The experts weigh in with some suggestions for parents concerned about the impact of technology on their children’s social-emotional development:
1. Don’t wait until middle school to consider your child’s interactions with screens. “We view this as a teen issue,” says Dr. Eli Shapiro, director of The Digital Citizenship Project. “But we also need to be concerned about younger kids (ages 0-5) in their formative years, when technology may imprint on their brain development. For example, years ago a mother would hug her toddler when he was getting a shot. Now Mom gives her child a screen. When we were in pain, we learned that our parents made us feel better; now kids are learning that the device is there to distract them from their feelings.”
2. Model responsible technology use. “Today’s parents are the first generation who grew up with technology at their fingertips,” says Rabbi Eli Samber, head of school at Arie Crown Hebrew Day School in Chicago. “Many are so connected to their devices that it’s unhealthy. To have a fighting chance to learn responsible usage, kids need role models.”
3. Know your child. “Some children will face greater challenges in this area,” says Shapiro. “For example, social anxiety is a huge predictor of unhealthy use of technology.” As parents, our approach should be tailored to each child uniquely.
4. Not all screen time is created equal. Making blanket rules about “screen time” may not be helpful. “Screen time can be consumptive, like watching Netflix, or creative, like editing videos or coding, and qualitatively they are completely different,” says Shapiro. “We owe it to our kids to take a more sophisticated approach.”
5. Understand the apps. “Different social platforms and games have different impacts,” says Shapiro. Kids may want to be where their friends are, but consider the nuances of the various options, and make strategic decisions about what your child has access to.
6. Don’t put complete faith in Internet filters. “We did research into the effectiveness of Internet filters,” says Shapiro. “They’re simply not enough on their own. Children need education, and parents need to speak with their kids. These tools combined are much more effective.”
7. Embrace silence. “We’ve become accustomed to filling our lives with noise and stimulation,” says Faigie Zelcer, founder of Penimi. “When you can be comfortable skipping the music, podcast or phone call when you’re with your children, you create an opportunity for connection.”
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