Many of us have a love-hate relationship with our cell phones. We love the immediate access to information and the ability to quickly text a friend. But we dislike when we’re driving and everyone else in the car is absorbed on their devices, or when we’re talking with someone who constantly checks their phone.
It is even more of a challenge when we are responsible for youth who use technology. We find ourselves asking: How can we can best support our children as they grow up in a world immersed in technology?
Research proves that new technology can be highly addictive and that young people spend an inordinate amount of time using it. Studies have detailed the rush of pleasure that the chemical dopamine provides kids when they win a game, or get likes or hearts on items they post.
Most of us worry about how to deal with our children’s use of social media and gaming. Specialist Alia Aizenstat, speaking at a recent workshop, felt it important that parents understand the power exerted on our kids by the fear of missing out, which drives much of a young person’s online behavior. It’s the sense that exciting things are happening constantly and if they’re not online they will miss it. Or a friend might be upset if a message isn’t acknowledged right away. It can cause stress, anxiety, depression, and, ironically, add to a sense of loneliness.
In establishing family behaviors to deal with these dilemmas, it’s very important that adults serve as role models with their own use of devices, by putting the phone away when talking earnestly to each other, or when the family is having a meal together.
It can also be helpful to make sure that there is no technology in a child’s bedroom overnight. Technology could be available in the living room or other public area, but not in the privacy of a child’s room. That limits screen time and makes sure that parents can monitor content. Some families have also found it helpful to have a charging station in a shared space, with adults also limited to that area for charging. It’s also helpful to set boundaries early so they are established as family expectations and not seen as a punishment.
Dr. Dan Brennan recently wrote an article reminding parents that oversight of social media is essential. Adults provide their child’s phone, and have the parental right to access their children’s social media and phone content.
He also urged us to remind our children that their social media footprint will last forever, and things they “like” today could prove problematic when applying to a college or a job. Creating a phone-free weekend or taking an afternoon hike where there is no phone reception will also help clear everyone’s minds, including the adults.
Technology tends to foster a sense of urgency in all of us to react immediately to messages we receive. Let’s try to show our children by our own example that patience remains a virtue and that direct human interactions are the most valuable and effective form of communication.
If we set priorities early, and as a family unit, it can help us control our technology, rather than having it take over us. Let’s educate our children about ways to use technology safely, set boundaries that work for our households, and model interactions with one another that put people, not technology, first. It’s a good start.
Susan Salcido is Santa Barbara County superintendent of schools.