Plugged-In Reduces Family Time: Parenting in a Digital World: by Michele Borba

Our children are called the “Net Generation,” and rightly so. Digital media is no longer a luxury but a mainstream in their  lives. After all, this is the first group born into the era of iPods, iPads, cell phones, text messaging, skype, podcasts, and blogs. And they are plugging in.

The average American eight to 18 year-old is now plugged into some kind of digital media seven and a half hours a day.

Reports show that youth online time is steadily increasing by 38 percent in just five years.

Let’s face it, technology is transforming our kids’ lives. But what affect will all that plugged-in time have?

The truth is our children’s engagement in the digital world is so new that researchers are still unclear as to how it will play out in their lives. And there lies the reason we need to tune in closer. New reports about our Net Generation reveal a danger that may be overlooked
Overlooked dangers for Gen Text

A report that I shared last week the TODAY Show by the USC Annenberg Center for the Digital Future Survey shows a possible concerning downslide to technology. A small but growing number of parents are realizing that all that digital world has a unexpected and negative outcome.

Plugged in time is reducing our children’s face-to-face time with real live human beings. At stake: the strength of our bond with our children, strong family interactions, and the development of empathy. Child experts and parents alike are now realizing that one of the biggest dangers for the Net Generation may well be the diminishment of the parental-child relationship.

Beware: Research confirms that the more time kids spend plugged in the more likely there are to report a lower attachment to parents or difficulty forming that crucial relationship or emotional bond.

The fact is kids don’t learn crucial life and character skills such as empathy, communication, emotional intelligence, sharing, friendship-making, leadership, social skills, conflict resolution, listening, compassion, tolerance (the list goes on but I think you get my drift) by facing screens. Kids don’t acquire moral, social and emotional development from plugging in. And kids do not strengthen their relationships with their family when they attached to a digital device.

Remember: It’s not just what are kids are plugging in that matters but what they are tuning out of! If the answer is to their their family and friends, then BEWARE!

Strengthening Face to Face Connections in A Digital World

Your parenting goal is to ensure that you are the primary influence and filter in your child’s life. While there are dangers in a too plugged-in world, there also are solutions to ensure family interactions aren’t jeopardized.

Last week I chatted on the TODAY show with Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb about the challenges of parenting kids in a digital world. Here are tips I shared to strengthen your family’s face-to-face interaction, manage your time together, and ensure that your child’s social and moral development aren’t affected–despite the digital world.

Stay educated. Keeping abreast with what is new in technology and what our kids are into will certainly raise our chances of raising the Net Generation to be physically and emotionally healthy. Here are just a few ways:

Ways to Stay Educated About the New Digital World

Read the directions on each new digital purchase.

Have discussions with other parents about the digital world.

Attend workshops offered by your child’s school or the local police department.

Regularly assess reports in the news or online.

Ask your kids to teach you how to use the new digital device.

Sit down and watch or play that computer game with your child.

Learn to use what your child is using.

Get into your child’s digital world. Wii console and familyConnecting with your kids  via their favored technology to communicate (such as Iming, texting or cell) allows you to stay in their world while nurturing your relationship. Kids are always more open to our involvement when we enter their world instead of insisting that they joins ours. Play the video game with your child. Ask your child to teach you to text. Skype as a family with the grandparents. Watch a favorite TV show together. But don’t forget to also turn and chat about what you’re doing!

Assess your family’s current plugged in habits. Over the next few days do an informal reality check of your family. Note the extent each family member is currently “plugged in” and to which type of technology (computer, video games, ipod, television). Some families set a post-it on each technology outlet to serve as an informal time card to jot the time the device was turned on and off. Identify those ideal times during the day such as the dinner hour, for face-to-face interactions. Is technology hindering those moments?  For instance: Are kids watching TV instead of tuning into dad? Are they texting instead of listening to the bedtime story? Also check your family’s cell phones, texts and tweet logs. Add up the minutes. How much time is your family plugged in? Do you need to reduce that time? If so, when?

Turn off TV when not watching: 64% of 8-18 year olds surveyed say the TV is usually on during family meals [Kaiser Family Foundation]

Create “sacred” unplugged times. Set specific times to remain “unplugged.” Ask your kids for input. Prime family times might be family meal, those fire-side discussions, family meeting, or at an outing which involves other family members. The aim is to strike a balance between plugged and unplugged that works for your family. Then announce those “sacred times.”

The 3 T Rule: Set a family rule: “No Texting, Taping or Talking”–on cell–during our family times. Extend that rule to also include “Whenever a human being is in your presence and wants to chat.”

Turn off your cell! Make sure you follow your own digital rules. Kids say that family meals, school activities, sporting events and after school (pick up and welcoming connectors) are times when they are most bothered by their parents’ networking behaviors. Turn off your cell phone during those times!

Don’t be media-lenient. Studies show that children whose parents set clear technology rules -spend less time with media than their peers. In fact only 52% of 8-18 year olds say their parents set rules about what they’re allowed to do on computer.

Survey: Parents Set Too Few Media Rules

Relatively few 7-12th graders say their parents establish any rules about talking or texting on a cell phone

27% of tweens/teens have family rules about amount of time they can spend talking on the phone

14% of tweens/teen say they have rules about the number of texts allowed to send

-Kaiser Family Foundation

Reduce technology distractions during family time. Don’t put a TV in your kids’ bedrooms where they can retreat from family life. Turn the television off when no one is watching. Turn on your phone’s answering machine during sacred family times. Leave the computer in a central family spot where you can connect you’re your kids even for a short backrub. Let the off-switch work to create quality family interactions.

Turn the TV off: Research finds that leaving the TV when unwatched is a communication barrio especially to younger kids or those who are more easily distracted.

Focus on face-to-face interaction. One-on one communication enhances the parent-child relationship; boosts communication and allows parents to model (which is the best way to teach any skill) those essential interpersonal social and emotional skills our tech-dependent kids need. Take time for those crucial informal chats! Discussion topics are endless (if you’re needing some). A hint: use your children’s world: Clip interesting articles from the newspaper. Discuss the new movie reviews. Debate who is going to win that big game or the election (and who really should). Go online and peruse your kids’ school website to chat about those upcoming activities.

Use the “eye color rule”: To help encourage eye contact, face-to-face interaction and tuning into one another enforce one family rule: “Always look at the color of the talker’s eye.”

Add friends to your kids’ schedule. Friends do play an important role in our children’s social and emotional development. Friends are crucial to our children’s self-esteem and the development of social skills. Check your child’s calendar and make sure “be with friend” is added to the agenda. And when your child is with pal, make it an “unplugged play date.”

Stress “WE” vs “Me. Find ways for your family—and particularly your child – to do community service and empathize others not themselves. Work at a shelter. Deliver gently-used possession to charity. Pitch in together to help the elderly neighbor rake her leaves. Also point out other people’s feelings And ask often: How does the other person feel? All are important ways to help your child start focusing on the feelings of others.

Stay Influential

There is no doubt that technology will help shape our children’s attitudes, behaviors and character, but remember: Fifty years of solid child development research confirms that the most powerful source of psychological impact on children are the strength of their relationship with their parents. For that there are no shortcuts or computer programs: it’s only  achieved by applying that timeless, unplugged, good ol parenting strategy of quality face-to-face communication with our kids.


Originally posted: February 4th, 2011


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