How to Set Boundaries and Help Your Kids Have a Healthy Balance with Technology
Do you struggle with modeling or helping your kids have a healthy balance with technology use? A study published in June 2018 by researchers at the University of Texas asked subjects to take a series of tests that required full cognitive attention. The researchers found that people who had their smartphones nearby — even though they were on silent — performed significantly worse than those whose phones were in another room. In other words, if your phone is nearby, you can never really stop thinking about it. Does this strike a chord with you?
I felt compelled to write this blog after a chilling interview I heard with an 11-year-old boy saying his attachment to his electronic devices was “all consuming, and negatively affected his quality of life.” The next day I witnessed a difficult exchange between my sister and her 15-year-old daughter involving her phone use during family time. This touches on the deep-rooted challenge every parent faces, how to lovingly express concern over something that seems so “normal” for most kids and adults. For most of us, this may be an ongoing battle in which some days are better than others. We need to keep our boundaries firm and help both kids and adults to have a healthy balance with technology.
“Technology addiction” is a term that has been around since the 80’s; however, the big concern is that those affected seem to be getting younger and younger and they don’t know how to have a healthy balance with technology. As the digital age we live in gets integrated more into everyday life, we see things like streaming your favorite show on Netflix, looking up a recipe on Pinterest, or your child’s homework being assigned through a tablet. While all these advances can serve a helpful purpose, the scary part is that we don’t yet have a clear picture of the long-term effects.
In our new book, The Dr. Sears T5 Wellness Plan, we say that one of the keys to wellness is an awareness of our mental health. Dr. Bill talks about the importance of human connection for naturally increasing the “happy hormones”, and how our brains are wired by the messages we receive during our face-to-face interactions, and during real-life experiences. So, when you are facing the seemingly impossible task of drawing boundaries around your children’s screen time, we urge you to use this question as the gauge: Will this help or hurt my child’s development?
Dr. Bill says, “The best thing you can do to help shape a balanced tech use is to lead by example.” Model for your kids the boundaries that you feel passionate about, for example:
- No screen time an hour before bed
- Turn your phone off during meal times
- When you’re talking with each other be fully present
Problems Associated with Excessive Technology Use
Here is more food for thought from Psychology Today, as you bravely walk through this issue. These are examples of problems associated with excessive technology use:
- Sedentary lifestyle: The more time spent on a screen is associated with less time for physical fitness. Similarly, remaining in a fixed posture could cause musculoskeletal symptoms.
- Vision: The lengthy use of devices could cause visual symptoms (e.g., discomfort, eyestrain, blurred vision, headache)
- Injuries: Devices are often used while carrying out other tasks (i.e., walking, driving) and may cause the user to be more susceptible to accidents.
- Infections: Simply put, devices may have more germs than a toilet seat.
- Social development: More time spent on online engagement over face-to-face interaction may hinder social skill development or cause social withdrawal.
- Sleep deprivation: Devices can cut into one’s sleep cycle. Further, depending on the use, an individual can be wired, alert, and unable to rest.
- Psychological concerns: Excessive use of technology has been associated with several mental health concerns such as poor psychological well-being, poor self‐confidence, anxiety, depression, lower emotional stability, and lower life satisfaction.
Our hope is that the more you understand the health and developmental risks, the more your fire will be fueled to stick to those boundaries that can sometimes feel impossible to maintain.
I polled friends and family members to get some helpful tips, and here were my favorites:
- To lessen the role of the parents being the “bad guys”, try to guide your children towards a self-imposed time limit. Ask them what they think is a fair amount of time, and then set a timer. This also helps them feel responsible and heard. Of course, negotiations may be needed.
- Here is Dr. Bill’s top tip! The key word is “balance.” Balance screen time with outdoor play time. For the older kids, beware of “text neck”, the humped over effect of constantly looking down at the screen. Balance that by periodically looking up towards the key, to extend the muscles of the back and the neck. He calls it “Saying ‘hi’ to the sky”. Another helpful exercise is doing the breaststroke in the pool.
Stay strong in your convictions but remember to enjoy and love on your kids!
Cheers to health!
Coach Erin and Dr. Bill