by Lisa Dion, LPC, RPT-S

Technology has transformed our lives, allowing us to carry the world’s information inside of our pockets. The questions, the wonder, the how to do something – the answers are at our fingertips.  All we have to do is turn on the phone, television, or computer.

In many ways, this is wonderful.

But, sometimes, we become so dependent on technology that we don’t see what’s right in front of us. We forget how to talk to each other face to face, how to solve problems without turning to Google, and how to pass around ideas……like they did in the olden days. Yes, technology giveth and taketh away: it connects us but it disconnects us too.

As parents, our love for technology has particular duality: it entertains, educates, and inspires our children. And it’s convenient, which is something that benefits all moms and dads. Yet there can be too much of a good thing – kids who are overly dependent on computers and television may encounter learning difficulties, diminished socials skills, and face addictive behaviors later in life. So where does one draw the line?

A good place to start is to remember the old adage, “Everything in moderation.” This doesn’t just apply to things like sugar and – sadly for parents – coffee, but it applies to screen time as well. To help you kids acclimate to this idea try the following tips:

Encourage education: Some shows and games are meant to do nothing but elicit laughter or interest. Others are designed to help with math, reading, history, and problem-solving. Encouraging the latter helps your child’s development. This isn’t to say that old Tom and Jerry reruns don’t have their time and place, but encourage a variety, including programs designed to teach.

Leave your phone alone: It’s difficult for parents to discard their phones: if something happens, we want to be contacted as easily as possible. But, let’s face it, many of us are also too dependent on technology, so much so that we nearly start growing phantom devices when we go without our phone for any length of time. Carrying a cell phone is one thing; it’s a necessity. Constantly using your phone is another. Remember that children learn most from observation. If they see you texting and surfing, they’ll assume there’s no reason they can’t either.

Practice mindfulness: Mindfulness is an ally to parenthood: it keeps us tethered to the moment. This is something we want; moms and dads know that moments become memories so very quickly. For most of us, mindfulness isn’t something that comes naturally; it’s a skill that must be developed and cultivated. Practicing yoga or meditation are two ways to do this. If your child’s old enough, consider practicing with them. But if they’re too young, they can still benefit from your mindful ways. As mentioned above, they learn by watching you: children see and children do.

Advocate for the great outdoors: Increasingly, children are spending their young lives inside, more likely to climb the platforms of Donkey Kong than climb the oak tree in the front yard. More likely to watch Dora the Explorer than do some exploring of their own.  Not only are the great outdoors conducive to exercise and health, but they help with learning too. Kids were made to play and move, after all.

Disconnect intentionally: A great way to connect with your kids is to designate some portion of the day as “no technology time” – turn off the TV, power down the computers, and leave the phones at their charging stations. Then engage with your child in a way that doesn’t require an outlet – talk to them, play with them, draw or paint, take them to the park. Do whatever you need to help them see that there’s a whole world out there….and it’s not just the world wide web.

It all comes down to this: if we want our children to disconnect from technology, we have to give them a really good reason to reconnect with something else.

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