Articles for Parents

Everything listed under: technology

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    9 Ways to Play with Your Kids

    Do you remember those lively dodgeball games during recess? What about freeze tag, kickball, Four Square or climbing on the jungle gym? Many parents today likely have great memories of running around outdoors during school recess. And, chances are pretty good that once you got home from school, you played outside after finishing your homework. However, that is not the case for many children in 2018, and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is concerned about the impact that lack of play is having on children.

    In a recently-released clinical report, the AAP states that the most powerful way children learn isn’t only in the classroom or libraries, but rather on playgrounds and in playrooms. The importance of playful learning for children cannot be overemphasized.

    Experts define play as an activity that is fun and engaging, which could define a number of activities. But the difference in play and other activities is that play has no set outcome, no score to achieve and nothing to produce. It’s just good, old-fashioned fun.

    "We're recommending that doctors write a prescription for play, because it's so important," says pediatrician Michael Yogman, M.D., lead author of the AAP report. "Play with parents and peers is fundamentally important for developing a suite of 21st century skills, including social, emotional, language and cognitive skills, all needed by the next generation in an economically competitive world that requires collaboration and innovation. The benefits of play cannot really be overstated in terms of mitigating stress, improving academic skills and helping to build the safe, stable and nurturing relationships that buffer against toxic stress and build social-emotional resilience."

    Research indicates that family playtime enhances communication and tends to create a positive environment. Another benefit of letting the child direct the playtime is that it can help parents learn their child’s areas of interest.

    Through the years, children’s playtime has been threatened, especially as schools have removed recess from the schedule in an effort to focus more on academics. A national survey of 8,950 preschool children and parents found that only 51 percent of children walked or played outside once a day with a parent. Additionally, surveys have found that as many as 94 percent of parents have safety concerns about outdoor play. 

    No one will be surprised to know that technology also impacts play. According to media research, the average preschooler watches 4.5 hours of television a day, which is associated with greater risks of obesity. If you factor in the time that kids of all ages spend on their personal devices, and it’s easy to see that playing outdoors has been replaced with screen time.  And, it’s not just preschoolers who are living a sedentary lifestyle.

    "Media use such as television, video games, smartphone and tablet apps are increasingly distracting children from play. It's concerning when immersion in electronic media takes away time for real play, either outdoors or indoors," says pediatrician Jeffrey Hutchinson, M.D., a co-author of the report. 

    The report encourages educators, pediatricians and families to advocate for and protect unstructured play and playful learning in preschools and schools because of the numerous benefits it offers in all areas of life and development.

    If play isn’t something that comes naturally to you, here are some suggestions to get you started:

    • Have a water fight with buckets, squirt guns and the hose.
    • Build a fort in your back yard or with the furniture and sheets in your family room.
    • Blow bubbles.
    • Visit a children’s museum.
    • Make chalk drawings on the sidewalk.
    • Rake the leaves into big piles and jump in them.
    • Go for a walk in the rain and stomp in the mud puddles.
    • Play with Play-Doh.
    • Build something out of Legos.

    "The next time your child wants to play with you, say yes. It's one of the best parts of being a parent, and one of the best things you can do for your child," Dr. Yogman says. "Play helps children learn language, math and social skills, and lowers stress. Play is important both for children and their parents since sharing joyful moments together during play can only enhance their relationship."

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    5 Ways to Tell If You're a Technology-Distracted Parent

    The little girl was playing in the playground area of a fast food restaurant, yelling at her mom, “Watch me, Mama! Watch me!” Consumed by her cell phone, her mom did not hear her daughter calling to her. The child came down the slide, went over to her mom and started tugging on her arm, saying, “Mommy, Mommy, watch me.” At this point the mother looked at her daughter, seemingly irritated at the interruption, and said, “What?”

    Perhaps you’ve been that mom at one point or another, and chances are good you’ve witnessed that mom. For some, that moment when a child is occupied on the safe playground is the opportunity to take a little break. For others, constant distractions keep parents from engaging with their kids.

