Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Parents As Examples With Devices & Technology

Above: Xbox in the pool
My last post on 'Why We Need to Bore Our Kids' seemed to strike a chord with many readers. This led to some helpful comments in response to the post. As I responded to some of the comments, and reflected on what I had written, I found myself reflecting on how as parents and teachers we need to exercise some level of guidance and control over our children's use of technology. Sometimes this can be VERY hard. Let me illustrate.

A mother in Sydney this past week got to the end of her tether with her children's use of the family Xbox. It seems that negotiating access to the Xbox led to many disputes about who went first, how long they could have and so on. Every parent should be able to relate to this if you have more than one child. With a history of problems and disputes she couldn't take it any longer. She pulled out all of the cables and leads, took the Xbox outside and threw it into their swimming pool. She was interviewed by Sydney radio and commented that it made her 'feel good' and that it was never coming back. Only time will tell if she gives in.

We also need to set a good example in relation to our own use of technology, social media, devices of all time and the way we use them. There is no doubt, that adults can also show an unhealthy attachment to their devices. In a lovely local park that has just been equipped with gym equipment I observe pretty much every day people using the equipment as a seat while they use their devices.

Above: The power of the device to distract & absorb
Let me offer some basic suggestions concerning parental control of devices, or technology time.

First, technology isn't bad! In fact, it offers us amazing opportunities to learn, communicate, elaborate, access resources and so on. But like anything it can be overused and abused.

Second, all parents need to establish some basic rules for use of technology at home (as do teachers at school).  These should cover:

a) how long they can use technology;
b) what you do and don't include in the family restrictions when you say 'technology' (e.g. TV, laptop, iPad, radio, phone etc.);
c) the purposes that they use it for (e.g. entertainment, schoolwork, fun, research, personal interest etc.);
d) Social; media like Facebook, Snapchat to be used at specified times during school weekdays (some parents have their children time this themselves);
e) No devices to be touched during shared family mealtimes (I know, some families have few, but this is a different problem);
e) What alternatives for technology use are acceptable.

Third, if things are out of control you do have two main options. You can try dramatic action (like the Mum, the Xbox and the swimming pool), but I think if you need to do this, the war has been lost. Having said this, as with many addictions (and some technology use can be one), going cold turkey is sometimes the best solution. But there will be painful adjustment consequences during 'withdrawal'. Alternatively, you can establish rules over time that place limits on access, and reward compliance when alternatives are explored. The latter will still be painful, but you can phase in some of your actions. For example, your rules might include:
  • iPhones in the cupboard after a specific time each night.
  • Tablets and computers only to be used for schoolwork in some specified hours of the day.
  • No facetime at all between specific hours.
  • Television only after all homework has been done.
  • All facetime (TV, phones, tablets etc) not to exceed a specified number of hours each week.
  • The home server or internet access to be timed to cut out at a specified hour.
  • Specific sites might also be banned or restricted for varied age groups.

Fourth, as parents you need to set an example. It's hard to be credible when telling your children to reduce technology time, if you demonstrate an obsession with devices and, for example, never put your phone down. Like many practices in families, parents need to set positive examples. We can be just as distracted as children. It should be 'do as I do', not simply 'do what I say'. The photo of the man in the park, sitting on gym equipment while on his phone, is a stark example of how we can be easily distracted by technology as adults, when better options are available. If our children see us being distracted, it is harder for us to rebuke them.

Summing up

We live in an age where technology allows us to do the most amazing things. This has transformed the ease with which we communicate, seek knowledge, explore our world, sustain and support relationships, learn languages, engage in many creative activities, become part of many communities of interest and practice locally and around the world. Devices and technology are not the problem, our lack of discipline and control of what we and our children do with them. I'd love to hear your perspective on how you deal with these issues.