Today’s parents limit their kids’ screen time, set filters on their browsers, and banish digital devices from the dinner table. Then these same parents pick up their own smartphones to check email, scan Instagram, and update their Facebook statuses throughout the day.
Even as parents worry that their kids may become tech addicted, parents are setting a lousy example — and they know it. Sharon Noguchi of The Mercury News interviewed parents about following the personal-device rules they set for their children and one father said: “I’d give myself a B-minus or C-plus — and that’s up from a solid F at one point. The kids have called me out on it, for which I’m grateful.”
Most parents try their best to set rules and limits about the use of tech devices but they also realize they’re being hypocritical. A survey of 1,800 parents by San Francisco-based Common Sense Media, conducted in July, found that parents of teens and tweens spent more than 9 hours a day on screen media, including 7 hours 43 minutes for personal use. That’s nearly every waking minute outside a normal workday.
How Grandparents Can Help
What can we as grandparents do to help our children and grandchildren manage the ever-changing digital landscape?
Sit down with your adult children and have a conversation about screen time. Keep your tone curious and non-judgmental. Ask them what challenges they face and what they could use help with.
Ask them if they have a family media plan. When used thoughtfully and appropriately, media can enhance daily life. But when used without thought, media can displace many important activities such as face-to-face interaction, family time, outdoor play, exercise, and unplugged downtime, and sleep. Offer this link for creating a media use plan.
Set limits and encourage playtime when the grandchildren visit. Unstructured and offline play stimulates creativity. Engage with your grandchildren in arts and crafts, board games, reading, listening to music, and outdoor activities.
Engage in face-to-face communication. Very young children learn best through two-way communication. Tell stories and ask questions. Play guessing games or share relevant articles of interest to your grandchildren. Ask them about their favorite vacation, subject in school, movie or phone app.
Create tech-free zones. Keep family mealtimes, other family and social gatherings screen free. Turn off televisions that you aren’t watching because background TV can get in the way of face-to-face time with kids.
Don’t use technology as an emotional pacifier. Media can be very effective in keeping kids calm and quiet, but it should not be the only way they learn to calm down. Children need to be taught how to identify and handle strong emotions, come up with activities to manage boredom, or calm down through breathing, talking about ways to solve the problem, and finding other strategies for channeling emotions.
Media and digital devices are an integral part of our world today. When we talk about their benefits and dangers with our children, we’ll have more empathy for them as they grapple with limiting and overseeing screen use. We can’t make the rules for what goes on in our childrens’ homes. But we can set rules and limits for our grandchildren when they’re in our homes. If we’re aware and vigilant about the overuse of media, the whole family will benefit.