With the relentless march of technological wonders into every nook and cranny of human and machine co-existence, a question worth asking is, when is digital intrusion deemed excessive and harmful? Opinions vary from indulgence to indifference to outright ban of tech exposure to children. Perhaps there is a middle ground, one where kids can be taught early on to use technology in “just right” bites.
At the crucial time of skill and cognitive development, today’s toddler wakes up to a day of phone jingles, gets incessantly bombarded by loud sounds and incomprehensible fast-moving graphics, plays games with fingers still learning to grasp, and sadly may favor the false allure of cartoon companions over human compatriots. The individual and societal costs of kids raised thus by software are incalculable, resulting in loneliness, social awkwardness, loss of emotional resilience, inability to self-soothe, lack of physical activity, and more darkly, a trained resort to objectification leading to impatience and quick fixes. Yet, cellphones, tablets, voice assistants, and chat are indispensable tools of the modern age, allowing kids to learn, communicate, and form healthy online relationships. How to untangle the issue? A number of resources provide practical and parent-tested ideas for safe digital consumption. The AAP’s (American Academy of Pediatrics)Media and Children Communication Toolkit is a great place to start. The crux of their message includes parental monitoring, consumption in moderation and modeling responsible digital behavior.
Turning to physical safety, it is sobering to note that San Diego’s touristic destination and border town status makes us a magnet for online predators.
Teaching children the digital equivalent of “tricky people” is another crucial skill to impart. San Diego Police Foundation’s SafetyNet® initiative teaches about smart cyber choices. Another important aspect of responsible technology use is that of averting the so called “tech neck.” Many young adults are being diagnosed with headaches, neck pain and shoulder impairments. Teaching habit-forming good posture, encouraging eye-level screen reading, taking frequent breaks from online activity, and incorporating exercise and stretching create a lifelong toolkit to protect from repetitive strain injury resulting from hours of forward-tilted head positions.
Every family’s circumstances are different. A few techniques that seem to work for my daughter include: pre-announcing and holding to screen time limits; using favorite programs as a reward for completing chores and homework or for encouraging good behavior; hosting video calls with grandma; teaching her to place the tablet in airplane mode while playing games or watching downloaded content (which prevents from unsupervised internet surfing and also lowers the amount of WiFi or cellular exposure). Screen time deprivation seldom works.
Treating digital consumption as just one of many interesting choices among reading, video-calls with family, physical play with other kids or just getting dirty in the garden seems to strike that crucial balance. Or so we try to convince ourselves.