Parenting is not and has never been an easy job. Each generation poses new challenges that the generation before has not faced. Raising children in today’s digital environment throws curve balls and introduces issues that are unprecedented. In addition, the digital and technology changes so fast, faster than any other times in our lives.
I was raising my two boys when the digital age literally moved in and the world of parenting shifted on its axis. I remember looking at my youngest son as he celebrated the acquisition of his first flip phone and remember thinking, “Will we regret this? What will this do to our kids?”
We didn’t know. There was no precedent.
Today, we have less control over the information our children see than we ever did in the past. They are able to do more than we know and they are able to do it at a faster rate than we can keep up with. People say, “monitor the activity.” But how do you do that when they have skills and workarounds a parent doesn’t even know about?
Technology is not going away
Neither is social media. We like to blame it all on one or the other. But the secret is how do we work with technology to incorporate it in fun ways without exposing our kids too much?
First, I recommend setting limits from the beginning and stick with them. Allowing kids to have full reign of the internet and their smartphones at a young age does change their brains. We don’t yet know the full extent to which that happens but a few studies have revealed that patterns of overuse of digital devices does trigger depression and changes in the brain.
One way apps versus two-way apps are healthier. An example of a one-way app would be Headspace, an app that people use for mindfulness and guided meditation.
Two way apps include social media platforms where they can be bullied or otherwise exposed to information that is anxiety provoking before they have the skills to manage those feelings.
Binge watching has also been shown to have detrimental effects on teenage brains. Some of the dark shows they watch take on a new dimension in their heads when they are binge watched.
So how can we use tech in a positive way?
First, we want to use it to bring people together physically. Fostering a culture of face-to-face connection is the biggest preventer of suicide. Connecting with others helps.
My idea was to introduce my children to YouTube where they put scripts together, created costumes and props, got people to be in the videos, edited and otherwise had a grand time. I made sure to have rules at the very beginning. They fought them but I made it clear that I was not budging on safety.
There are a ton of spinning wheel games and you can even customize. So engage a group of kids together, use your iPad or laptop as the spinner and let the kids have fun. So they get some technology but they are not in separate houses, but together.
My kids LOVED MadLibs. And I introduced them because I loved them. There are MadLib apps, too. This really inspires a lot of laughter. Again, it’s a way to integrate technology and engage a group more and get them to thinking.
They have to know what an adverb, verb, noun, and adjective is. So they make up crazy stories but it does reinforce learning. What’s interesting is that many kids become less interested in the online version and more interested in the actual books they use with real pencils by playing. Warning, that there are endless fart and poop jokes if you have boys. That subject is of great interest starting at age two, until they die!
The idea here is not to introduce them to more games they play on their own but to integrate technology for group fun. Allow them to set the rules and mediate their own play. If you step in as a referee all the time, they are not building the skills they need to develop.