    Dr. Jenny Radesky is a fellow in developmental behavioral pediatrics at Boston Medical Center. She and a team of researchers observed 55 caregivers, usually a parent, eating and interacting with one or more children, from infants to 10-year-olds, in fast-food restaurants. 

    Out of 55 caregivers, 40 were involved with their phones during the meal. Sixteen of these adults used the mobile device throughout the meal. The researchers referred to this as “absorption with the mobile device.”

    Three adults gave a device to a child to keep them occupied. One adult with a little girl picked up her phone as soon as she sat down, and she used it throughout the entire meal.

    “The girl keeps eating, then gets up to cross the room to get more ketchup. Caregiver is not watching her do this; she is looking down at the phone…,” the notes showed. “Still no conversation… Now girl’s head appears to be looking right at caregiver, and caregiver looks up but not at girl…”

    How much screen time is too much screen time when it comes to being an engaged parent? Perhaps the better question is, are you frequently distracted by your phone or some other device when your child is trying to get your attention? If you aren’t sure, The Gottman Institute encourages you to consider these questions:

    • When was the last time you played with your child or teenager?
    • What was the last conversation you shared as a family?
    • Ask your kids if they feel you are distracted. Honesty can go a long way in opening up communication. Just avoid responding defensively and ask more about what they need from you.
    • Think about the last conversation you had with an adult. Were they on their phone? Did you make eye contact? Did you feel heard?
    • What makes you feel heard? The same things that make you feel heard probably apply to the children and teens in your life. Have an open conversation about what listening looks like in different settings.

    Many young people complain that their parents nag at them for always being on their phone, yet they believe their parents are as consumed by technology as they are. Perhaps one of the most important things for parents to remember is that children are very good at copying the behavior that parents model for them. 

    Technology isn’t going away. When parents decide to put down the cell phone, turn off the game, and walk away from the emails on the computer to focus on their children, it sends a significant message: You matter. You are more important than the screen. I value you. 

    Face-to-face relationships beat technology any day of the week.

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    What Teens Are Saying About Social Media and Their Parents

    Should your parent check your phone?

    When you sit down to a family meal, are people on their devices?

    Do your parents follow you on social media?

    These are just a few of the questions from an informal survey of more than 1,000 middle and high schoolers during March and April of 2018. The responses might surprise you.

    When students were asked if their parents ever checked their phones, 82 percent said their parents never checked or only checked it once or twice a year. Forty-five percent of respondents said they are not on their phones or watching television during family meals, and 22 percent said they don’t eat meals together as a family.

    When it comes to social media, 45 percent of the teens said their parents follow them on some apps while 28 percent said their parents do not follow them on any social media apps. Only 27 percent said their parents follow them on all their social media apps.

    Overwhelmingly, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, iMessage, FaceTime, Facebook and Twitter were the most popular apps, used by 60 percent or more. Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube were all above 80 percent.

    Here’s where things really get interesting. 

    When asked about negative experiences on social media:

    • 56 percent of respondents said they had been contacted or messaged by a complete stranger.
    • Over 46 percent said they have been unfriended, unfollowed or deleted from someone’s account. 
    • More than 39 percent said someone had asked them for inappropriate/sexual pictures. 

    And when it comes to breaking up, 36 percent said someone had broken up with them by text or another form of social media.

    The final question, “Has social media ever made you feel stress, anxiety or depressed?” had some very interesting results. Overarchingly, 45 percent of respondents said social media never makes them feel stress, anxiety or depression. However, in unpacking the data, 62 percent of middle-schoolers said social media never makes them feel this way. Conversely, by 12th grade, 60 percent of teens say it has contributed to stress, anxiety and depression.

    Another aspect of this involves structure and parental engagement in the home. Teens who say their parents are actively involved in overseeing their social media engagement reported significantly less stress, anxiety and depression than teens who reported less parental involvement. Teens who reported the least amount of structure and parental engagement also reported the highest levels of stress, anxiety and depression.

    Before you convince yourself that technology is the problem, breathe. The truth is, technology will only continue to evolve and move faster as time goes by. Being tuned in to your child is their best hope for navigating those changes in a healthy manner. In a previous survey, teens were asked what helped them make good choices with social media and phone usage. The number one answer was “knowing that my parents check my phone.”

