This has become the parenting challenge for the 4th industrial revolution; how do we get our kids off their phones, tablets or PCs? Technology has become so prevalent in this day and age that most children and adults would find it almost impossible to live a day without their technological gadgets. To be fair, this is as much an adult problem as it is a problem for children.
The solution is not a total tech ban. Technology has become too much part of the fabric of our civilization to completely weed it out. Our children will need to use technology as part of their education and eventually their workplace, so separating them completely from technology will merely postpone the problem. If they cannot learn to manage their use of technology responsibly when they are young, they stand no chance of doing it when they are adults.
So what can we do to ensure that they do not become addicted to tech?
1. Set Clear Limits
There must be clear, black and white rules when it comes to the using of technology at home. Most developmental psychologists recommend no more than 1 hour of tech use per day for children 8 years and below and no more than 2 hours for children below the age of 13 years.
What is important is that these rules must be articulated clearly and in advance and must be consistent and stable. These limits cannot change day to day based on our mood.
2. Enforce These Limits
The problem with limits is that often we don’t enforce them. The moment our children think we are not serious about the rules, we lose all power.
There are a variety of apps and programmes that allow parents to monitor and limit their children’s technology use. Screentime is an example of one. It allows parents to limit the daily device use to a certain time. For example, parents can set the programme so that the device would automatically turn off after 2 hours of use per day.
Other programmes include:
- Our Pact
These programmes also are useful that they allow parents to monitor exactly what websites, or games or activities the child is engaging in on the device and this is important to safeguard our children.
For some parents, shutting down the wifi connections in the house, or keeping their children’s phones and tablets in their room overnight are also simple but effective tools to ensure that their children are not burning the midnight oil playing computer games.
Some parents also enforce no technology days, which apply to both children and adults. Nothing like leading by example to inspire our children.
3. Encourage Healthy Alternatives
Children need stimulation and engagement. That’s why they play games or surf on their phones, to begin with. It meets a cognitive need for stimulation. If we are limiting the child’s phone or tablet use, we need to teach the child to find other alternatives to find fun and stimulation.
This is where parents setting aside time to play outdoor games with their children, play boardgames, take excursions and indulge in other fun hobbies and activities is so important. Most children would prefer the attention of their parents, to their tech. The problem is, most times we are too busy to engage our children, so the tech becomes our babysitting tool. No surprise then, the child becomes addicted quickly.
Give them room and time to go outside and get dirty. Telling children that they cannot play with their phone or computers, and then telling them that they cannot go outdoors to the garden to play football, or to play in the mud outside is being unreasonable. We’ve got to give them the freedom to find the real world outside their virtual playground.
4. Show Them How Tech Can Be More Than Entertainment
The problem with tech is that for most children they have limited its use to entertainment. Tech shows them videos, gives them games to play. The challenge is getting kids to see tech as also a powerful and wonderful source of education and exploration.
The real power of the internet was that it gave us access to almost infinite amounts of information, anytime, anywhere and for an affordable cost. This is the ultimate library for the child with intellectual curiosity. Learning about science, learning about geography, learning about history, music, arts, business, languages, literature and so much more.
If we can encourage our children to use the internet to explore the world using technology, we change the dynamic of their interaction with tech, from being just a tool for entertainment, to a tool for intellectual exploration and the expanding of their minds. From being a device that addicts and drains, it can become a gateway to a larger world.
Similarly, tech can also be seen as a tool for creation. Making movies, recording music, creating art: these are activities that are now easily done with the use of tablets, phones and PCs.
5. Be Good Role Models
Ask ourselves. Are we also addicted to tech? Can we survive without our phones, wifi, the internet for more than half a day? Children do what we do, they don’t do what we say. The first step to helping our kids overcome their addiction to technology may be overcoming our own addictions.
Tech is here to stay. Our role as parents is to help our children see that tech is only one part of their lives. There is a world larger than tech and they need to be given space and time to acquaint themselves with it.
About the Author:
Dr Goh Chee Leong served in the HELP Education group for 20 years and was the founding CEO for HELP Education Services, which established two international schools in Kuala Lumpur and Johor Bahru. Dr Goh was also the founder and Dean of the Faculty of Behavioural Sciences at HELP University, Kuala Lumpur, which houses one of the largest Psychology programmes in South East Asia with over 1,400 full-time students.
He was the past President for the ASEAN Regional Union of Psychological Societies (ARUPS) and past President of the Malaysian Psychological Association (PSIMA) and has also been appointed Consultant Psychologist for MENSA Malaysia.