Technology Tuesday: Parenting In The Virtual Age

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“When can I get a smart phone?”

“That is such an invasion of my privacy!

“If I stop the game now, I’ll never get to the next level.”

“I am the only person in my grade without a Facebook page!” 

“Other people text way more of the time than I do.” 

 

As a counselor, I (David) have heard a parent report one of the above statements over a thousand times.  Parenting a child or teenager in this day and age requires an advanced degree in navigating, negotiating and understanding media and technology.  As much as media and technology can be an invaluable resource to your child’s growing mind, it can also be a debilitating force.  Obtaining this advanced degree involves surveying the options, identifying the pros and cons, and setting age-appropriate media and technology boundaries.  

Visual stimulants (television, video games, movies, internet, phones/gadgets and social networking sites), when used appropriately, have the power to provide early readiness for learning, educational enrichment, opportunities for relational connectedness and broadened exposure to the arts, entertainment and social issues.  In addition to these advantages, media can also be a useful tool in teaching, training and engaging your child. 

The harmful effects of visual stimulants can range from poor school performance to violent and aggressive behavior, and diminished physical activity to distorted sexual and body image content.  We have long known that children’s brains need to interact with the external environment in order to grow tissue fully.  It’s possible that many of our children may be suffering attention and other learning difficulties because their brains aren’t experiencing enough fine and gross motor development that comes from physical movement and engaging with the environment around them. 

Multiple studies have explored the relationship between visual media and a child or adolescent’s sleep, learning and memory.  For example there is clear evidence that prolonged video game playing disrupts sleep, which in turn affects memory and learning.  Multiple studies have connected prolonged exposure to visual stimulants and deteriorate verbal and cognitive performance.  

Early in life, visual stimulants begin competing for the developing mind.  A media savvy parent discovers how to use these to his or her advantage.  For example, I always recommend that parents hold off on allowing kids to see movies when they haven’t read the book.  I can remember racing to finish reading Prince Caspian with my own daughter to make the May release of the film.  She would discipline herself to finish homework quickly so we could squeeze in an extra half hour to finish another chapter or two.  We devoured those pages and couldn’t wait to compare and contrast the book and film.  The visual of the film helped reinforce the content and message of the story.  

I work with a number of families of adolescents who have a particular TV show they enjoy watching together as a family.  They cook an early dinner with one another and then sit down to enjoy some time together as a family, following the show with conversation about what they’ve seen.  

Another idea to consider, we hosted family Wii nights at my house where we’d compete in anything from Olympic Track and Field events to baseball.  It became a way for us to engage with one another and be active (have you tried the 100meter with the Will remote?)  We used a video game as a means of staying connected, experiencing enjoyment and spending time together after dinner.  

Equally so, I use technology advantageously is when I travel.  It’s never been easier to stay connected to my kids when I’m in another state.  My daughter will send me email updates with photos and stories of what’s happening in her weekend.  My sons love to make videos and will send a video reporting in on their last basketball game.  Furthermore, we Face time from state to state, making it easier to communicate when we can look at one another as opposed to just talking on the phone.  

There’s no doubt that media can be harmful.  Just as there’s no arguing that media can be useful.  The key to navigating this complicated maze is for parents to stay educated, informed, engaged and aware.  Furthermore, use it to your advantage.  Let media work for you rather than simply fearing its impact.  If you as a parent are strategic, you can use this powerful force as an invaluable tool.  

Next week, we will offer 7 ideas for Setting Appropriate and Balanced Media Boundaries.  

What form of media is most useful and fun to use together in your family?