Posted on October 27 2016
Technology: tool or temptation? A question that’s more regularly surfacing in parents’ consciousness, classrooms, and good-spirited dinner debates.
In the media — and in parenting circles — technology's role in our lives is cast along a continuum. On one hand, newspapers once revealed that Silicon Valley execs send their kids to tech-free schools. Naturally, it’s intriguing to learn that CTOs of companies like eBay are opting for Waldorf programs where the educational emphasis is on experience without screens. On the other hand, techies like former CEO of Twitter Dick Costolo said he allowed kids unlimited use of gadgets as long as he’s present, but also argued that too many time limits aren’t good because they might gadget-binge when they’re on their own.
But what are parents like us supposed to do? We’ve all been there, where we’ve relied on our trusty tech to help us in some way, shape, or form. Perhaps at a dinner that’s gone way too long. To keep peace on an airplane. As a weekend reward. Should we feel guilty for limits we do or don’t set on screen time? And how much tech is too much?
The simple answer is that there is no consensus, meaning there is no one-size-fits-all approach. We’re the first generation of parents who lived a low-tech childhood to now raise kids in a high-tech world. We don’t have a tested model to follow or definitive answers to the questions ever-present screens may pose. So, we’re presented with fear of the unknown. A feeling that naturally gives parents pause when it comes to what it could mean for our children’s future.
However, it really wasn’t that long ago that our grandparents faced a similar unknown — the television. Would the introduction of TV into our young yet-to-be parents’ diet lead to a generation of couch potatoes? Flash forward to present. Society as a whole didn’t lose its passion for art, exploration, and other non-tech pursuits; we learned to self-moderate consumption and, in the process, utilize this burgeoning technology to spur new industries, art, and storytelling.
Today’s parents also have the benefit of hindsight. Phew! We do know that the Internet and all its connected devices are here to stay and we want our kids to be mindful digital citizens. But we’re also aware there’s ample evidence that too much of anything — including gadgets — isn’t healthy.
While we’re learning along with our children the smartest ways to adopt a tech-balanced life, we can turn to our trusted tribe of parents at work to see where they stand when it comes to managing their kids' screen time. Here’s what we learned:
Limiting screen time and gadgets is directly related to our kids’ age (at least in our office!). The younger the user, the less regular exposure they have to tech. Tweens and teens have more freedom to use devices, especially because it’s often crucial to their school work.
For the youngsters, most parents control physical access to the devices while some take a more liberal approach because they see it simply as another developmental toy their toddler is using. “We see it no differently than playing with some physical toys like blocks, especially considering the types of open games our kids gravitate towards,” relates Brandon.
Our Seedling parents take different approaches to monitoring. A few use the technology with their kiddo. Some limit the use to weekends only or a prescribed amount of an hour per day.
“My son often uses our iPhones or iPad to watch YouTube videos or search for Google images of his favorite machinery du jour, so we allow him time to research Japanese trains or French airplanes in the quiet moment after his bath and before we enjoy our bedtime reading. We also are more lenient with tech when traveling, especially when we need to survive bad SoCal traffic. However, our family has a firm rule that there is no tech at the dinner table. Honestly, this rule is just as much — if not more — for us as the parents. It makes sure we unplug and are present to catch up on the day,” says Sarah.
And others are more fluid, looking at whether things like homework and chores aren’t getting done to know when to unplug. We’ve even heard a new recommendation from a friend, who charges all devices on Sunday and allows her children to divvy up usage as they see fit — the only catch is that once they’ve lost power, the playtime is over because their tablets won’t be charged again until the following Sunday.
When our kids enjoy tech play, most parents prefer educational apps or those that encourage creativity. This is especially true for our little ones in early elementary school. And although we feel better about them using tech for creating, we do allow apps and games purely for entertainment just as we would watch TV. Angry Birds, YouTube, Apple TV, Roku, Wii U, and the XBox 360 are highlights they enjoy.
In many ways, technology is like food — you are what you eat. We’re fortunate to have access to vast amounts information, but not all tools and content are created equal. A not-so-great program could have a negative impact. A quality program can offer kids an enriching experience that inspires further discovery.
At the end of the day, it’s about striking a balance that works for you and your family. We all want our kids to use the tools properly and to their fullest potential. However, we recognize there’s no perfect approach. "I do think it is important that they be familiar and comfortable with the use of these devices. I do feel some guilt that not enough time is spent being active and physically interactive,” shares John. “But I’m pretty open about this when discussing it with others.”