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Parents’ Biggest Enemies – Technology

Parents’ Biggest Enemies – Technology

Would you drive down the interstate at 90 mph with your toddler and baby in the front seat, with no car seats, and unbuckled? Of course not. Parents need to look at the real dangers of the internet in the same way. The dangers of the internet and technology with our kids are not as physical as much as they are mental and emotional. We need to take precautions, much like we would with car seats in the vehicle, to ensure that our children are safe on the web. We are as much responsible for our children’s’ emotional and mental well being as we are their physical well being. Technology poses risks that are not necessarily brand new to us, but they weren’t around when most of us were kids.

Most of us raising kids today did not grow up in this era of advanced technology. Our version of technology was a digital watch or the original Nintendo. With the internet being at the tips of our fingertips at any moment of the day, our children are also growing up in this new era of being connected to the web and other people all the time. This can be a scary thought, because there are some frightening people in this world and dangers on the internet that we don’t want our children to be exposed to or involved. There are some practical ways that you can protect your child, as well as some conversation points you need to have with your children in regard to technology. Below are those tips.

Limiting Time To Prevent the Disintegration of Family

Technology is a real force in the home. If you don’t set reasonable limits, it will naturally take over your family time. Whether it is television, video games, or surfing the web, it all takes time away from the family. When time with the family becomes scarce, there become a distance between parent and child. Children need quality time as well as quantity time. If technology, whether by use of parent or by child, takes priority over family relationships there is a problem.

The Huffington Post reported on this issue of family being disrupted and even destroyed by the overuse of technology in the home. The following was stated in their article:[1]

Rather than hugging, playing, rough housing, and conversing with children, parents are increasingly resorting to providing their children with more TV, video games, and the latest iPads and cell phone devices, creating a deep and irreversible chasm between parent and child.

Set limits that are appropriate

There should be limits set in every household for technology usage. If anything goes policy, then technology will likely win. There are risks to overuse of technology including sleep problems, interference with homework being completed, taking time away from family interactions, reduced physical activity (which can lead to obesity), and even potential addiction to technology. Here are some tips on how to set limits:

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  • No technology in bedrooms. Tech including smart phones, televisions, or game consoles is not allowed in bedrooms of anyone who is not an adult.
  • No technology at meal time. This includes both parents and children. Set your phones in a basket it another room, so that they are not even visible. Allow for meal time to be a time to connect with one another and not to be a time when everyone is continually checking their smart phone or glancing at a television in the background.
  • Set screen time limits. Set specific daily or weekly limits for your children. This is easier with some devices (such as the Kindle Fire for kids which I use for my own children), as parents can set the time limit on the device. When they reach the screen time limit the device locks.
  • Have specific rules that are written for your children regarding technology. These become your house rules for technology. Once they are able to read, the rules should be written and posted. Kids of all ages need structure and they appreciate knowing the do’s and the don’ts of the household. Technology is no exception, so make your household rules clear in this area.
  • Have consequences for breaking the house rules regarding technology. Most often the easiest and most effective punishment is taking away time and/or access to a device.

Keep Monitor of the Content

The internet is knowledge at your fingertips, but it can also be a cesspool of illegal, illicit, and immoral activity if you go to the wrong sites or engage with the wrong people. If you can get it on the internet, then just think, your kids can get access to it too. There are some ways you can prevent your child from being exposed to bad content. You can also help reduce their likelihood to be exposed to or influenced by people that pose an emotional, mental, or physical threat to your child.

Devices that can help filter content

There are a variety of devices that parents can utilize to filter content for kids in their home. One of the more popular choices is the Disney Circle. There are other software and hardware options on the market. Do your research and find one that best fits your family and your needs.

Don’t expect a filter device to do your job. You still need to monitor what your children are viewing online. You need to go to the websites that they go to, so you can check it out for yourself. No filtering device is foolproof. They can still get access to things you would not like them to view, so you have to be an aware parent even while utilizing a filtering agent.

Sex trafficking can start online

One of the real dangers for teens online is the exposure to people that mean to use them and harm them, especially for monetary or sexual gain. Internet Safety 101 discussed this topic and explained how teens can be lured into a sex trafficking situation:[2]

Much like the grooming tactics employed by sexual predators, sex traffickers lure their target into an online relationship, with the ultimate goal of meeting in person. Traffickers use a deliberate process to identify and recruit their victims. It happens in three main phases: Scouting, manipulating and trapping. Victims are often showered with love, romance and promises of a better life. Others are lured in with false promises of a job, or given expensive gifts. The end game of the trafficker (or pimp) however, is to force or manipulate their target into prostitution.

