It may surprise you to learn that Steve Jobs, the legendary high-tech marketing genius, was a low-tech parent. “We limit how much technology our kids use at home,” he told a reporter many years ago. In recent years, a growing number of tech giants have begun to advocate for low-tech parenting. They have acknowledged that along with the many good things that come to us on computer and smartphone screens, there is a “dark side” too — addiction to the screen.
The light, images and messages that relentlessly beckon our attention to what’s on the screen, often to the exclusion of the rest of what life offers is recognized by the American Psychiatric Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics, as a very real phenomenon, especially among children and teenagers
So, what to do about it? Being a parent often entails making difficult decisions, and limiting screen time may be a very unpopular family decision. But parental responsibility includes setting limits — and then enforcing those limits. Fortunately, there is a considerable body of advice from experts that seems to be useful in dealing with the screen-time issue.
Do As I Do. This may be the hardest part. Parents need to model good media behavior. For instance, experts believe there should not be a TV in a child’s bedroom. That may mean that parents need to think about removing the TV from their own bedroom to set a good example.
Time Limits. The best source of advice on this matter is the American Academy of Pediatrics. The AAP suggests age-specific daily screen-time limits for children. Of course, ironically, this information is available — on your screen — at: https://www.healthychildren.org/English/family-life/Media/Pages/Keeping-Technology-in-Check.aspx
Family Dinner. Steve Jobs and his family had family dinners where they discussed books and history and current events. No one took a sneak peek at TV or their iPhone during dinner, because no phones were allowed at the dinner table. Period.
Activities. Kids need to have lots of alternatives to screen time. More physical activity makes kids healthier. They may also become happier as they move from the sedentary “zombie-like state” to more physically and socially demanding activities.
Internet Safety. Monitoring online content and explaining risk is important. It’s essential that parents and other grown-ups talk to children openly and often about cyber-bullying, sexting, and the hazards of revealing private information. Parents need to be aware of what their children are seeing and doing online. It’s probably worth looking into apps that are available to help control content.
Family Plan. Each family should make its own decisions based on values and goals. Many teachers, school administrators and experts are now differentiating between on-screen entertainment and screen time that is educational. A friend of mine declares a “tech-free weekend” for her family every now and then. Another friend pulled the plug for the entire summer and reported that everyone loved it. The important thing is to develop a plan that is good for your family — and then stick with it.
For help constructing a digital media plan for the whole family, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends using a Family Media Plan. See: https://www.healthychildren.org/English/media/Pages/default.aspx. The AAP planning tool will be released nationally October 21st. But for now, on this issue and many others affecting child health and safety, it’s worth a visit to the AAP Parent Page at: www.healthychildren.org.