The Star Early Edition - - LIFESTYLE VERVE -

AS TECH­NOL­OGY ad­vances, many stud­ies are be­ing con­ducted to try to un­der­stand its ef­fects on so­ci­ety, and es­pe­cially chil­dren.

Ar­eas of in­ter­est in­clude its ef­fect on chil­dren’s brains, gam­ing ad­dic­tion, at­ten­tion-re­lated is­sues, obe­sity, hand-eye co-or­di­na­tion and sleep pat­terns.

Es­sen­tially, we cre­ated tech­nol­ogy and un­leashed it on our chil­dren, and now we are scram­bling to un­der­stand what it is do­ing to them. So let’s cut through the noise and fo­cus on the con­nec­tion be­tween par­ent (care­giver) and child.

Noth­ing con­nects us more than tech­nol­ogy. It brings to­gether fam­i­lies sep­a­rated by lo­ca­tion, di­vorce… It gives us a way to com­mu­ni­cate with our chil­dren when we don’t know where they are. It helps chil­dren on the fringes of cul­ture find their iden­ti­ties. It cul­ti­vates in­ter­ests and fosters cre­ativ­ity.

Is my house con­stantly con­nected? No. Like ev­ery­thing won­der­ful, tech­nol­ogy has a dark side. Aside from gam­ing ad­dic­tion and so­cial me­dia wor­ries, I am keenly aware that the in­trin­sic na­ture of tech­nol­ogy is that your head is bent down, your eyes star­ing at a screen. Into a vir­tual world. Into images fake and real.

If one of the most im­por­tant as­pects of be­ing hu­man is our con­nec­tion to other hu­mans and na­ture, most tech­nol­ogy works at di­rect odds to this. It steals our eyes. It steals our at­ten­tion. It steals our abil­ity to fo­cus on what is in front of us. For chil­dren, who are im­ma­ture and have poor im­pulse con­trol, the se­duc­tion of this vir­tual world is too great to resist.

I held off on tablets, smart­phones and per­sonal com­put­ers as long as I could. It felt like the right time to get a smart­phone for my old­est child when she went to se­nior pri­mary.I al­lowed tablets at about 9 years old, and be­cause my youngest child al­ways feels left out, she is al­lowed to bor­row my phone to play a game or two.

Be pre­pared to hear all about what other kids are get­ting and able to do with their tech­nol­ogy. To hear it from my chil­dren, all of their friends were born hold­ing iPhones and have been on In­sta­gram since they were 2 years old. This is ridicu­lous, but it can eas­ily plant an in­se­cure seed in your par­ent­ing mind. You can even be­gin to be­lieve that you are hurt­ing your child. You aren’t. Get a mantra go­ing: “ev­ery fam­ily does things dif­fer­ently. This is how we do it.”

Be pre­pared to learn about new games and apps and so­cial me­dia, while al­ways know­ing that you will fall griev­ously short of know­ing ev­ery­thing.

Be pre­pared to change the rules based on your child’s evel of ma­tu­rity, de­vel­op­ment, ex­ec­u­tive­func­tion­ing is­sues, at­ten­tion is­sues, sleep is­sues, bul­ly­ing, dis­trac­tion from school and fam­ily, na­ture de­pri­va­tion, lack of cre­ative play. What­ever rules you cre­ate will not stay that way. Ac­cept it.

Don’t take it per­son­ally when there’s blow­back from the bound­aries you place on tech­nol­ogy. You need to be the adult and re­alise that you are do­ing what needs to be done. Com­plain to your part­ner, your friends… but don’t blame your chil­dren for want­ing to keep the tech­nol­ogy you gave them.

Have a day in the week that is free of tech­nol­ogy. We do cell­free Sun­days, which in­clude no smart­phones, com­put­ers or TV. It was not well re­ceived in the be­gin­ning but is now part of the fam­ily rou­tine, and it is lovely.

This next piece of ad­vice may sur­prise some, but un­less you sus­pect real dan­ger or have real con­cerns, do not read your child’s texts on a daily ba­sis. It will erode the good trust you have with your child, pro­mote sneak­i­ness in your child and cre­ate a ‘gotcha’ at­mos­phere in your fam­ily. Do I glance at texts, In­sta­gram and Snapchat? Yes. But I tell my child when I do it and what I learnt, and then I go into lis­ten­ing mode. The main mes­sage is: “I care. I am watch­ing. I know your heart. I love you. You will make mis­takes. I will al­ways be here for you. I am lis­ten­ing.” But again, the longer you can hold off putting tex­ting into a child’s hands, the bet­ter.

Un­less there is a com­pelling rea­son, do not al­low your chil­dren to charge their de­vices in their bed­rooms. They will say it is for an alarm, they will say it is eas­ier, they will scream that you don’t trust them. Keep your bound­ary. Chil­dren are al­ready los­ing sleep at alarm­ing rates, and hav­ing tech­nol­ogy in their bed­rooms only in­creases their awake time and dis­tractibil­ity and al­lows more time for shenani­gans.

Recog­nise that, as a cul­ture, we are not mov­ing back­wards. Tech­nol­ogy is here to stay. But your parental in­flu­ence is cru­cial. Are you al­ways on tech­nol­ogy? Do you get out­side? Do you have friends over to see them face to face? Do you read real books and news­pa­pers? Do you en­gage in con­ver­sa­tion with strangers? Be­fore you ever go about fix­ing your chil­dren, be sure to get your own tech­nol­ogy life in line. Yes, we adults have work and obli­ga­tions, but be sure to walk some of the walk if you are go­ing to talk the talk. – The Wash­ing­ton Post

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