    It may be tiring and frustrating, but you are the best app for your child’s phone.

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    Technology and Your Family

    Years ago, people actually had to get up to answer the phone, the computer occasionally used to write papers, and the television only had three channels.

    Now, people answer the phone everywhere, including the dinner table and the bathroom. While people write papers on computers, they often spend more time on Facebook or the Internet than actually accomplishing something.

    And only three channels? Those days are over. On-screen viewing options are virtually limitless.

    So how does all this technology impact families?

    • A 2010 American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers survey showed that 1 in 5 American divorces involve Facebook. And, 81 percent of divorce lawyers have reported a spike in cases that use social media for evidence.

    • One pastor even asked his congregants to quit using Facebook. Why? It's because he saw so many couples experiencing marital problems because of connections to old flames through social media.

    • Research conducted by Teenage Research Unlimited (TRU) showed that nearly a quarter of teens have communicated with a boyfriend or girlfriend hourly between midnight and 5 a.m. via cell phone or texting. One in 6 communicated 10 or more times an hour through the night.

    • Many experts claim that texting contributes to sleep deprivation because most kids sleep with their phone within reach. It's hard for them to resist checking the notifications.

    • According to a 2010 Pew Internet study, fully 72% of all teens – or 88% of teen cell phone users — text. Among all teens, their frequent texting has now overtaken the frequency of every other common form of interaction with their friends, including face-to-face interactions. For example, teens use texting to enhance friendships, handle a conflict, begin and end romantic relationships and even to mediate difficult conversations.

    • The average person watches four hours of television daily, which equals six months of eight-hour days. 

    From family dinners and vacations to date nights and even Christmas morning, families are being slammed from every direction with technology, all in the name of staying connected. But, is staying connected with the outside world as important as staying connected with the people closest to you?

    Perhaps one of the best things we can do is truly connect with each other. Families who are engaged with each other actually do better in every area of life.

    Consider these questions:

    • Can you establish “no technology” time zones? For example, no cell phones or television at the dinner table – parents included. Maybe teens can leave phones in the kitchen at night and computers in public spaces. Perhaps time limits for social media could be helpful?

    • Would you rather your child participate in family game night or play a game on Xbox alone instead?

    • Is a family meal more constructive than family members eating on their own in front of a screen?

    • When your child applies for a job, will he be able to verbally communicate?

    Technology is a lot like money. Families can either learn how to control how much technology invades their world or they can let it control them. Which would you prefer?

    For tips on parenting get our E-book "How to be a Guide for your Teen" Download Here

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    The Truth About Cyberbullying

    True or False?

    • Cyberbullying victims are at increased risk for traditional bullying victimization, substance use and school problems.

    • Victims of cyberbullying suffer from anger, frustration and sadness.

    • Most victims of cyberbullying tell an adult about their experience.

    • Victims report that they are primarily cyberbullied by strangers.

    If you answered “true” for the first two statements and “false” for the last two, you are correct.

    News stories abound about young people and bullying. One of the most widely-known incidents is about Megan Meier, a then 13-year-old from Missouri. She became online friends with a person she thought was a new boy in town. The “friend” was actually a group of young people and adults who plotted to humiliate Megan because of a broken friendship with another girl. When Megan discovered the truth, she became distraught and later committed suicide.

    Cyberbullying is defined as using the computer or other electronic devices to intimidate, threaten or humiliate another. It most commonly takes place on the Internet among students from a given school or neighborhood.

    Researchers and co-directors of the Cyberbullying Research Center, Justin Patchin and Sameer Hinduja, collected data from more than 15,000 youth regarding their personal cyberbullying experiences. They found that:

    • Five percent of the youth they interviewed claimed to be scared for their own safety.

    • On average, 25 percent of youth have been a victim of cyberbullying.

    • Among this percentage, mean or hurtful comments, and spreading rumors were the most common forms of cyberbullying.

    • More than half of study participants feel that cyberbullying is as bad as, or worse than bullying in real life.

    • 41 percent of victims do not tell anyone in their off-screen lives about their abuse, but 38 percent told an online friend.

