Reaching a Healthy Balanced Life that Includes Computers/Smartphones
Do you ever worry that your child is on the computer when they should be outside shooting hoops, or they prefer to go on Facebook instead of doing a family activity? You’d like to have a conversation on the way to school, but your child is texting incessantly?
Kids need a healthy balanced life consisting of time with family, getting an education, spending time with friends, playing sports/ exercising, getting adequate sleep and then using devices for entertainment. Unfortunately, because of unlimited access to computers, cell phones and smartphones, entertainment via electronic devices has become all important to kids, eating up time for the other elements of a healthy well-balanced life. Many kids are being entertained by some sort of device almost 24/7. Today the average media consumption for kids 8-18 according to the Kaiser Family foundation is 53 hours a week or 7 hours and 38 minutes a day.
Kids’ Ability to Self Limit
We all know that most kids left to their own devices would perpetually eat junk food, play video games, go online or watch TV all day. Kids have a hard time with self control and self limiting because the development of the part of the brain that helps with self control is not fully developed until an adult reaches 25 years old. That’s why parents need to be active participants and provide guidance in their children’s offline and online world even as teens get older. Just as you would make sure that your child is getting a balanced, nutritious diet, you need to make sure your child’s daily activities are healthy and balanced too. Why? There can be negative health consequences when kids over use media and also the internet. Studies have shown a correlation between heavy media use with feelings of sadness, as well as poor grades. Internet addiction is being studied currently as a new problem of excessive use and may soon be included as a diagnosis in the psychiatric diagnostic manual-DSM-V. The characteristics of internet addiction are similar to those of excessive alcohol or drug abuse.
Your Child’s Media Exposure Makes a Difference
Entertainment whether it’s surfing online, watching a movie, TV, playing a game or entering the Facebook world needs to be evaluated by parents for it’s positive effect and value. It’s easy to see what a child is watching on TV and to say “No” to a program that’s not appropriate or a movie that’s R rated. It’s easy to say “No” to twinkies for breakfast. Everything your child is exposed to in their daily lives does have an effect on healthy brain development and the hardwiring of their brains. This hardwiring will impact their attitudes and values and ultimately who they will be later in life. As psychologist David Walsh says, “ Neurons that fire together, wire together.” He continues, “If teenagers spend their waking hours immersed in violent, crude, and lewd images their brains will be influenced by these experiences. Instead of shaping their brains with positive attitudes and values they’ll wire their brains with disrespect and degradation.”
If what your child is consuming isn’t positive, don’t allow it, whether it’s TV, movies, games, internet, or Facebook. Research has shown that violent games make kids more aggressive, and a recent study showed that girls that watch reality shows believe that you have to lie to get what you want, being mean earns more respect than being nice, and that you have to be mean to others to get what you want; not attitudes or values that we want our kids to be learning. One psychotherapist says that “Facebook is a breeding ground for inappropriate language, behavior & bullying.”
Have you considered saying NO to Facebook, especially for young tweens?
A Positive Plan
How do you get your teen/tween child in balance? Fortunately, parents continue to be the major influence in a child’s life, so you can really teach your kids about the value of a healthy balanced life style and they will listen.(even when you think they aren’t!) But parents need a plan that encourages a healthy dose of non-electronic face time with family, friends, as well as exercise. When those things are back in balance, some electronic entertainment is fine. Cellphones and the internet are here to stay, but they shouldn’t be all consuming. Parents need to e-mentor™ and monitor their children’s electronic and media use.
Proactively e-Mentor™ and Participate in Your Child’s Online World
Many parents friend their children on Facebook and think they’ve done enough and will know enough of what’s going on in their child’s social life. There is, however, so much more to being an “e-aware” parent than that. For instance, there are more than a hundred other social networking sites, including Zanga, Hi5, Bebo and so on. Also, many kids have more than one Facebook profile — one for their parents and one for their friends! Kids — very good kids — are not necessarily doing what you think they are online. A recent report shows that 10% of kids admit to visiting adult content sites when parents aren’t around and 40% stop what they’re doing online when a parent is watching.
There are so many opportunities for kids to get to porn sites, play violent video games, video chat with strangers’ sites, anorexia sites, you name it. Kids are naturally curious, so they have a natural inclination to explore anything and everything online. Parents — don’t assume you know until you check. Who are they chatting with on Skype? Who’s on their friends list on Facebook? Do they know every friend on that list in the offline world? They probably are watching TV shows or movies online. Would you allow them to watch these same shows if they were in the family room watching with you?
The obvious point is that you need to be proactively paying attention to what your kids are doing online and on their cellphones. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents make sure that what kids are exposed to is positive, healthy and balanced. Parents are also urged to “supervise online activity via active participation and communication.”
The proliferation of electronics is overwhelming for many parents and makes it more difficult to stay on top of their children’s lives. For children/teens to grow into healthy, well-balanced adults, we parents must take the time to be involved and monitor all aspects of our children’s lives not just what’s placed right in front of us.
Developing a Plan for a Healthy Balanced Media Life:
- Small Steps: If you haven’t had a plan till now, don’t expect to make changes over night. Take small steps. Remember small steps can = Big Changes.
- Communicate: Talk to your kids about what a healthy balanced life style looks like and that it should include learning time, friends time, family time, exercise time, sleep time and then entertainment time. Talk to them about what’s appropriate media for them to be consuming and what’s not. Don’t be afraid to say NO to media consumption that you don’t approve of such as TV shows, websites, chatrooms, movies online, or Facebook.
- Family Time: Limit cellphones use by not allowing cellphones at the dinner table when this is a time to talk face to face with family. Place a basket near by where all cellphones are placed — yes, you too parents. Remove cellphones from social events such as family get togethers. Try having a“tech-free night” for family time. Some families enjoy having a board game night. If you want to have a conversation in the car with your child, have your child put away their phone. That means that you need to put your phone away too. You need to model good behavior and shouldn’t be on your cellphone when driving anyway.
- Education: Limit cellphone use in school, so that education is not effected by this entertaining distraction. 49 percent of teens use cellphones at school during class time. Check your wireless carrier for parental controls allowing phone time restrictions during the school day. Homework time should not be interrupted with Facebook, Skype other online activities. E-Mentor™ and Monitor to make sure your child are staying on task and focused on their work. You may see an improvement in grades when your child isn’t so distracted. Once they’re done with homework then they can go online with their friends for a limited period time.
- Sleep: Limit computer and cellphone use at night so that your child is getting adequate sleep to keep them healthy and alert for school. Have kids turn in cellphone at night by charging them in your bedroom. Have your child turn in their laptop or other mobile device into a basket in your bedroom too. If you allow them to keep their computer in their bedroom then monitor by checking recorded activity to make sure they are turning off their computer’s at night; trust but verify.
- Socialization: Make sure they are not hiding in their rooms isolated on the computer playing games instead of joining an activity that allows for face to face socialization. When your child has friends over, limit the amount of time they can spend on the computer.
- Quality of Media Consumption: Monitor your child’s online activity to check the quality of the media your child is consuming online. Is the movie appropriate for their age? Are they going to porn sites when you’re not around? Are they playing a violent game?
Cellphones, social networking sites, video sites, video games are all here to stay. Take a few minutes of your day to make sure your child learns the essentials of a healthy balanced life. You may have less worry and enjoy each other more.