How many times a day do you think your child asks you if they can play on their phone, iPad or tablet?
Five, ten, 20 times or more? It’s scary how dependant our children are on their devices for entertainment each day. Whilst studies show that there are both negative and positive influences from social media for our kids and their mental health, as a parent of a 9-year-old and a 15-year-old who have recently been on school holidays, I think that we need to try to discourage extended use of electronic devices and encourage real-life social interaction. These interactions are critical to developing the skills needed to communicate, both verbally and non-verbally, so that their emotional and social development is not delayed.
I know a lot of you are thinking, “Easy to say” and I totally agree. I watched as my 15-year-old in the space of ten minutes, check his Instagram account umpteen times to see if anyone had commented on his posts and or had messaged him. When I asked him why he kept looking, he said it was because he missed his friends and would normally see them every day at school. He agreed that in checking Instagram and seeing his friends hadn’t commented, he was becoming more and more frustrated and anxious, feeling like he was missing out. My solution? I had him put his phone in his bedroom, so that it wasn’t at arm’s length. I talked to him about how that would, along with finding another activity, reduce his anxiety levels. Sceptical though he was at first, he did it and found he agreed.
Likewise, my 9-yea r-old, if he had his way, would go from device to device all day long, rather than going outside to ride his bike or jump on the trampoline. It’s not because he doesn’t like riding his bike or playing outside, he’s just like most kids his age and enjoys playing against his friends in the virtual worlds they’ve created. As doctors always say, everything in moderation and so I now encourage my boys to leave their phones in their rooms and interact with each other more, play a board game, ride their scooters outside. I too am doing the same thing. It’s not just our kids that appear addicted to their devices, we do it too, so now I try to always leave my phone in my bag or in my room so that I am more present in their lives as well.
Below are just a few examples of what I now do to discourage too much screen time. I could go on but I think you get the picture: –
- Encourage real life relationships by organising play dates;
- Have a family games night;
- Start including them in food preparation and cook or bake together;
- Have a Lego building competition.
Try some of these out with your kids this weekend.