    • 16 percent admitted to bullying another individual online.

    • Most of the bullying offenders said they consider bullying to be fun or instructive; such as a way to strengthen their victims.

    Your child uses cell phones, emails, instant messaging, websites, blogs, text messages and other methods to communicate electronically. All of them present a potential cyberbullying risk to your child.

    What Do Parents Need to Know?

    The impact of cyberbullying can be devastating. Cyber victimization can cause poor grades, emotional spirals, poor self-esteem, repeated school absences, depression and in some cases, suicide. These outcomes are similar to those of real-life bullying, except with cyberbullying there is often no escape.

    Young people used to be able to avoid the “bully” once school was out. Today's technology now makes it almost impossible to escape. Since few parents closely monitor their child’s digital use, it is far easier for bullies to get away with bullying online than in person. And as the quiz pointed out, kids rarely tell their parents about the bullying.

    What Can Parents Do?

    • Establish that all rules for interacting appropriately with people in real life apply online.

    • Explain what cyberbullying is and why it is unacceptable to bully or to allow bullying to continue.

    • Talk with your teen about the nature of REAL friendships.

    • Encourage your child to talk with you any time they believe they or someone they know is dealing with a bully.

    • Model appropriate technology use.

    • Write a technology contract that includes any form of technology used in your home.

    Cyberbullying can be a serious threat to the well-being of your child, but the best plan of attack is to be proactive. Being ignorant about technology in this day and age won’t cut it, so you'll want to educate yourself as well as your children. As the saying goes, information is power.

    For tips on parenting get our E-book "How to be a Guide for your Teen" Download Here

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    Technology and Relationships

    Have you ever thought about how today’s amazing technological advances affect relationships?

    There are very few places where you can’t technologically connect in some way. You can place calls whenever and wherever. It’s fairly inexpensive and there are no additional fees. In real time, you can show or tell anyone what you are eating, post your latest fashion escapade or something that just happened. Who would have guessed you can actually conduct business halfway across the planet with someone you may never meet in person?

    Why would anybody need to read books anymore or memorize anything when with a few keystrokes the information can be on a screen in front of you? The world has never been so flat when it comes to communicating.

    How does all of this impact relationships?

    What if you get an email from a friend who lives out of town who is really struggling? Inventions like Skype or FaceTime make it feel like you are practically there live and in person, which is good. But does it replace being able to hug someone when things are tough?

    Do you remember calling home from college once a week to talk to your parents? It required remembering all that happened during the week before and that also meant there were many things you had to figure out on your own because mom and dad weren’t available at the drop of a hat to give you their best problem solving maneuver. So - how are young people impacted by constantly being able to be in touch with their parents when life gets challenging versus taking a stab at trying to figure it out for themselves?

    Have you ever experienced miscommunication in a text message? For example, take the word “fine.” You text your spouse saying you want to go out to eat tonight. Your spouse replies, “Fine.” There are tons of ways to interpret that word and the person's intent behind it.

    How about boundaries? At first, constant connectivity was super-exciting for everyone. Now people realize that being reachable anywhere and anytime may not be so great. Constant pings at the dinner table can make it challenging to have meaningful conversation with family and friends.

    There is a fair amount of chatter these days about how digital devices and other technology have changed thinking and behavior. Is technology overload a thing? Does constantly switching back and forth between incoming text messages, email and the task at hand affect attention span? Has creativity diminished?

    And, have we replaced meaningful conversation with friends and family with photos and the snippets of life we see on Facebook?

    Ask yourself. How can you enhance your most meaningful relationships if you change or limit the way you currently use technology?

    For tips on parenting get our E-book "How to be a Guide for your Teen" Download Here

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    Teens, Technology and Romance

    Today's teens have always had technology in their world, from learning colors and counting to playing games, watching movies and Skyping with their grandparents. Since teens are digital natives, it's logical for technology to play a role in relationships, especially romantic ones.

    In 2014 and 2015, the Pew Research Center survey examined American teens' (ages 13-17) digital romantic practices. The online survey and focus group results are telling.

