I don’t know anyone who isn’t very concerned about the impact of the obsession with digital media and devices among all of us— and especially among youth, whose characters, habits, and even IQs are not yet fully formed. We can’t have any idea of how the constant texting, digital game playing, Facebook networking, and media watching will influence our children long term. But it’s all– and probably much more yet to come– here to stay, and we offer the following thoughts to parents as they mediate these issues in their kitchens, cars, and lives.
-Those furtive glances down to their laps by your teens while eating dinner at even a very nice restaurant are not instances when they are checking for crumbs which may have fallen from the table. You better believe they are checking for text messages from their friends even during a special family meal. Teenagers do not consider this rude, but simply taking care of business. Save your vitriol for something really serious. But next time there is a special occasion at home or out, explain beforehand that others find checking the phone during dinner to be rude, and to keep phones in pockets throughout all meals. Previously stated requests for specific behaviors work better than time of offense, karma shattering blasts.
-Reading on iPads and Kindles appeals to many young people for its convenience and flexibility. We are all for it, especially as looking up vocabulary words on a digital reader is so much easier than reaching for the Merriam-Webster.
-We don’t have family fights anymore about trivia like which film won the Academy Award in 2010 or who is the currently top rated PGA player: we just Google it. Parents can encourage curiosity, a research ethic, and an excitement about facts by modeling the “Let’s Google it” ethos. Instead of spending time arguing about who is right, time can be spent reading Google findings and pursuing idea tributaries. It is an incredibly positive aspect of our hand held computers/aka smart phones that so much is knowable with only a few strokes. Celebrate!
-Most of the digital games available seem to develop primarily manual dexterity and finger/eye coordination. I am not sure these are skills with long terms payouts for our children. There is a possibility that Zynga’s Words With Friends (digital Scrabble) has some redeeming educational value, as perhaps does Scramble— Zynga’s answer to Boggle. Give them a try. Play them with your children.
-Parents should watch the behavior they are modeling with their mobile devices. Are they constantly checking to see if a message has come in or a play made by an opponent? Are phone calls and texts allowed to take priority over “real time” events? Turn your ringer to vibrate and suggest that your children do the same. Cell phones are the greatest message takers ever, and encourage the notion that hearing/reading a message allows time to consider a response, rather than having to answer right away.
-Facebook may engender a certain narcissism. Aside from that, teens need to know that anything and everything recorded about them in their own and others’ Facebooks pages are forever in the public domain. Forever. They need to conduct Facebook as if every future employer, friend, and family member will one day see it. Because they just may. I do no think that younger teenagers should be permitted to deny Facebook access to their parents. At a certain point, and you will know when you have reached it, your older teen needs to be trusted with this space as his or her own.
-The recent book, iDisorder, by Larry Rosen, outlines current research on mobile devices and their effect on our behavior, our minds, and our lives. Bryan Burrough wrote a thoughtful review of the book in The New York Times last month.
-Keep an eye on your child’s sleep, especially on school nights. It is so easy for late night texting and talking to rob a young person of critically needed sleep. If your child can not adhere to an agree to “no chat/text” time, then the phone will need to be left in the kitchen to charge for the night. Your child will not like that at all.
-And, finally, as with all child rearing: Link Access To Output. The cheerful, involved, and productive teenager needs far less monitoring than a sullen, stealthy, unsuccessful one. An iPad is not as right, it is a privilege. Parents don’t have to pay for phones being used in nefarious ways. Always, always, always watch your teen’s peer group— harder to do when so much peer activity is digital and not actual. But when the “jungle drums are beating,” pay attention. Be home. Don’t be on your phone.. or iPad.. or Facebook account. Be there.
- Teens Text More than Adults, but They’re Still Just Teens (thedailybeast.com)
- Cellphone vibration syndrome and other signs of tech addiction (macworld.com)