South African children are rated the world’s second largest technology addicts – higher than the global average. Now, it is not often that South Africa can compete on a global scale when it comes to international standards, but this particular statistic is one that we should be trying to avoid.
This article is a difficult one though; while the information above is scary, I also know how often I use technology in the classroom. It may very well be that teachers and the education system are leaning too heavily on technology as a side-effect of Covid-19 lockdowns. However, there is a way to use technology effectively, efficiently and beneficially. Knowing where the actual addictive problems lie is a sure way to curb the monster behind technology, and change the way children use it and perceive it.
Let’s get real right from the beginning: there is no way to stop technology. There is also no way to stop your child from wanting to use tablets, smartphones and laptops. Are you willing to stop using technology? Would you even be able to read this article without technology?
When facing an issue, determining the preferred outcome is key. The preferred outcome of this article is to manage your child’s screen time and to redirect the focus of that screen time.
Technology can over-release dopamine, over-excite and kill neurons, leading to addiction. Scientifically, the very process of engaging with technology is already ‘dangerous’. But, like being addicted to coffee (the self-proclaimed caffeine addict being me), knowing that it’s an addiction is not enough to make me want to stop.
The ugly side of social media and such instant access to technology provides for the perpetuation of an age-old problem: bullying. However, now children are able to cyber-bully, which adds the dangerous dimension of anonymity and the unfortunate viral spreading of gossip. It is an absolute nightmare navigating this pandemic of online harassment, and the constant trend-setters, like Instagram, Tik-Tok and Snapchat, make for very uncomfortable, blurred lies. These social media apps allow easy ‘cover’, as many just hide behind a screen, feeling free to say and do whatever they want. The damaging psychological effects of cyber-bullying are incredibly serious and incredibly scary.
Social media, games and technology stimulate children’s brains, which makes it unbelievably addictive and difficult for them to break away from this platform. But, too much screen time can be extremely detrimental. Finding the balance is key to maintaining a healthy technological lifestyle – and it is possible!
Hopefully, these tips will alleviate some of the stress of managing your child’s technology habits (and maybe even break a coffee addiction here and there).
Cold turkey is not the answer
Banning technology completely is not the answer. This is not realistic or sustainable.
Technology management is about habit creation and forming better strategies to maintain a good relationship with technology. By simply trying to cut it out, it will only make it more impossible to create healthy habits in the future.
Also, learners need access to online platforms like Google Classroom, or Internet applications like WorksheetCloud. Banning phones and laptops means that you are taking away educational access too. Just like drinking cold coffee as punishment will only make you more agitated and likely to rebel, so too will cutting out technology completely.
You are the example
While we love to use the ‘we are adults and you are children’ answer to every argument, it is important to model appropriate technology behaviour. Try to create a ‘screen-free’ hour in the household every day, where every family member uses the time to exercise, play a game, paint or indulge in some reading (and not on a Kindle). Maybe this could even become an opportunity to cook together as a family, or create a new tradition in the household.
By making ‘screen-free’ time enjoyable, it will hopefully become easier to extend that hour as a habit. I seriously suggest everyone popping their phone into a box before bed; KIDS WILL STAY ON THEIR PHONES ALL NIGHT IF IT IS READILY AVAILABLE. You know what they say: ‘Nothing good happens after 9pm’. Maybe ease up on the caffeine before bedtime too…
Explain the dangers
Generation Z (1995 – 2009) and Generation Alpha (2010 – 2024) require answers, facts and explanations. These groups of young people are more socially aware than ever before. Trying to use ‘because I said so’ or ‘stop questioning me’ is not going to fly! Have open and honest discussions with your children about why too much technology is dangerous. There are so many Netflix documentaries which aptly show how scary the world of the Internet can be. While you may not want to expose your child to these dangers, you need to realise that they will find out anyway. Watch the documentaries with them and explain the reasoning and logic behind decreasing screen time.
Your child will need access to technology for school work. Establish a routine where work is completed before allowing access to media platforms for anything other than educational purposes. This would mean monitoring your child’s actions. While it may sound like an invasion of privacy, if you have established ‘screen-time-hours’ and explained the reasons behind the process, it should not lead to an argument.
A check-in process, where your child shows you what they are doing on Google Classroom, or explains why Jamboard is used for a certain subject, will seem more conversational than invasive. If these apps sound like Greek to you, make some coffee and start educating yourself. We all know that the most skilled con-man is a teenager.
Change content and not usage
What may also be a good starting point is not to launch into immediate parent mode. Allow the same amount of time for technology use, but state the parameters. If your child is spending 3 hours on a laptop, tablet and/or cellphone daily, stick to that. But, change the usage rules. 1 hour can be used for making a TikTok video, while the other 2 hours must be spent researching, completing homework quizzes or typing up a project report.
Track time and content
Quantifying something is the easiest way to stop unnecessary disputes. There are amazing apps that will track both your time spent on your phone, as well as what percentage of that time has been spent on specific apps. Social Fever, MyAddictiometer, OffTime and QualityTime are just a few examples that you can download onto your phone to assist you. These apps monitor how much time your phone screen is in use by creating charts and data analysis. It also tracks usage of all apps used on your phone based on the timeline selected. This function enables you to have a general overview of how much time you spend on each app (social media, games, information, entertainment). Most also have an Overuse Reminder, which allows for pop-up notifications that remind you to get off your phone.
Social media and technology resemble coffee, which is to say that it’s great if you love it! But, if you are an alien on this planet, and you have not yet connected with technology or made coffee your wake-up call, it might be time to do that. Assisting your child and making technology a danger-free, stress-free and argument-free zone is possible.
But first… coffee!