BAL­ANCE TECH­NOL­OGY & FAM­ILY LIFE

Com­mon sense must pre­vail when de­cid­ing screen/phone use

Times of the Islands - - Explorer - BY SANDY TEGER

NNearly ev­ery fam­ily in West­ern so­ci­ety owns and uses a mul­ti­tude of tech­nolo­gies. Tech use starts in utero, when an in­di­vid­ual’s first pic­ture is likely to be a sono­gram that’s shared with friends and fam­ily via so­cial me­dia and email. Af­ter the birth there are baby mon­i­tors, talk­ing mo­biles over the crib and hug­gable cloth dolls that sound like a mother’s beat­ing heart. This may be the stage in which peo­ple are most com­fort­able about the uses of tech­nol­ogy. When chil­dren are young, it’s a great time to start us­ing tech­nolo­gies that bring the fam­ily closer to­gether. Grand­kids and grand­par­ents can in­ter­act even if they’re on dif­fer­ent sides of the coun­try or world. Voice-en­abled de­vices such as Alexa and Google Home can pro­vide in­ter­ac­tive fam­ily en­ter­tain­ment. Chil­dren learn pos­i­tive uses of tech­nol­ogy when they say, “Tell me a story” or “Tell me a joke,” or ask ques­tions we once used en­cy­clo­pe­dias to an­swer.

While they are still in­fants and tod­dlers, chil­dren start to en­gage with tech­nolo­gies such as mo­bile phones and tablets. It’s a rare par­ent who has not handed a phone to a fussy child to dis­tract and quiet him or her. A study pre­sented at the Pe­di­atric Aca­demic So­ci­ety’s 2015 an­nual meet­ing showed that more than a third of chil­dren un­der age 1 have used a de­vice such as a smart­phone or tablet. The au­thors sur­veyed 370 par­ents of chil­dren ages 6 months to 4 years about their ex­po­sure to me­dia and elec­tron­ics.

They found that 52 per­cent of chil­dren un­der age 1 had watched TV and 36 per­cent had touched or scrolled a screen. The amount of time the chil­dren spent us­ing de­vices rose as they got older, with 26 per­cent of 2-year-olds and 38 per­cent of 4-year-olds us­ing de­vices for at least an hour. That num­ber has un­doubt­edly in­creased given mo­bile de­vice pro­lif­er­a­tion since 2015.

Any­one rais­ing a child to­day may have fret­ted about screen time, won­der­ing what im­pact it may have upon chil­dren. This is when com­mon sense must pre­vail. Details are crit­i­cal. What mat­ters is the child’s age, length of time he or she uses the de­vice, and whether it starts re­plac­ing parental or care­giver play­time, the read­ing of sto­ries or point­ing out things in the child’s sur­round­ings.

Time and en­gage­ment with peo­ple are crit­i­cal to chil­dren’s learn­ing but get­ting anx­ious about dis­tract­ing them while wait­ing in a line or when you have a headache is bad for every­one. If tech­nol­ogy is used ju­di­ciously, there should be min­i­mal risk of overuse and overde­pen­dence.

In pre­vi­ous decades, the TV screen and tele­phone line were teth­ered to the house and were shared re­sources. Now that they’ve be­come more per­sonal, por­ta­ble, ubiq­ui­tous and af­ford­able, de­vices can be in a child’s be­d­room, with­out adult su­per­vi­sion. This is when con­scious de­ci­sion mak­ing has its role. Just as in ear­lier times, par­ents have to de­cide how much screen/phone time should be al­lowed, where and when it is al­lowed, whether the con­tent is ap­pro­pri­ate and whether the peo­ple their chil­dren spend time with are de­sir­able friends.

Dur­ing my ex­pe­ri­ence as a 70-plus woman—mother, grand­mother, ca­reer woman and re­tiree—I’ve wit­nessed amaz­ing changes in tech­nol­ogy. My life has spanned the years from lis­ten­ing to “The Lone Ranger” on the ra­dio, through the birth of tra­di­tional TV and ca­ble, and into an age in which I stream Net­flix and Ama­zon Prime movies as a mat­ter of course.

Twice-daily postal de­liv­er­ies mor­phed into email and text. Voice com­mu­ni­ca­tions went from di­al­ing “0” to con­nect longdis­tance calls to In­ter­net call­ing and voice mail. The com­puter and mo­bile phone have be­come com­mu­ni­ca­tions de­vices for Skype and Face­Time video calls. I’ve worked with com­put­ers that filled a large room and now have a much more pow­er­ful one on my wrist. I’ve had decades of ex­pe­ri­ence cop­ing with tech­nol­ogy and chil­dren and grand­chil­dren—and it’s never easy to find the right bal­ance.

The press is full of sto­ries about chil­dren lock­ing them­selves in their rooms and play­ing video games for hours or meet­ing un­de­sir­able peo­ple in chat rooms. Tech­nol­ogy can wreck mar­riages when adults get ad­dicted to on­line gam­bling or pornog­ra­phy.

For some, there’s a sense that tech­nol­ogy is a threat that ex­poses peo­ple to dan­ger­ous things. The re­al­ity is that there have al­ways been dan­ger­ous things in the world and it’s al­ways been up to par­ents to ed­u­cate them­selves

and their chil­dren about pos­si­ble pit­falls. To­day’s par­ents are in­creas­ingly tech savvy and can ask the right ques­tions to make them­selves com­fort­able with how their chil­dren are spend­ing their tech time.