Sex trafficking is a real problem here in the United States. It is now the second fastest growing criminal industry. Drugs is still at the top of the list, but sex trafficking is now in second place. The need for parents to protect their teens is real. Prevention starts first at home, by having good relationships with your kids and teens so they can talk to you about what is happening in their life. The second component of that protection is to monitor their internet usage.

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A transparent view of the kid’s devices

The policy with a child in your home, of any age, whether they are 6 or 16 is that they allow parents to have all passwords and view-ability of their electronic devices. This means that if a child in your home has a smart phone, you as a parent, have the right to commandeer that device and look into their activity at any given moment of time. Does it mean you need to be jerky about it? No, of course not, as it will hinder your relationship. You do however, need to make it known before the device is even purchased, that you, as the parent, have the responsibility to check up on the activities that your child is engaged in online for their own protection.

For children in the household who do not yet have smart phones a good policy for online usage is to have it only allowed in a certain area of the home such as the living room or kitchen. Set up the laptop or computer so that it is visible as you walk by the child when they are online. This way you know what they are looking at while online and can glance over and monitor their activity at anytime.

A conversation could save their life

Kids and teens lack real world experience and they are naïve. They often feel invincible. Most honestly believe that they can handle any situation that can come their way. If they meet up with the wrong person in an abandoned parking lot and they have a gun to their head, they won’t be able to “handle” that situation. They will be in a world of hurt and in way over their head.

Parents need to sit down and have a chat with their pre-teens and teens to discuss the potential dangers that are on the internet to prevent their child from meeting the wrong people online and getting in over their head. It is appropriate to explain to them that there are bad people out there who mean to harm. These strangers can portray themselves online as a potential friend, using fake photos and aliases, to lure teens into trusting them. Your job as a parent is to monitor their devices to help prevent contact with the wrong people.

As a parent, you should also set rules about which apps and social media sites they are allowed to be on. The goal is to protect your child and get them through their youth as unscathed as possible. It doesn’t mean you bury your head in the sand and ban all technology, because that’s not a logical solution and it does not help prepare them to be young adults who can function in today’s world. You do need to help prepare them to protect themselves online and use technology in a safe and emotionally healthy manner.

Here are some things you should discuss with your pre-teen and teens in regard to technology:

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  • What you put out on the internet is out there forever.  This is especially important to recognize with photos. Things can be deleted, but they cannot be taken back. They are out there in cyber world.
  • The portrayal of lives on social media makes everyone look happy, fun, and successful. People, in general, only put the good parts of their life on social media. It can make teens and young adults feel like they don’t measure up to the lives of others. They need to understand that what they are seeing on social media is only a small sliver of the lives of others and it is almost always the best sliver.
  • Typing things into a screen makes it easier to say things you wouldn’t say in person. In heated moments of anger or passion people can type things that they soon deeply regret. Teach your child to set the device aside if they feel like saying or typing something that they may regret. If it needs to be said, it can wait a few minutes or a few hours for the emotions to calm, so that rational and logical thought can lead the way rather than emotions.
  • Friendships online do not replace real life relationships. They needs to have real, face-to-face interactions with their friends in order to have meaningful relationships.
  • Talk about reputation and privacy. Just because something is happening in their life does not mean the entire world or all of their social media friends need to know about it.
  • Stranger danger is real online. Not all profiles are legit. In addition to the dangerous people entangled in the world of sex trafficking there are also people out there who are known as Catfish.  A Catfish is a person who is pretending to be someone online who they are not.

A contract

Once you have established rules that you want your teen to follow in regard to their technology usage, in particular with a smart phone, you can develop a contract.

Before you let your child or teen take ownership of the phone under your watchful care, you write up a contract with the rules for usage. If you don’t want them to use snap chat or other specific apps, then put that in the contract. Keep in mind that new apps are always being released, so any apps that they want to download need to be approved by you, as the parent, first. Go over the contract and before they sign they must be in agreement with following these rules, or the device is taken away.

It is about protecting them emotionally, mentally, and physically. Present the contract in a way that helps them see you are being their protector, not the enemy. Treat the contract and conversations about their technology usage in a kind, open, sincere, and heartfelt manner. Don’t approach the topic with an iron fist, or you are more likely find yourself up against a rebellious teen.

Common Sense Media

A great resource for parents on age appropriateness of apps, media, technology, and more is Common Sense Media. Here is the mission statement from their website:

Common Sense is the leading independent nonprofit organization dedicated to helping kids thrive in a world of media and technology. We empower parents, teachers, and policymakers by providing unbiased information, trusted advice, and innovative tools to help them harness the power of media and technology as a positive force in all kids’ lives.