    Though 57 percent of teens have digital friendships, teens are far less likely to start a romantic relationship online. Most teens with dating experience (76 percent) say they have only dated people they met in person. Only 8 percent of all teens have dated or hooked up with someone they first met on social media, and most of those introductions are on Facebook.

    Still, technology is a major vehicle for flirting and expressing interest in a potential partner. Teens also use social media to like, comment, friend or joke around with a crush. Among all teens:

    • 55 percent have flirted or talked to someone in person to express their interest.

    • 50 percent have let someone know they were romantically interested by "friending" them on social media.

    • 47 percent have expressed their attraction by liking, commenting or otherwise interacting with that person on social media.

    • 46 percent have shared something funny or interesting with their romantic interest online.

    • 31 percent sent them flirtatious messages.

    • 10 percent have sent flirty or sexy pictures, or videos of themselves.

    Overall, 85 percent of teens in a romantic relationship expect to hear from their significant other once a day. Sometimes teens expect even more.

    • 11 percent expect to hear from their partner hourly.

    • 35 percent expect to hear something every few hours.

    • 38 percent expect to hear from their significant other once a day.

    Teens say texting is the top way to spend time together, which is interesting since they aren't actually together.

    Additionally, phone calls, in-person time and other digital means for staying in touch were in the mix. As for spending time with their current/former boyfriend or girlfriend, teen daters preferred:

    • Text messaging: 92 percent

    • Talking on the phone: 87 percent

    • Being together in person: 86 percent

    • Social media: 70 percent

    • Instant or online messaging: 69 percent

    • Video chatting: 55 percent

    • Messaging apps: 49 percent

    Thirty-one percent of teens who dated reported that a current or former partner has checked up on them multiple times per day. They use the internet or cellphone to ask where they are, who they are with or what they are doing.

    Teens were also surveyed about potentially controlling and harmful behaviors they may have experienced in relationships.

    • 15 percent (or 5 percent of all teens) say a current or former partner used the internet or text messaging to pressure them to engage in unwanted sexual activity.

    • 16 percent have been required by a current or former partner to remove people from their friends list on social media.

    • 13 percent said their current or former partner demanded they share their email and internet passwords with them.

    • 19 percent report that a current or former partner has used the internet, digital media or a cellphone to threaten them.

    • 8 percent report that a current or ex-partner used information posted on the Internet against them, to harass or embarrass them.

    After a relationship ends, 22 percent of teens state that a former partner used the internet or a cellphone to call them names, put them down or say really mean things to them. Fifteen percent report that a current or former partner used mobile phones or the internet to spread rumors about them.

    Technology connects us in many ways, but teens need more information about technology and romantic relationships.

    Although dating is an opportunity to get to know someone, identify common interests, see if your personalities get along and whether you enjoy each other's company — it is different from marriage.

    Teens still need your help to understand the meaning of dating and what is appropriate and inappropriate behavior. Furthermore, help them understand that:

    • Posting mean things is poor form and disrespectful.

    • Demanding passwords is inappropriate.

    • Constantly checking up on a partner is unhealthy.

    • Demanding to know who, what, where, why and how from someone is controlling, dishonoring and disrespectful behavior.

    • Texting back and forth is different from spending time with someone.

    Don't assume your teen knows how to successfully navigate romantic relationships. Take every chance you get to teach them how to respect and honor others.

    For tips on parenting get our E-book "How to be a Guide for your Teen" Download Here

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    Summer: Screen Time or Memories

    Think back to summers when you were a kid. You might recall getting up, doing a few chores and then heading outside to play, only taking a break for lunch. Your mom or dad’s call for dinner was probably met with complaints about coming inside.

    In an informal survey of adults about their childhood summer memories, people recalled catching fireflies, climbing trees, fishing and playing outside with friends. They also mentioned riding bikes, running through the sprinkler and lots of other activities. As they thought about their response, they usually smiled and laughed as the memories replayed in their mind.

    Most would agree that times have dramatically changed, but not necessarily for the better.

