Children and technology – love it or hate it, smart devices are in your children’s lives and they’re here to stay. Offering many great opportunities for more engaged learning, technology can help a child’s progression in subjects that traditionally have had a reputation for struggling to engross pupils, such as math or physics. However, technology has another shameful perk. Although we hate to admit it, smart devices also act as a digital babysitter, keeping our children temporarily occupied and quiet. Parenting is tough – just getting a free hour to prepare dinner can feel often feel near impossible. The lure of just popping a tablet in your child’s hands is understandably tempting. But is something that so easily pacifies a child too good to be true? With 5-16-year-olds now spending an average of over 6 hours a day looking at a mobile phone or screen, worrying patterns are starting to emerge between children and technology.
The amount of time children are spending on smart devices isn’t just concerning parents any more – scientists and governments across the world are now taking an active interest in the effects of this behavior. Studies so far have found that too much time spent on smart devices, and the Internet they access, is causing problems in several areas of children’s development:
Many parents have also report increased behavioral issues after their child has spent a long period of time on a smart device, with one dad reporting his son became almost demonic with his tech obsession. From the blue glare of the screen through to the content they are engaging with, there is strong evidence of a connection between prolonged periods on smart devices and the negative influences on a child’s well-being. But with this being such a modern issue, how are parents meant to navigate their way through it?
Firstly, it’s important for parents to realize that this isn’t an issue just affecting children. Adults on average are now spending a staggering 9 hours 22 minutes a day looking at a screen, a third of which is spent on our phones. We all know that fuzzy-headed feeling, when you’ve gazed gormlessly at your phone for too long. And we’ve all witnessed that zoned-out expression that other people get when they are staring at a screen – it’s not a good look. Part of the reason we have a love/hate relationship with our phones is because, despite their impressive capabilities, they have the ability to instantly turn us into a zombie. You go on to check your Facebook and then before you know it half an hour is gone, you’re watching strange videos from the depths of Youtube, and you have no idea how to got there. So why does tech have this effect on us? Sadly the reason is as scary as you would imagine. Back in 2007, when smart devices and apps were beginning to blossom, a class of 75 students at Stanford University were selected to research whether technology could be used to “persuade people to take certain actions”. Within a month they had created the formula for phone addiction. Many of the students from this class then went on to work for some of the largest names in the technology industry, being hired specifically to make apps more addictive. So, it’s not in your head – sometimes it is genuinely difficult to put down your phone. And if you think it’s tough separating yourself from your smart devices, imagine how difficult it must be for a child who has less awareness of the consequences of their actions.
Most parents are feeling at a loss on how to handle this modern epidemic. If we can’t discipline ourselves to spend less time staring at a screen, how are we going to get our children to do it? Removing screens entirely could leave your child feeling socially, and even academically, isolated. Some parents take the same approach towards tech as they do with other treats; giving screen time as a reward for good behavior and taking it away as a punishment. Whilst this could help children learn to both work for and appreciate these cutting-edge luxuries, many argue that this approach could also just reinforce the idea that “tech is good” and “no tech is bad”. This mentality could lead to them prioritizing playing with smart devices over other more meaningful activities. It could also cause them to resent anything that takes them away from technology, such as spending time with family. Another worry is this leading to an unhealthy attachment to smart devices – seeking comfort in technology rather than in their relationships or their own self-confidence. For example, an unhealthy relationship with food, developed as a child, is proven to link to comforting eating problems as an adult. If a child is always given ice cream whenever they are feeling sad, they will soon start to subconsciously make a link between ice cream and a cure to unhappiness. This can lead to them instinctively turn to food whenever they want emotional or physical comfort. Many worry this reward/punishment treatment of indulgences could lead to similar attachments issues with smart devices. As you can see, even one idea of how to approach the children and technology problem can bring back a thousand counter arguments. It’s no wonder parents are not knowing where to turn.
Although smart devices are a new addition to the home, the core problem of how to provide your child with a healthy life, and to teach them self-discipline and awareness, is definitely not new. If you speak to your own parents or grandparents, they will tell you all about the parenting struggles of their generation. From the influence of rock and roll on teenagers in the 1950’s through to gel pens in the 1990’s, two things are always consistent – children’s love of the latest trend, and panicked parents asking, “how much is too much?”. But the important thing is that the world continues to move, and parenting continues to adapt. So despite appearing like a unique modern issue, we do have previous generations of parenting struggles we can draw inspiration from. Focusing on the core issues, like providing a healthy, balanced and varied life for your child, rather than fixating solely on the technology element of the problem, could be the starting point to tackling this issue. However, children will be children. In an ideal world, when you ask your children to focus on their homework they would put down their phones. But sadly, this is not an ideal world, and sometimes, no matter how lovely your child is, the lure of the screen is just too much.
The good news is that parents don’t have to fight the screen time battle alone. Over the past few years devices have started popping up that give parents a helping hand in limiting their children's time on technology. Our very own network security device, Fingbox, has the ability to block intruder devices from accessing your Internet from the click of an app. After some serious demand from our Fingbox users, we then developed this technology and added parental controls to the box. These include the Internet Pause tool, whichblocks your child’s device from the Internet, either on demand or for a set amount of time, but still allows them to communicate with other devices on the network i.e. print their homework from the laptop to the wireless printer. Fingbox also has a scheduled InternetPause feature, meaning you can set daily schedules of when you want your child’s devices to have access to the Internet. So if you have a child that sneaks onto their Xbox after they've gone to bed, you can set up a schedule to automatically block the Xbox's access to the Internet at their set bedtime. In addition to this, you can also set up alerts on your children’s devices , letting you know they arrived home safely when you yourself are away. These sorts of tools allow you to easily and calmly set boundaries for your children, without having to result to the stress of physically dragging a device out of their hands. A consistent weekly Internet-access schedule can also help your children learn to both manage their own time, and pro-actively find enjoyment away from the screen. You love your children, and you are always going to worry whether or not you are doing right by them, but its important to remember you are not alone in facing this challenge. Parents across the world are in the same boat. Check out how Fingbox's parental control tools could help you get your children off their screens,