful to anyone except the adult in question, but children can pick up on the anxiety someone feels because of this and may even begin to model the same behavior when interacting with technology. Try setting clear tech boundaries for everyone to follow at home, like keeping phones away from the dinner table or out of the bedroom.
When parents use photo filters
...kids learn that it’s healthy to “pretend” online.
How parents present themselves on social media can also influence kids’ behaviour (and self-esteem), particularly on Instagram, Snapchat, and other apps with photo filters. One in three young girls admit to feeling immense pressure to live up to the “perfection” they see online, and parents could accidentally contribute to this. Think of your family vacation photos. You might have a few with a cranky or crying kid in them, but the one that makes it onto social media will likely be one where everyone looks happy — the “perfect” one — which can set unrealistic expectations for kids.
When parents post everything online
...kids learn that the internet is a safe and private place.
For parents, sharing information online has become second nature; Deloitte research found that 97% of 18- to 34-year-olds agree to an app’s legal terms and conditions without even reading them. How can we expect kids to put thought into creating accounts or uploading photos if we don’t do it ourselves? The best way to encourage safe online behavior is to demonstrate it. Show your kids what photo you want to post or what information is being requested, and ask them if they think it’s okay. Everything you do online represents a great opportunity to help them understand what is and isn’t private.
We rely on technology for a lot of things, and it’s often hard to limit our screen time. But there are ways for parents to set a great example of healthy tech relationships for their kids. By treating technology and social media as a helpful communication resource (rather than an extension of oneself), kids can learn how to use it safely and constructively.
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