Breaking the Technology Habit: 4 Ways to Help Our Kids
The use of mobile devices such as tablets and cellular phones has increased at an exponential rate for adults in recent years creating a level of dependency on these devices that will not be easy to break should we decide to do so.
Is that really so bad, though? While technology enables us to more efficiently manage our increasingly complex lives, we haven’t really asked – how does this dependency on technology impact our children in terms of their own physical development and welfare?
Our kids are increasingly seeing mobile devices as a necessity for being connected to peers, gaming, and other aspects of the outside world. Concurrently, the number of hours spent hunched over speed texting and posting has increased significantly. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, kids today spend a whopping average of seven hours per day staring at the screens of laptops, tablets, and mobile devices.
While moderate use of technology can benefit children helping them engage their minds, there is little to no active physical engagement. The combination of surplus technology activity and limited physical activity results in a tendency toward obesity for many children. According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination, nearly 30 percent of children between 3 and 11 are obese.
From a kinesiological point of view, when a child (or even an adult for that matter) uses a hand-held mobile device, the following is taking place:
· The cervical spine is flexing.
· The thoracic spine is flexing.
· The shoulders are rounding.
· The pelvis is tucking.
The cumulative effect of these actions can potentially result in cervical abnormalities that predispose individuals to conditions such as a headache, neck pain, temporomandibular disorders, vertebral body disorders, alterations in the length and strength of soft-tissue, and scapula and shoulder dyskinesia.
So, that’s the bad news. Now—how do we combat it?
One of the first steps is understanding our dependency. Parents can default to mobile use as a means of giving ourselves a break from the chaos that surrounds us, organizing our mess, keeping up with necessary connections—any number of reasons. Figure out what the need is and set limits for yourself to ensure that you are sending the right messages to your children.
Kids default to mobile use because of boredom. Let’s think about our culture for a moment. The mobile phone and/or tablet has become the “shut up” toy of the decade. Visit any restaurant or grocery store and chances are you’ll see several kids with a phone in their hands, eyes glued to the screen, mesmerized and quiet. When parents offer this device to bored children in virtually every venue as a means of entertainment, it does not take long for children to demand it when they feel boredom creeping up.
Perhaps our focus as parents needs to undergo a shift, moving from offering a mobile placebo to true engagement and stimulation. Here are a few recommendations to make this shift a little less painful, because believe me—I’m in the trenches with you.
1. Set limits for when and how long kids can use their mobile devices.
2. Disallow the use of phones, iPad, and laptops in bed, as studies show it disrupts sleep patterns.
3. Discuss as a family and allow input from your children as you set up systems to earn screen time. An example might be active 6 = screen time 1, where 6 hours of activity earns 1 hour of screen time. The goal would be for the child to get accustomed to activity and find more enjoyment in it that they would crave screen time much less. Older children might be interested in learning that prolonged viewing of a screen releases the chemical dopamine, which is a feel-good hormone that actually makes them crave more screen time. Less screen time will make them crave it less!
4. Be the example. Set limits and parameters for screen time. Parents need to break the habit loop if they want their kids to get off their devices.