You can go to their free website and find a plethora of information on technology and media as it pertains to kids. For example, if you are unsure about whether a particular app is appropriate for your teen you can enter the name of the app in their search bar. Go to the page for the app and you can find reviews from both parents and teens. Even more helpful is the “what parents need to know” segment on the page for each app. This helps parents make informed decisions about apps that they may otherwise know nothing about.

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You Can Just Say No

Your kid does not need all the newest technology, games, phones, or devices. When it comes to smart phones, the longer you can hold out the better. It is like opening Pandora’s box once they get a smart phone and there is no turning back.

The pressure to fit in is real though, and it becomes more difficult for parents to say no to the smart phone the older their teens become. There is a campaign called Wait Until 8th that is encouraging all parents to sign a pledge to wait until their child is in 8th grade or age 14 to get a smart phone. This campaign outlines great reasons for holding off on the smart phone purchase including smart phones being a distraction from academics, they are addiction, they impair sleep, they interfere with relationships, and more. Check out their website above to learn more about the campaign and why you should consider holding off on a smart phone for your teen until they are in 8th grade.

Teach Them to Be Smart Online

Even with all the precautions such as filters, time limits, and monitoring apps, the best way to keep your child safe online is to teach them to actively think critically about their choices and how to be safe online. They should be aware of the do’s and don’t and your household policies regarding technology.

Teaching responsibility with technology is of great importance and will help them make better choices in the long run. Making responsible choices with technology and the internet should not be a one time conversation in your household. It needs to be an on going conversation, as technology is always changing.

Featured photo credit: Picjumbo via picjumbo.com

Reference

[1] Huffington Post: The Impact of Technology on the Developing Child
[2] Internet Safety 101: Sex Trafficking

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Dr. Magdalena Battles

A Doctor of Psychology with specialties include children, family relationships, domestic violence, and sexual assault

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Published on September 21, 2020

The Danger of Overscheduling Your Kids

The Danger of Overscheduling Your Kids

I am a parent of three children aged 8, 6, and 6. Like many parents, I struggle with knowing the right balance of activities for them. I don’t want my kids to miss out on opportunities to play sports and participate in activities that will enhance their lives and help them grow as individuals. However, I also don’t want them to become overscheduled kids, to the extent that they get worn out and stressed out.

There is a balance in providing activities for our children and overscheduling them. The tendency for the latter is prevalent these days. Our lives — and the lives of our kids — are increasingly overscheduled and overworked. Thus, we need to understand the dangers of having overscheduled kids and how to prevent this from happening in our own families.

What’s Wrong with Overscheduling Your Kids?

1. Overscheduling Can Burn Out Our Kids

When our kids are on the go and scheduled to the max from a young age, their potential to get burned out before reaching high school is quite high. The New York Times reported some research on burnout and found that burnout with kids relates to their workload, along with their parents’ propensity to experience it.[1] This means that overworked children are more likely to get burned out than others. Similarly, overscheduled parents tend to have overscheduled kids more often than not.

Burnout

When a person is burned out, they feel overwhelmed and exhausted by what others expect them to get done daily. Children who are involved in too many activities with little to no downtime have a high chance of experiencing burnout. When parents place too many expectations on their kids, they also have an increased potential to burn out.

If you get the sense that your child is feeling overworked or overwhelmed by their daily activities, you need to know which ones can be cut back. If they have too many activities outside of school work, for instance, then that is one area that likely needs to be downsized.

An overworked child will present various symptoms like moodiness, irritability, crankiness, despondency, anger, stomach aches, headaches, rebellion, etc. Cutting back their activities will help to relieve their stress and reduce the said burnout signs. If your kid has severe burnout symptoms, though, then professional help from a pediatrician or therapist for children should be sought.

Downtime

Downtime is key to helping relieve burnout. If children don’t have free time during the day to have any rest, they are more likely to become burned out than others. Downtime means unorganized free time to do what they enjoy or relax. Cut back your kids’ extra-curricular activities if they don’t have downtime in their schedule.

Here are more tips on creating downtime for the children: How to Create Downtime for Kids.

2. Overscheduling Kills Playtime and Creativity

Kids need time to be kids. When their schedules are filled every day with activities like organized ballet, soccer, and music lessons, and they only take a break for dinner and bedtime, then they are overscheduled. They need to have free time after school to relax and play. When they don’t have that and proceed from one scheduled activity to the next, they are missing out on playtime.