    Instead of spending time playing outside, various studies indicate many children will get up and head straight to some type of screen. In fact, 8- to 10-year-olds spend on average between five and seven hours playing games, watching movies or television. For teens, this number increases. This is a stark contrast to the American Academy of Pediatrics' recommendation that children 10 and older spend no more than two hours a day watching a screen.

    Too much screen time can increase a child's risk of having trouble sleeping at night, experiencing attention issues and developing symptoms of anxiety and depression. Additionally, numerous studies have shown that children eat more unhealthy food while watching screens, which can lead to weight gain.

    While many parents grow weary of this battle, it is definitely one worth fighting.

    When children move away from screens and interact with others, it helps them develop communication skills. They also learn how to get along with others and problem-solve when there is disagreement over a kickball game score. Play helps build a child’s imagination and enhances their ability to entertain themselves.

    So, here’s a challenge: Unplug from the screens and encourage your kids to spend their time in other ways.

    Initially, you will undoubtedly get the usual push-back, but stand your ground. Know that you are setting the stage for your children to create some great memories. If they say they are bored, offer them some ways to work around the house. They'll probably find something to do in order to avoid chores - and it teaches your child to entertain themselves.

    The American Academy of Pediatrics actually says that doing nothing at all is better than staring at a screen. For example, car rides without DVDs allow a child to look at their surroundings and let their imagination run wild.

    While unplugging might not be the most convenient thing to do, see it as intentional preparation for launching your child. Moving away from screens gives them the chance to learn necessary skills to help them navigate through life. Who’s up for the challenge?

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    Kids are Losing Sleep

    Have you ever awakened in the middle of the night and checked for email or text messages? If so, chances are good that your kids have, too.

    The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) 2014 Poll revealed interesting findings when it comes to families and their sleep patterns. Of those surveyed:

    • 89% of adults and 75% of children have at least one electronic device in their bedrooms. While a television was the most common device, 45% of parents and 30% of children had a tablet or smartphone with them when they go to bed at night.
    • 26% of parents and 16% of children sent or read emails and text messages after initially dozing off. Technology has become commonplace in the bedroom. However, the duration and quality of sleep appears to suffer when children and adults leave devices on past bedtime.
    • Sleep quality was significantly worse for children who sometimes left the television, tablet/smartphone or music player on at night.
    • Children who leave their devices on get less rest on school nights than other children. Parents estimate it's a difference of nearly one hour, on average, per night.
    • Parents also view of the quality of their child's sleep negatively if the child leaves electronics on during the night. This holds true even with older children, who are more likely to leave things on. Teens with left-on devices are estimated to get, on average, half an hour less sleep on school nights.

    "For children, a good night's sleep is essential to health, development and performance in school," says Kristen L. Knutson, a biomedical anthropologist who researches sleep at the University of Chicago. "We found that, when parents take action to protect their children's sleep, their children sleep better."

    The NSF shares these tips to improve your child's sack time:

    • Make sleep a healthy priority in your family's busy schedule. Children ages 6-10 need 10-11 hours of shuteye. Older children need 8.5-9.5 hours.
    • Set appropriate and consistent bedtimes for your entire family.
    • Know how your child is using electronics in the bedroom. Create a plan for appropriate use at night and set boundaries about use before and after bedtime.
    • Educate your family on how light from electronic device screens can interfere with winding down.
    • Talk to your child about the importance of sleep for health and well-being.
    • Create a snooze-supportive bedroom and home environment, dimming the lights prior to bedtime and controlling the temperature; in most cases, temperatures above 75 degrees and below 54 degrees will disrupt your rest.
    • Encourage activities such as reading or listening to music before bedtime. These are more relaxing than watching TV, playing video games or surfing the Web.
    • Make sure children's activities, including homework, can be completed without interfering with bedtimes.

    Research shows, when it comes to technology, kids are following their parent's lead.

    "Parents need to be good role models in their responsible use of electronics and their children will follow suit," says Monique K. LeBourgeois, a psychologist who researches sleep at University of Colorado Boulder.

    It may be hard to resist, but setting the tone for a good night's rest can lead to a happier, healthier home.

