School’s out and it’s time for some fun! If you are anything like me that means long days on the beach, lazy lunches with friends and loads of family time in the pool. But sometimes our kids’ version of fun can be completely different. Sure they enjoy hanging out with friends and family, but often they would rather be on their devices watching Youtube or playing Fortnite.
So how do we find the balance? And how do we make sure that the holidays don’t slide by with everyone locked into their own digital world? And what can we do to eliminate the endless nagging and arguing often involved in getting out kids off their devices and out of the house?
This week I met with Durban North psychologist Simon Britz to ask his advice and to see whether digital addiction really is an issue in our community.
According to Simon, gaming, social media and smart phones are having a big impact on families and it is up to parents to be proactive in preventing the potentially damaging effects devices can have on children.
He said games like Fortnite are perfectly designed to trigger neuro-chemicals in ways which can easily lead to addiction. Exposure to social media and a constant connection to peers has also led to an increase in bullying, Simon noted.
So what practical steps can we, as parents, take these holidays to help our children manage their digital lives?
- Set strong, clear boundaries. Make it clear up front when and how long you children may use their devices. For example, one hour in the morning and one hour in the evening, or three rounds of Fortnite. Whatever you decide, communicate it clearly to your children and enforce it without getting involved in arguments or negotiations.
- Be present and play with them. Know what they are playing or watching. Make an effort to ask questions and take an interest. Use devices in communal areas so that you can keep tabs and prevent any exposure to inappropriate content.
- Watch your children’s behavior when gaming or on social media. If what they are engaging with is having a negative impact on their behavior (for example: anger and shouting when they lose a game, lack of interest in other activities, mood dips or withdrawing), cut back on or cut out their access to those games or social media platforms. Process this with them talk about the dangers. We cannot allow gaming and social media to shape the attitudes and identities of our kids.
- Allow long gaps between exposure. Long uninterrupted periods of connection to digital media, especially gaming and social media, is bad for the brain. We need to allow time for our kids brain chemicals (and ours) to stabalize. For this to happen we need device free time to be quiet, to talk, to be in nature and to process our own thoughts and feelings.
- Let your kids get bored. Every parent hears “I’m bored!” many times over the holidays. This is not a problem we need to solve. We are parents, not entertainers. When we allow our kids to get bored, we give them space to get creative. Yes, we may have to push through some moaning and flopping around on the couch, but it is totally worth it when we look outside a while later to see a fort being built, a dance being choreographed, or a soccer match being played.
As Simon said, we as parents cannot be overly invested in being liked by our kids. Limits and boundaries are the safe space our kids need to thrive, even if they don’t like them much at the time.
So let’s equip our kids to use digital media wisely, and let’s make some special memories this holiday. Less screen time, more face time!
That’s me over and out. The pool is calling….