“Digital devices have transformed people’s lives. They are changing everything from parent-child relationships, to human interaction, to our ability to focus on the task at hand,” said James Steyer, founder and chief executive of Common Sense, an organization that studies and rates media and technology for kids and families. “And particularly for young people who are growing up as digital natives. It has public health concerns.”
With technology blending into our lives in ways that we never could have imagined just a decade ago, it’s tricky to decide what’s okay and what is just the way we live now. It’s difficult to find a balance and to set boundaries, for our children and ourselves. For instance, 48 percent of parents feel they have to answer emails and texts immediately, and 72 percent of teens say they need to; 69 percent of parents say they check devices hourly while 78 percent of teens do.
What impact does all of this have on our lives? According to the report, it’s led to multitasking that our brains, and certainly our children’s brains, can’t handle. In fact, high percentages of teens admitted that they watched TV, used social media and texted while doing homework. (And yet most teens said they didn’t think their multitasking harmed the quality of their work.)
The report also found that devices are impacting our relationships. Of the parents surveyed, 77 percent feel teens get distracted by devices and don’t pay attention when they are together and 41 percent of teens say the same about their parents. Screens are also impacting our health and safety: 56 percent of parents admit to using devices while driving — with kids in the car — and 51 percent of teens see their parents checking mobile devices while driving.
The report, which surveyed more than 1,200 teens and parents, also pulled together recent reports and research on technology use and suggests the constant attention to devices is making it difficult for our children to have face-to-face conversations or learn to be empathetic. In case you still think teens aren’t in front of screens all that much, November’s Common Sense Census: Media Use by Teens and Tweens, found that teens in the United States spend an average of nine hours daily on media.
As a true sign that both parents and teens recognize this is a problem, about half of parents and one-third of teens surveyed said they very often or occasionally try to cut down on the amount of time they spend on their devices, and 52 percent of teens said they agree that they spend too much time on their mobile devices. Yes, that’s more than half of teens saying they are on their devices too much.
So why not just turn all technology off and go back to pioneer days? Very funny. We all know that’s not possible, but it also wouldn’t be smart. Parents who have a balanced approach to media, and who allow their teens access to it, can guide the usage and conversation around it better, and help them find a healthy balance, Steyer said.
Need some help figuring out how to develop better balance? Common Sense offers up ways parents can help teens locate that sweet spot when it comes to technology use:
Declare tech-free zones and times. As with most things, boundaries are good. Support your kids in trying to find balance and set limits. These rules could be as simple as no phones at dinner or no texting after 9 p.m.
Check the ratings. Choose age-appropriate high quality media and technology for your family. These things can be especially beneficial when used to form deeper relationships, allow for creativity and exploration. Encourage kids to be creative, responsible consumers, not just passive users.
Talk about it. Connect with your kids and support learning by talking about what they’re seeing, reading and playing. Encourage kids to question and consider media messages to better understand the role media plays in their own lives.
Help kids understand the effects of multitasking. As parents, we know that helping kids stay focused will only strengthen interpersonal skills and school performance. Encourage them to minimize distractions and manage one task at a time, shutting down social media while working online for homework or engaging in a conversation.
Walk the walk. Put your devices away while driving, at meal times and during family time. Parent role-modeling shows kids the behavior and values you want in your home. Kids will be more open and willing participants when the house rules apply to you, too.
Seek expert help if needed. If you observe significant negative issues with your kids’ use of media and technology (for example: It’s harming their mental health, disrupting their relationships or hurting their academic performance) and you don’t feel equipped to address it yourself, consult your pediatrician, a psychologist, a social worker or another professional for advice.
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