I bet (if you have teenagers, or perhaps adults in avoidance-of-visiting-relatives mode) you have wondering at the amount of time one really should be on a screen over this holiday break. I bet you may even have asked for the phone/ipad/laptop/etc to be be put away. I bet you suggested for said screen-user to just go outside already.
Beyond worrying about bullying and viruses, and all sorts of other unseen and unknowns, the time our kids spend in cyberland is also contributing to the ever-growing number of hours kids spend on devices (and don’t spend, as the case may be, moving their bodies doing something physical.)
I get it: YouTube is full of cool people. I get it: BabyEinstein is full of brilliant colors, amazing music and all of the best words. I get it: Sometimes you just want to go to the bathroom and/or take a shower by yourself and in peace once in a while. I get it: You want to have an adult conversation. I get it. Turns out, though, that spending time with real-life (cool) people is actually better for your kids than any of those devices claim to be. Maybe your kids want to join the conversation too. Or, better, maybe you can all go outside and play a game of freeze tag and leave the devices inside.
Executive function in a human’s brain — set of cognitive processes that are necessary for the cognitive control of behavior: selecting and successfully monitoring behaviors that facilitate the attainment of chosen goals — does not fully mature until age 30. 30!! This happens slightly earlier for women than it does men (ahem), but nonetheless, we can safely assume kids and teenagers are not making sound decisions that benefit their goal-making abilities. Now couple that with pretty much any tech device’s instant-gratification appeal to the reptilian part of the brain (the part that controls basic functions and movements, and responds to things like flickering lights and screens and visual imagery), and we can see why YouTube is so popular. Generally, even without the lure of social media, kids are already suffering from Superman syndrome (man of steel, no one can hurt me!), not realizing that indeed that shiny device in their hands is their kryptonite.
The problem with devices (besides being a general vacuum of time) is that they also negatively impact health (attention spans, sleep habits, socialization skills), and they can also lead to behavioral issues.
What do we do about it?
Start a new unplugged habit. Just like one can get addicted to playing with/on a device, they can change that. Helping kids to turn it off is probably not going to be the easiest of parenting maneuvers, but if you can get your kid ot love broccoli, I promise you can do this, too. Not only is it important for them to limit their use, but they should also start to develop their smarter-usage skills, too. If you have a precious hour on a device, say, why waste that hour on silly videos? Isn’t there a more constructive way to spend that hour online? I bet there is.
I bet perhaps you, too, might benefit from some screen time limits. This is the perfect time of year to put the phone and laptop down. Turn ‘em off. Now crank up the (holiday) tunes and just do something better with your time. Hang out with family. Make a batch of holiday cookies. Or egg nog. Or just sit and admire your tree. Or a sunset. Or each other. Go play basketball. Play crab soccer. Go for a walk. Challenge your kids to a silly face contest.
Screens are not as good as humans. Invest the energy into figuring out why that is, and involve your kids in the discovery. School is out. Hopefully you have some time off work. Wether or not you are in a place where it is snowing outside, now is the perfect time to connect, not to the internet, but to each other.