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Playtime is crucial to child development. If they cannot get enough time to play, then their ability to develop their creativity decreases. The Genius of Play explains that there are six major developmental benefits that children get from playtime:[2]

  • Creativity
  • Social skill development
  • Cognitive development
  • Physical development (i.e., balance, coordination)
  • Communication skills
  • Emotional development

If children don’t have time to play because they are always on-the-go, then they are missing out on the developmental benefits of play.

Children need downtime after school so that they can unwind, play, and decompress. Research from the Journal of Early Childhood Development and Care showed that kids need to play to deal with anxiety, stress, and worry.[3] Playtime provides an outlet for them to manage these emotions in a healthy manner and helps with the development of their creativity.

Children need free time to play every day. Fifteen minutes at recess is not enough. They need time for it after school, at home, outside of the constraints of scheduled activities.

Solution

Ensure that your child has time to play after school. This is especially important for young children who greatly benefit from playing. Limit organized activities so that your child is not scheduled every day and can play after school. If they have an activity every hour, then it doesn’t allow for playtime.

3. Overscheduling Causes Stress and Pressure

When kids are overscheduled because their parents are so intent on having high-performing children, then they will feel stressed. Parental pressure upon a child to do well in academics, music, multiple sports, and religious studies is a reality for many kids. The children scheduled in all of these activities can often feel stress and pressure, especially when they are expected to succeed in all of them.

It is hard enough for kids to be good or succeed at a single activity. For a parent to overschedule their child and expect superior performance in various activities, that is a recipe for a stressed-out child.

Solution

Parents should not schedule kids in multiple activities with the expectation of superior performance in all. They should also consider the child’s interests. If the child is not interested in one activity, then they are likely to feel stressed and pressured to do it.

For example, if Suzy has been taking piano lessons for four years, and she no longer enjoys learning the instrument, then perhaps it is time to take a break. If Suzy is forced to continue with the lessons and daily practices, then she may feel pressured to continue performing simply because her mom wants her to do so. This can lead Suzy to resent her mother for forcing her to keep on doing something that she doesn’t like anymore.

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Let your child help in selecting the activities that they get involved in. Also, put a cap on the number of activities they are doing. If they have a different activity every weekday, then they are likely overscheduled.

Kids need downtime and time to play, too. If they need to do a new activity every day, that downtime is diminished, considering the time at home or outside of the scheduled activities is limited. This limited time is then filled with homework, mealtime, and bedtime prep. Eliminating activities several days a week will allow the child to have some time to play freely. The younger the kid is, the more time they need playtime. As they get older, they can take on more activities; however, under the age of 13, playing daily is a must for children.

4. Healthy Eating Falls by the Wayside

Any parent who’s busy chauffeuring multiple kids to different activities after school knows how tempting fast food can become. Fast food, however, leads to less healthy food choices. French fries and hamburgers — the staple combo in most fast-food joints — cannot help your child thrive nutritionally.

When families are overscheduled, they tend to go for easy and quick meals. When rushed, many of us make poor food choices because we aren’t taking the time to think about a meal’s nutritional value and a balanced diet for our children.

5. Family Mealtimes Become a Thing of the Past

When we are taking our kids to sports and other extra-curricular activities that fall during dinnertime, the family often misses out on sharing a meal at home.

This is true in our own home. There are certain nights of the week that we have practices, and so we either eat together early (if possible) or eat separately, depending on what our schedules allow.

There is so much value in having family dinners. It provides an opportunity for family members to discuss their day, including their work and school activities. It is a time when technology is set aside so that everyone can truly focus on communicating with one another and catching up on what is happening in each other’s lives. When a kid’s activities are scheduled every evening, then that family time at the dining table gets lost. Dinnertime becomes a thing of the past as we overschedule kids and ourselves.

Try learning more about family time here: How to Maximize Family Time? 13 Simple Ways You Can Try Immediately.

Solution

Assess our schedule during the week to ensure that there’s always time for dinner with the family. Make it a point to establish a dinnertime schedule for the evenings that you do not have prior engagements scheduled. Remember: the time that you have with your kids under your roof is fleeting. Before long, they will be grownups and start living on their own. You need not dismiss or minimize the opportunity to bond with your children over meals.

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Having family mealtimes also allows you to make excellent food choices. This way, parents can create balanced and healthy meals and teach their children about the importance of eating good food for their bodies.

How to Turn Things Around?

1. Fix the Displaced Ambitions

Parents with overscheduled kids often mean well. They want their children to succeed, so they give them every chance to make it happen. They sign them up for various lessons, sports, and activities that may help the kids find success in life.

