A GaGa friend called me for advice on a technology dilemma she is facing with her son and 11-year old grandson who want to install an Xbox on her television. She isn’t happy with the idea but doesn’t want to disappoint her beloved grandson. He often spends afternoons at her house after school and wants to connect with friends on his Xbox.
She doesn’t know anything about the Xbox and is concerned it may affect her television viewing. She didn’t know how to respond. I suggested she start by asking her son and grandson to educate her about the Xbox.
Most of us struggle with how much technology to let our grandchildren use when we’re with them. One big reason is a lack of role models. Technology wasn’t around when we were growing up until television and then our parents had to set some limits.
Now, if we want to be a part of our grandchildren’s lives, we have to learn technology, use the apps (Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook and Facetime) our grandchildren are using, and ask them to show us the things they love about technology.
In her new book, The Art of Screen Time: How Your Family Can Balance Digital Media and Real Life, author/blogger Anya Kamenetz interviewed some experts on kids and media to find out how they made screen time rules at home.
House Rules from a Pediatrician
Dr. Jenny Radesky, lead author of guidelines on media and children from the American Academy of Pediatrics and mother of two young boys says “We’re not a tech-averse household.” But she does have rules: no media on weekdays. They unplug at family dinner and before bed. They have a family movie night on Fridays following her belief that “joint media engagement” or simply sharing screen time is the best solution for incorporating media.
On weekends, she allows her boys cartoons, apps and games like Minecraft. But more than just limiting time, she tries to help her older son be aware of the way he reacts to video games or how to interpret information they find online. She tries to explain how he is being manipulated by games that ask him to make purchases while playing. In other words, being an informed and conscious consumer.
House Rules from a Sleep Researcher
Lauren Hale, a sleep researcher at Stony Brook University in New York, has researched the topic of media for over a decade. “As kids and adults watch or use screens, with light shining in their eyes and close to their face, bedtime gets delayed. It takes longer to fall asleep, sleep quality is reduced and total sleep is decreased.”
As a mother of two young children, she strictly enforces these rules: No screens in the hour before bed. No screens in the bedroom and no screens as part of the bedtime routine. Her rules seem to be sinking in. She heard her 4-year old son tell his grandmother: “You don’t want to look at a screen before bed because it tells your brain to stay awake.”
House Rules from an Anti-Obesity Doctor
Tom Warshawski, pediatrician and founder of the Childhood Obesity Foundation, educates parents on how to cut back on media time. His materials promote the formula 5-2-1-0. That means five servings of fruits and vegetables a day, no more than two hours of screens, one hour of physical activity, and no sugary beverages.
He and his wife, also a pediatrician, limited television to an hour on weekdays after all homework was done. They said absolutely no video games. Their daughter didn’t care but their son thought it was extremely oppressive and unfair. Then he resigned himself. Ultimately, both of their children thanked them.
Parents and Grandparents Have Influence
I checked in with my GaGa friend to ask about her Xbox dilemma. She reported that no one has brought it up again. She also remembered that her grandson went to an afterschool program at the library where the kids can play games on the computer. So she decided he didn’t need one at her house.
Every parent and grandparent will have to establish rules and guidelines that work for them and their children. Hopefully, you can reach a decision that everyone can live with.
Author Kamenetz explores the connection of children and technology in her book and surveyed over 500 families on their best approach to tech. She boiled it down to a slogan based on Michael Pollan’s famous Food Rules: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.
Hers is: Enjoy screens. Not too much. Mostly together.
Parents should help kids balance screen time and also play a role in sharing the joy of screens with our kids. Model the use of technology for creation, discovery and connection. Help them interpret the media they use.
“Parents (and grandparents) are the biggest influence on kids in how they respond to media. Especially in the first 12 years,” says researcher Eric Rasmussen. He says setting strict rules is less important than talking and listening.
The best thing we can do is talk to our grandkids about media and let them know what we think about the media they’re consuming.