Kids and tech devices: Tips for parents

Kids and tech devices: Tips for parentsMany kids were happy to find some new technological gadgets under the tree this past holiday season. And with winter weather flexing its frigid muscles, they’ll have ample opportunity to stay in, plug in, and tune out the rest of the world.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Kids can enjoy all the fun that video game consoles, electronic tablets, smartphones and other devices have to offer without it taking over their lives.

One of the best ways to help kids properly handle technology is to model the kind of behavior you’d like to see in them yourself. After all, it’s hard to expect kids not to have their noses buried in their phones if they see Mom or Dad doing it all the time.

Browse together

There’s no reason that going online can’t be a shared experience. If your child has a new device, or is just getting the hang of technology, be hands-on in showing him around. Find some fun, kid-friendly websites that match up with his interests. There are also plenty of sites that let you play games together. Associating online time with you can help keep your child from zoning out and just going into another room whenever he wants to log on.

This is also a great opportunity to talk to kids about the dark side of the Internet. Let them know that there are sites that are simply inappropriate for them to see, and set filters to make sure they don’t accidentally end up somewhere they shouldn’t. Tell them about phishing and the potential to pick up cyber viruses (Don’t click on that pop-up ad, kids!) that could harm their machine and steal vital information.

For kids who are on social media, discussions with them the negative effects of misusing things like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, etc. Show them stories about cyberbullying and people who have suffered real-world consequences for their online behavior. This can drive home the point that nothing they put online is ever really private, and it never goes away.

Take tech timeouts

A recent study said that the average child in the U.S. spends a whopping seven hours every day in front of a screen (including TVs, computers and various gadgets). This is far more than the two hours per day recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Setting hard limits can be effective, but it can also make some kids want to rebel, or compel them to use every single second of the time allowed. It might work better to just simply start offering fun alternatives. Take advantage of the snow outside by:

  • Building a snowman
  • Sledding
  • Snowboarding, skiing, ice skating, hockey
  • Snowball fights
  • Shoveling (OK, shoveling might be a hard sell, but it’s great exercise, and can help make sure the car can get out of the driveway and take a fun trip somewhere.)

You can also have “screen-free nights” and make it a challenge to come up with fun, low-tech alternatives. Board games, card games, or family reading time are some good ideas. It also helps to have certain occasions — meals, bedtime — be designated as device-free zones.

There are plenty of things in our kids’ lives that we won’t be able relate to all that well, especially as they get older. But technology is pretty universal, and instead of driving them away from us, it can actually bring everybody closer.

Carol Estill, MD- Carol Estill, MD, pediatrician, Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin Pediatrics-West Bend

Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin has primary care offices throughout southeast Wisconsin, including an office in West Bend. Find a pediatrician near you.

Learn more about Carol Estill, MD.

 

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