In other cases, the parent probably didn’t get such opportunities when they were young and felt that they missed out on many things. Hence, they provide those missed opportunities to their kids during their own childhood.

Carla is an example of such a parent. Carla always wanted to take dance and ballet classes as a child. She heard her friends talk about dance classes and performances, and they would even bring recital photos to school, showing their beautiful, detailed costumes. Carla wanted to be in those dance classes and learn ballet and have the opportunity to perform in a beautiful costume in front of an audience. Unfortunately, her family could not afford to give her that opportunity.

When Carla gave birth to a baby girl, she had visions of her little one growing big enough to take dance, ballet, and even tap classes someday. She was looking forward to dressing her daughter in dance costumes and watching her take lessons and eventually performing in recitals. When Carla’s daughter Anna was old enough to enroll at a dance class at four years old, she was thrilled. However, after a few months, it became clear that Anna was not enjoying these classes. She would cry before every lesson, begging Carla to let her stay home and not go to class. Her daughter had no interest in learning to dance.

In truth, it happens to many parents. They would enroll their kid in an activity that they wanted to do as a child but never got to try. Unfortunately, a parent’s interest is not always the same as that of their kids’. The child may humor mom or dad for some time and do the activity out of compliance. But if the child does not enjoy it anymore, they will eventually make things clear to their parents.

Parents should listen to their children. If the activity is something that they do not enjoy doing, ask the children what they think they would like to do, and then eliminate activities that they are not into. Similarly, teach them commitment by finishing a program, but don’t enroll them again in the same class if they absolutely do not want to do it.

Let the kids try different activities at a young age. Sometimes they don’t know if they like something until they try it out.

2. Try Clinics of Camps Before Committing

Don’t enroll your child in three sports at the same time to see which one they like or excel at. Doing so will make your kid overscheduled. Instead, you can use the summer break or preseason camps or clinics to try a variety of activities they are interested in.

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As an example, all three of my children said that they wanted to do lacrosse. We had already tried soccer, and it was not successful for two out of three of them. They would rather chase butterflies down the field or play tag than actually participate in their games. Therefore, before committing to lacrosse and spending a great deal of money on their gear, I signed them up for a sample clinic. It was a one-day program that intended to expose children to the sport and see if they would perhaps enjoy playing it. I was surprised to find that the three kids enjoyed lacrosse, so we signed up for the season. It was nice to be able to see them try out the sport in a clinic before committing to an entire season.

Most towns and cities have parks and recreation department. This is often a good place to check for clinics and camps for various activities. Our local department even offers art and dance classes. Most of them meet between two and four times total, so the children can get some exposure to the activity before signing them up at a private facility for a more long-term commitment.

3. Take an Inventory of Your Weekly Activities

Often, we do an activity without reflecting on how much we are already committed to doing each week. Before we commit to any more activities, we must be willing to look at everything that each family member does. Every child’s commitment is another responsibility for the parent as well. Parents must take children to and from each practice, so you need to consider the drive time for any activity.

For instance, if each of my three kids signed up for three different activities each week, I would be running myself ragged. Three activities for three kids means taking them to nine activities during the week. That doesn’t include the games that will likely be scheduled on the weekends. Three activities for every child, therefore, is too much for our family.

If some practices overlap on the schedule, then you need two parents or responsible adults to transport the children to different locations. Before you sign them up for multiple activities, you need to factor downtime, stress levels, and your ability to take them to each activity in the equation.

Consider the following before your kids can commit to various activities:

  • What is the time commitment for the child each week? Do they have enough energy and stamina for the activities? Do they get enough downtime daily to prevent burnout?
  • Is practice time required outside of their scheduled team practices and games?
  • How long is the travel time for you as a parent, along with wait time during practices? Do you have time allowances for these activities in your own schedule?
  • Does the activity time conflict with other activities on the schedule? Will it eliminate family dinners on a regular basis?
  • Does the child really want to do the activity?
  • What is the motivation for signing up for the activity?
  • Is this activity or commitment going to cause a great deal of stress on the child or other family members?

Check out these time-management tips for parents: 10 Time Management Tips Every Busy Parent Needs to Know.

Get The Kids Active and Involved!

Despite everything, it does not mean that you shouldn’t sign your child up for different activities like sports, music, dance, karate, etc. They are all great activities that can help children develop a variety of valuable life skills. The goal is to enroll them in things that they genuinely enjoy and avoid overscheduling kids by not letting them sign up for too many activities at a time.

More Tips for Scheduling Kids’ Activities

Featured photo credit: Kelly Sikkema via unsplash.com

Reference

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