It was never re­ally pos­si­ble to pro­tect chil­dren from all the bad things in the world; it’s just that all those things are so much more public. That’s why par­ents need to es­tab­lish a re­la­tion­ship of open­ness and trust with their chil­dren.

And the ques­tion of bal­ance is not only about chil­dren. Par­ents set role mod­els. If adults spend din­ner­time star­ing at smart­phone screens in­stead of in­ter­act­ing with fam­ily mem­bers, it’s hard to ex­pect chil­dren to be­have dif­fer­ently. With any new tech­nol­ogy, it takes time to es­tab­lish so­cial norms and what is con­sid­ered “ac­cept­able.”

Some fam­i­lies think the din­ner ta­ble should be a “tech­free zone” and when peo­ple gather at the ta­ble they put their phones on silent and leave them in a bas­ket. The im­por­tant part of this is that the fam­ily has es­tab­lished an un­der­stand­ing of what con­sti­tutes ac­cept­able be­hav­ior.

For fam­i­lies with­out chil­dren or whose chil­dren have grown and moved away, es­tab­lish­ing un­der­stand­ings about tech­nol­ogy use is equally im­por­tant. Chil­dren are not the only ones whose use of tech­nol­ogy can lead to neg­a­tive be­hav­iors. There are equally dis­rup­tive adult be­hav­iors that are in­ter­twined with In­ter­net or smart­phone use. The prob­lem is not tech­nol­ogy

per se, but its “al­ways on” na­ture and per­va­sive­ness that can lead astray peo­ple who have ad­dic­tive ten­den­cies. Whether it’s gam­ing or pornog­ra­phy or even work­ing— to the ex­clu­sion of all other ac­tiv­i­ties—tech­nol­ogy pro­vides the mech­a­nism for neg­a­tive in­ter­ac­tions.

One of the ben­e­fits tech­nol­ogy has pro­vided em­ploy­ees is the flex­i­bil­ity to leave work for im­por­tant things such as a doc­tor’s ap­point­ment and then fin­ish their work at home. Tech­nol­ogy lets work­ers telecom­mute and spend the time they used to be driv­ing with their fam­ily in­stead. How­ever, this ca­pa­bil­ity has a down­side, as the bound­ary be­tween home and

work en­vi­ron­ments has be­come in­creas­ingly por­ous.

Some em­ploy­ers ex­pect em­ploy­ees to re­spond to emails and re­quests at any time. If this be­comes bur­den­some or starts cre­at­ing stress within one’s fam­ily, it may be time to think about whether to ex­press that to the man­ager. If al­ways need­ing to be “avail­able” is ac­tu­ally a con­di­tion of em­ploy­ment, it may be time to ex­plore whether there are other jobs avail­able with­out such in­va­sive ex­pec­ta­tions.

Tech­nol­ogy can also en­able adults in the house­hold to share chores that are part of fam­ily liv­ing. Mo­bile ap­pli­ca­tions such as shared shop­ping or to-do lists can lessen the bur­den on one per­son of do­ing all the shop­ping or main­te­nance tasks that re­quire at­ten­tion. Openly dis­cussing ex­pec­ta­tions can be crit­i­cal to suc­cess.

Some fam­i­lies have ag­ing par­ents who live at a dis­tance and feel iso­lated from younger mem­bers of the fam­ily. Video chat and so­cial me­dia keep se­niors in touch, bring­ing them up to date on an adult child’s lat­est pro­mo­tion or grand­child’s new base­ball trophy. Some tech­nolo­gies en­able fam­ily mem­bers of mul­ti­ple gen­er­a­tions to en­gage in games and com­pe­ti­tions. Whether it is “Words with Friends” or who has the most con­sec­u­tive days of ex­er­cis­ing, these ac­tiv­i­ties can en­gage a wide range of fam­ily mem­bers no mat­ter where they are.

While there’s a wide­spread be­lief that older peo­ple are tech­nol­ogy averse, that gap has been shrink­ing as baby boomers age. In 2017, the Pew Re­search Cen­ter es­ti­mated that about 42 per­cent of adults 65 and older own smart­phones, and home broad­band adop­tion among this group has also risen sub­stan­tially. Tech­nol­ogy adop­tion varies greatly by house­hold in­come and ed­u­ca­tional at­tain­ment— fully 87 per­cent of se­niors liv­ing in house­holds earn­ing $75,000 or more a year say they have home broad­band.

Bal­anc­ing tech­nol­ogy is like achiev­ing bal­ance in any as­pect of our lives. We need to as­sess our cur­rent sit­u­a­tion and de­cide if we want some things to be dif­fer­ent. We need to take into ac­count the other peo­ple with whom we in­ter­act and live. Tech­nolo­gies, peo­ple and sit­u­a­tions change. It’s not a des­ti­na­tion, but rather an on­go­ing process.

Sandy Teger lives on Sani­bel and is a part-time tech­nol­ogy con­sul­tant at Sys­tem Dy­nam­ics Inc. She’s also a grand­mother of four, or­ga­nizes the an­nual Sani­bel/Cap­tiva Heart Walk and is a gar­den and wine en­thu­si­ast.

With any new tech­nol­ogy it takes time to es­tab­lish so­cial norms and what is con­sid­ered “ac­cept­able.”

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