North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center recently hosted psychotherapist, author and parenting expert Sean Grover for a workshop titled “When Your Child Relates Better to Screens than Human Beings.” We were pleased to offer this program to help fortify parents during these difficult times.
As tech-dependence increases, many kids move through the world in a self-centered bubble, separated from their own thoughts and feelings, as well as the thoughts and feelings of others. As conversation skills and positive interactions crumble, technology even starts to change kids’ sense of humanity; they are less compassionate and sensitive to others. The workshop explored these vital issues and offered advice about what parents can do to help.
“Everywhere you look, children are staring into cell phones, screens, computer screens, tablets, iPads and more,” said Grover, who has appeared on the Today Show, in the New York Times and in many other media outlets. “While some kids use technology as a pastime, others are absorbed by it. Technology devours their lives. They can’t put it down or turn it off. These kids tend to be more isolated and anxious, have poor people skills, difficulty maintaining friendships or an unstable sense of self.”
In his workshop, Grover gave parents guidelines on how to take back control and help their offspring wean off their technology addiction. Here are some of his tips:
Set aside specific times at home when no one (parents included) uses technology. Cell phones, computers, iPad…everything is off. If you want your kid to be less tech-addicted, you must lead the way. Tech-free time can be spent reading, talking, playing games, cooking, making art…anything creative or social will do.
Kids resist structure—but fall apart without it. Technology needs limits. For instance, I often recommend that families establish tech hours; time for homework, gaming or surfing the Internet. Scheduling tech time will help to limit battles by setting clear guidelines. For instance, when it comes to gaming, many parents may allow thirty minutes a day during the school week and two hours a day on the weekends.
When possible, keep all technology in a common space like the living room — not in a child’s bedroom. Establish communal places for tech time; try to avoid allowing your kid to disappear for hours behind a closed door.
There are plenty of online services that can filter out inappropriate or violent material. These services can also limit Internet access by scheduling times that the Internet is available and times when it is not. One example of such a service is Net Nanny.
If you haven’t already read between the lines, you should know that how you use tech devices influences your ability to effectively guide your kids. Although your example is not the sole factor, keep in mind that as distant as some kids become from adults as they are moving through their teen years, they continue to observe you, and more closely than you know.
As the lyrics from the 1970s-80s new wave rock band the Police advise: “Every breath you take, Every move you make, Every bond you break, Every step you take, I’ll be watching you.”
Andrew Malekoff is the executive director of North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center, which provides comprehensive mental health services for children and their families. Visit www.northshorechildguidance.org for more.