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    How Technology Affects Families

    Do you remember when the only television at home was in the family room? Or when your family traveled in the car and everybody looked for license plates from all 50 states? Now, practically every vehicle has a DVD player and every home has several televisions. Technology is everywhere.

    In the last 50 years, technology has exploded. It is no longer in a fixed location with limited capability and parental supervision. It is literally unlimited and extremely difficult to regulate.

    At a conference on strengthening the family, author and clinical counselor, John Van Epp asked:

    • To what extent will families allow technology to be fused with their relationships?
    • Are families unplugging devices to really plug into each other?

    Based on several studies, it appears that families aren’t doing a great job of connecting.

    Consider these examples.

    A group from Boston Medical Center watched family interactions in fast-food restaurants, specifically looking at how caregivers engaged with children. Out of 55 families, 40 parents were doing something with their phone. The researchers refer to this as “absorption with the mobile device.” When a child started prompting a parent for attention, the child got in trouble for interrupting the parent.

    UCLA anthropologist Elinor Ochs conducted an intensive in-home, four-year study of 32 families on this issue. Ochs found the primary theme in these homes was multi-tasking among family members. She cites an all-too-familiar conversation between parent and child: “My parents always tell me that I can’t do homework while listening to music, but they don’t understand that it helps me to concentrate.”

    Strengthening his case, Van Epp cited David Myers’ work as the director of the University of Michigan's Brain Cognition Lab. Myers is very clear that the brain does NOT multi-task. It may act in parallel functions (touch, sound, vision), but when engaging in distinctly different tasks, the brain operates like a toggle switch. It jumps from one thing to another. Myers debunks the myth that students are great multi-taskers, stating, "The bottom line is you CANNOT simultaneously be thinking about your tax return and reading an essay."

    “This constant multi-tasking that people are doing results in dopamine 'squirts.' These lead to an addiction to constant techno-activity,” Van Epp said. “Yet, studies show that downtime for the brain is essential to the development of identity, morals, empathy and creativity.”

    Van Epp issued a challenge: Lay your smart phone down. See if you can go for an hour without picking it up.

    “Research shows that technology is actually producing higher rates of anxiety among children and adults,” Van Epp said. “Apps are influencing child development and short-circuiting identity formation. They're also discouraging face to face interactions and creating superficial intimacy.”

    If you still aren’t convinced this is an issue, check out Outdoors and Out of Reach, Studying the Brain in the New York Times. And for good measure, watch Gary Turk’s Look Up video on YouTube. 

    “We must begin balancing technology and real time with loved ones,” Van Epp said. “We can’t let technology define us. Advances in technology can never replace gains in family interactions.”

    So, what about you? Will your family unplug devices in order to really plug into each other?

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    Teach Your Wired Children About Healthy Relationships

    Technology, such as the Internet, smartphones, and social media, can have great benefits in helping your children form and maintain relationships. At the same time, if not used with limits and guidance by your children, such use may prevent them from developing the essential relationship qualities and skills that have allowed us to make real connections and build real relationships for ages.

    There is certainly a place for children to have online relationships, but they are no substitute for the depth and breadth of flesh-and-blood relationships where your children are able to fully connect with other people and completely experience the meaning, satisfaction, and joy of deep human relationships.

    Yes, children’s (and adults’) real relationships can be untidy, with hurt feelings, anger, frustration, and disappointment. But relationships are like two sides of the same coin; children can’t experience the beauty of relationships—love, comfort, and excitement—without also being willing to accept its occasional blood, sweat, and tears. I challenge anyone who can show me that online relationships can provide that.

    To raise children capable of having healthy relationships in this world that is so dominated by popular culture and technology, you must be well informed and deliberate about your children’s exposure to both. Of course, the most basic way to prevent popular culture and technology from having an undue and unhealthy influence over your children’s relationships is to set limits on their exposure. You should establish clear expectations about the quality of the popular culture that your children are allowed to experience and the type and quantity of technology they are permitted to use. Just as importantly, you must create appropriate consequences to add “bite” to the expectations you set in the event of inevitable transgressions on the part of your children.

