The development in technology has been amazing in providing us with tools such as the internet, offering an ever-growing range of entertainment and services. We have been provided with a way to connect and communicate with people not previously possible, and we’ve been given access to huge amounts of information and resources.
But along with all the advantages, there are disadvantages we need to be careful about. Prior to the creation of the internet, television and computer screens could easily absorb a lot of our time. But now, because of the interactive nature of our online technology, there is so much more to get absorbed with, such as social media, gaming, You Tube and smartphone applications.
Yet, apart from this ability to enhance our social, educational and work lives we need to consider the consequences of the overuse and misuse of online time. For parents who grew up before the availability of such technology, this is new ground. But for many of our children who have probably started out with access to iPads as toddlers, it’s all second nature. These days, many young people would admit to spending more than 3 hours a day online, at times late into the night – and that time is not related to doing homework or study. Apart from how much homework gets done, it has become evident that extended and frequent on-line access can be detrimental to mental health. Depression, anxiety, lowered self-esteem, social isolation, and for some, online addiction, have been observed as the main concerns here.
Long hours online, whether it includes doing homework or not, can drive poor sleeping and eating habits. This can be a major source of anxiety which in turn reduces concentration, memory capacity and the ability to learn. Excessive or unmanaged time spent online can take away from time spent with family and friends, causing social isolation. Young people may argue that they are socialising online, which is true to a certain level. But quality face to face interactions are necessary for the ongoing development of social skills and deeper meaningful relationships. Then from a physical perspective, exercise and developing other skills or interests, are often sacrificed in pursuit of online involvement. Reduction in physical activity, poor diet and poor sleep hygiene all contribute to the risk of obesity, as well as deterioration in life satisfaction and wellbeing.
When the kids are young they need us to manage their screen time. On the other hand, as they are entering high school, young people are supposed to be learning how to manage this themselves. Either way, we need to provide them with guidelines and tools, put in boundaries and set up appropriate consequences as needed. When it comes to working this out with our young people, involving them in the conversation helps them own the decisions that are made. In all of this, consequences need to be predetermined and reasonable. Any lectures or threats we may be tempted to use to manage their behaviour will probably only escalate into conflict, which is counter-productive. Whatever the arrangement you set up, you need to be able to consistently follow through on your part.
When negotiating how to manage online time, you may wish to consider some of these things:
- “No screens” during family meals places value on quality face to face relating.
- Only allowing screens in public areas (not bedrooms) helps with monitoring usage, and screen-free time before bed (at least an hour) helps with sleep. This includes smartphones. If they need an alarm, an alarm clock is all that’s needed.
- Work out a weekday routine remembering that young people cannot be productive if they are trying to socialise and do homework at the same time (check out commonsensemedia.com for reviews on a range of productivity software that can help them manage this). You can be more flexible with the schedule on the weekends and during holidays.
- Young people also need to be involved in other activities such as sport and spending time with family and friends, screen free.
On the whole, in working it all through, try to keep it simple and remember that it’s important to model the behaviour that you expect from your children.
Mrs Yvonne Crawford / Counsellor