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Moderation Key to Balancing Technology and Healthy Habits

Moderation Key to Balancing Technology and Healthy Habits 07/08/16As kids, my mom’s four most famous words to me and my siblings were, “Go outside and play.”

Today’s parents and other adults can sometimes be challenged by children who have never lived in a world without technology and countless opportunities to be “plugged in” to it.  It’s nothing new; Stan and Jan Berenstain bridged a very similar topic with their storybook for children, “Too Much TV,” in 1984.

In a recent survey of 2,600 children, Common Sense Media Group found that children 8-12 years old (“tweens”) spend an average of about 4.5 hours per day with screen-based media.  Teens ages 13-18 years old report using screen-based media for more than 6.5 hours per day. In other words, tweens’ and teens’ screen time is equivalent to a part-time job!

Screen time has been associated with increased obesity and decreased sleep in children.  Perhaps even more important are the answers to the questions adults need to ask themselves:

-   Why are my children using technology devices?

-   Why am I allowing or encouraging device access?

We can challenge ourselves to dig deeper than the simple answers by asking “why” at least three times after our first answer. 

Three strategies parents and other adults can use to guide children in developing healthy habits along with their tech-savvy skills include:

-   using screen time purposefully,

-   modeling, and

-   boundaries.

Using screen time purposefully may yield benefits if it requires two-way interaction between the child and the device.  This is necessary if there is to be increased brain activity. Beware that numerous “educational” apps are available to download, but many lack purposeful interaction.

Modeling is a second strategy.  When adults fully engage in face-to-face conversations, rather than texting, children learn appropriate device use and etiquette. However, it may be necessary to point these things out and explain them to the child, rather than just relying on them to make the observation and get the message.  Other adults can also model appropriate practices. For example, at school, when the weather prohibits outdoor recess, school staff can make use of active indoor recess kits, showing that technology devices do not need to be the default option during free time.

A third strategy is to establish technology boundaries. Designate tech-free zones and times in the home, or implement time limits for recreational device use.  Jenny Linker, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences at NDSU points out that technology and apps are available to help with this.  “Bob, the screen time manager for televisions, allows parents to create personalized limits for each child. The Lockwork app for Android smartphones can limit internet use while maintaining the phone’s calling functions. Parental controls on PC and Apple computers also are available to limit recreational time.”

Children will need technology skills to succeed in the 21st century. However, we need to remember that they will also need other skills, including interpersonal skills and creativity, to be successful. Parents, as always, play a crucial role in the development of both.

Jenny Linker, “Balancing 21st Century Skills and Healthy Habits,” https://www.ag.ndsu.edu/food/eatsmart/documents/ESPHmagazine201617.pdf

Photo Source: https://pixabay.com/en/mobile-phone-youth-mobile-telephony-917201/   (downloaded 07/12/16)



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