    Another obvious preventive measure is to educate your children about the messages they’re getting from popular culture and technology. The more informed your children are about those messages, the less vulnerable they will be to those messages. As they get older, they will be able to make deliberate choices about what aspects of popular culture they expose themselves to and what technology they use.

    Part of this education involves talking to your children about the unrealistic messages that popular culture conveys to them about relationships, for example, that love can be found in a matter of weeks (think The Bachelor) or that physical appearance is a healthy foundation for relationships (think Gossip Girls). You can also show them the differences between online and offline relationships, particularly what is missing from the former and present in the latter, for example, facial expressions, body language, and other nonverbal cues (notwithstanding Skype and other video chatting), voice inflection (notwithstanding phone calls), touch, and smell.

    So, you can’t just play defense against popular culture and technology. In fact, to raise children who are capable of healthy relationships in this digital age, teaching your children about healthy relationships may be your most important way to help them resist the unhealthy messages from popular culture and technology and ensure that they are capable of developing healthy relationships.

    A good place to start in teaching your children about healthy relationships is in your relationship with your spouse. Let me say this clearly. There is no greater influence on how your children come to see relationships than your relationship with your “other half.” From a very early age, your relationship—good, bad, or ugly—likely becomes the template on which their future relationships are based. If you can show your children from an early age how a healthy relationship works, filled with respect, caring, and empathy, simply through your daily relationship with your spouse, you will instill in them a positive view of relationships that will be resistant to those that they receive from popular culture (this, of course, is more of a challenge for divorced couples or single parents).

    Also, when you model the healthy use of technology as a tool for strengthening relationships, you provide your children with another template that will encourage the dominance of offline relationships, teach them how to use technology to foster healthy relationships, and make them less vulnerable to the allure of online relationships.

    The most powerful way to override the inevitable messages your children will receive from popular culture and technology about relationships is to give your children the most quantity and quality of unmediated (meaning direct) social experiences on which they can build the competence, confidence, and comfort to develop healthy relationships throughout their lives. These encounters can include the spectrum of relationships including family, friends, educational, athletic, cultural, and spiritual.

    This depth and breadth of flesh-and-blood relationships will also give your children the ability to compare those relationships and online relationships and, hopefully, see that the latter can’t hold a candle to the former. The more ways in which your children can experience the richness of offline relationships, the more they will come to value them and not be drawn to those gained through popular culture and technology.

    In addition to maximizing your children’s in-the-moment appreciation for face-to-face relationships, you can also actively teach them essential relationship skills. Early exposure to social skills and the basics of relationships, for example, saying hello and goodbye and please and thank you, shaking hands, and looking others in the eye, as well as compassion and concern for others, will prevent your children from avoiding real relationships due to doubt, shyness, or social discomfort and give them the competence and confidence to want to explore further unmediated relationships.

    You want to give your children direct experience in relationships and the tools to build self-assurance in your children’s relationship capabilities. You also want to instill in them a skeptical attitude toward the messages they get about relationships from popular culture and technology.

    When you accomplish these goals, you give your children a true gift, namely, they will see for themselves that real-life relationships are far more rewarding than those found online and they will make sure these relationships take precedence over the virtual kind. And that is a gift that will keep on giving throughout their lives. 


    Article written by: Jim Taylor, Ph.D.

    Author of: Raising Generation Tech: Prepare Your Child for a Media-fueled World; Positive Pushing: How to Raise a Successful and Happy Children; Your Children are Under Attack: How Popular Culture is Destroying Your Kids' Values, and How You Can Protect Them; Your Children are Listening: Nine Messages They Need to Hear From You; and more!

    Taylor speaks regularly to schools, youth-sports programs and performing-arts organizations around the country.

    Taylor received his Bachelor's degree from Middlebury College. He earned his Master's degree and Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Colorado. He is a former Associate Professor in the School of Psychology at Nova University in Ft. Lauderdale. Jim is currently an adjunct professor at the University of San Francisco and the Wright Institute in Berkeley.

    He writes articles in scholarly and popular publications, and he gives workshops and presentations around the world. Additionally, Taylor blogs on a variety of topics, including on his own website, drjimtaylor.com. He also appears as a guest on various internationally-known media outlets.