While technology has aided society with advancements, automation and conveniences, it also presents unfortunate consequences for our children when not managed well.
Technology has made it convenient to keep children occupied, while we tend to our everyday tasks. But what impact is the constant use of tablets, television, phones and computers having on our children?
Most apps including social media such as Facebook and Instagram and high-profile games such as Fortnite and Minecraft are designed to play into our rewards centre. Even educational applications such as ‘Reading Eggs’ for younger children use rewards to encourage children to complete each stage of the learning game’ before moving onto the next.
These triggers of rewards release a hormone in our brains called dopamine. When we receive a reward, a release of dopamine floods the body and we feel satisfied, even euphoric. Dopamine is responsible for behavioural reinforcement. It motivates us to perform a particular behaviour again and again leaving other activities feeling less rewarding.
Without even realising it, we start seeking the dopamine hit.
Restrictions on usage can come in many forms, one of the most important in a family home is ’Tech Free Zones’ - namely bedrooms and the dinner table. Other restrictions may be time-based - Only allowed 30 mins per day on screens, or incorporate a rule whereby charging a device is only allowed once per week. This will help children learn to regulate usage.
Incorporate screen time into specific family routines creating predictability, rather than allowing free access whenever they please. Example: between 3 - 4pm, after all, household chores and any homework is done - 30 minutes of screen time is permitted. A standard rule of no digital devices between sunup and sundown is another great routine. Remember consistency is key - create predictability and set clear expectations.
Prioritise social experiences within the family over time spent on technology. This might be family discussion over the dinner table, or board games played together at night rather than watching television. Encourage the children to play outside with friends and neighbours. Allow at least 30 minutes per day to read with your child - this creates intimate moments and improves their emotional development.
We believe that there is no need for screen-time for children under 2 years old. When introducing screen-time and technology, this should be done with clear conversation around expectations and rules of usage. When rules are not followed, there should be a period of exclusion from screen time.
There are many ways that children can utilise technology to learn, so it’s important that parents promote learning with technology through experiences that require active engagement, rather than passive use. Passive use is when screens are used to ‘kill time’ or occupy a child.
We know that adults are on average spending a whopping 9 hours and 22 minutes every day looking at a screen. There is no app that can replace the intimacy of a parent-child connection, so it’s important that as adults we’re modelling the behaviour that we want our children to develop.