With all the electronic products for kids of all ages today, it is no wonder that parents are finding themselves feeling uncertain about parental decisions related to kids’ use of these products. In addition, we live in an industry driven culture, which is telling our kids they NEED these things. Mattel told CNN Money that 80% of their total product portfolio are electronic today, compared to 10% in 1997. There are many millions of dollars flooding our economy to influence our children’s desires.
The world of electronics for our children is here and is not going away. So how do parents navigate this minefield successfully for their kids?
Here are some ideas for parents.
My first message to parents is that they focus on not trading real life experience for electronics, when it comes to their kids. One of the downsides to these gadgets is that kids get plugged in and then they tune everything and everyone else out. In addition, these gadgets isolate kids from each other and from family life at home. Furthermore, children become so used to being entertained that they don’t know how to play anymore and free play is essential to the healthy development of our children and their ability to reach their full potential.
When deciding to purchase any of these gadgets, there are no blanket age recommendations in general, other than no screen time for kids 0 – 2. Common sense should prevail. Some considerations are:
1. Family Values
2. Current research on the affects on children – check the internet for information and updates
3. Teaching need versus want
4. The maturity of the child
Parents need to set clear limits on the amount of time kids spend using the gadgets. It is essential for the healthy development of children of all ages that they not spend too much time with electronic gadgets. Children need to socialize, to play, to explore, and to get exercise, too. Setting limits on use also applies to visits to friends and families who may have these gadgets.
Parents need to be aware of how their kids are spending their time. Parents also need to be vigilant and keep an eye on their children. This includes knowing what’s on their IPOD’s, video games, computers and cell phones, by checking on a regular basis.
As parents seek to find ways to get their kids to choose to go out and play, instead of using the gadgets, it may be helpful to remember that when firm limits are in place and enforced, the result would leave kids with having to find something else to do instead. The hope is that they would channel these choices into other wholesome activities, like reading, biking, sports, etc. There is a story that tells what a Mom did when her child kept coming to her and saying he was bored. She finally told him to go sit on the couch and not to get up unless he could think of something to do.
Sometimes incentives may be helpful as a parent encourages a child to choose other activities. By this I don’t mean out right bribery. Parents may give positive responses to those good choices. A parent may tie-in something. For example, if they want to play outside, the parent may be glad to help them do a lemonade stand. Or, challenge them to 3 new adventures with friends each week, and when they report back at the end of the week, have the friends over and let them make their own pizzas or a camp out in the backyard. Another great idea is to require kids from first grade (with some help) through the twelfth grade to plan and make a meal each week for the family, during the summer. That will take them a little time. If they are old enough, perhaps they can even go get the groceries themselves, with money from you. These are great life experiences, teachable moments, and they give the child the gift of feeling responsible and contributing to the family. It also helps older kids as they are adults in training. For kids of all ages, water games are worth the investment. Providing scrap lumber, nails and hammers are a great way to get kids to build all kinds of things. Especially boys. They can be busy for days and weeks, building everything under the sun. Let them. Help them explore and create. For younger kids, providing numerous ways to make believe is great. Have them plan to put on a show. Provide lots of old clothes and jewelry for costumes. As I said above, sadly, our kids don’t know how to play anymore. They are so used to being entertained. Parents can help them by jarring parents’ memories and using the resources to come up with creative ideas that inspire them. Every child is different. The world is their oyster. Help them explore it.
It is true that getting kids away from the gadgets requires more parental creativity today than ever. Use the resources around you, like the public library. Have a book club with your child or children. Everyone reads it and you dialogue about it together as you go. I recently read the book Do Hard Things, written by two teen brothers, challenging teens to “rebelutionize” against the low cultural expectations of teens today. In the book, they refer to their father, who brought home a stack of books for them to read for the summer, as required reading. They followed up with discussion about the books. These young authors sure seem like great young people to me. It doesn’t seem like that ruined their life at all.
Encourage them to be part of athletic activities, for exercise, socialization and other skills. However, beware of over scheduling children. Encourage neighborhood games of all kinds – shooting hoops or soccer, or Frisbee golf, or kickball. These activities are great because they are impromptu, not scheduled and the kids feel as free as the wind. Encourage older kids to explore by bike together, if possible and within the framework of practical boundaries.
It helps to have your children involved in serving others. There are many ways to accomplish that. Encourage them to hold a carnival to raise money for a charity, or encourage them to select something to do that would help others. Perhaps they will do a shoe drive all summer, sending the shoes to needy families worldwide. Even younger kids can find meaningful ways to help the community. This builds character and develops their heart for others. In addition, the enjoyment of the rewards they feel for contributing to making the world a better place is powerful. These are great life lessons.
What else are parents considering pertaining to the use of these gadgets? Groan… there is electronic etiquette. It is important for parents today to teach children proper etiquette when using these things. For example, cell phones should be restricted during family meals, when parents are talking with kids, during family time, and during family vacations. Teach that talking in a public place may be interruptive to others around them, requiring them to be aware and make sure they are courteous. All kids should learn to have uninterrupted conversations with face to face, in the flesh, people.
There are pros and cons to the electronic gadgets. Parents need to beware of the down sides. In addition to isolation, tuning out, and no exercise, parents need to consider hearing loss from audio devices, stranger danger on the web, and the seriously negative affects of too much screen time, on the brain development of our kids (TV, video games, computer, etc.). This is a challenge indeed. For example, now stranger danger from the web can reach our kids on their cell phones, via the wireless world we are in. I hate to mention this, however, it is my understanding they can even beam across a park, a shopping mall, or a street to our kids, with our kids in their live view. Now that is scarey.
I really don’t want to frighten anyone. Instead, I hope to equip and inform parents in order to get them to raise the bar as they activate as parents in this area.
It is not possible to parent today without needing to spend time and energy with good adult supervision and follow through in all areas of the use of electronics. Close and responsible supervision in these areas is not an option. The well being of your children requires that parents do the hard job of parenting here.
I recently wrote an article called “Facing the Giants”. I was referring to the industry driven culture we live in and the marketing to our kids. I think that those words fit this topic very well, also. In fact, the input I have received on this topic has jump started me to create another whole parenting seminar I offer both live and by telenar. I am using an image that makes me laugh. It is from an idea I had several years ago for a different parenting seminar. I created a cartoon of a dragon with many heads. Each head is named something. (Internet, Cell Phones, Video Games, Wii, etc.). Standing near the giant are a husband and a wife, dressed as knights, wearing full armor. As they stand and look at the dragon, breathing fire, the wife says to her hubby, “You have GOT to be kidding.”
Talk about parents facing the giants! As I told TV News Anchor Angela Davis, on WCCO TV Morning News in Minneapolis, how can 4 Square compete with Wii? (OK, bad example…4 Square…possibly a lost art..man I was good at that game.)
Parents have a big job, but they can do it and they must.
Lori Jo Kemper is a PCI Certified Parent Coach® and speaker.
Copyright 2006, Lori Jo Kemper, www.TheParentingPath®