How on earth does one force a digital child to unplug from technology? The modern generation Alpha kids and technology are so much intertwined that the thought of one without the other does not arise.
The truth is, screen time in children has exploded in the 21st century and continues to evolve at amazing speeds. This leaves parents with so much to ask and yet so few meaningful answers!
- Is too much screen time truly an addiction or are we getting it all wrong?
- On a positive note, is indulgence in technology the survival formula in the 21st Century?
- But again, should we sit back and relax when children spend countless hours plowing through social media platforms instead of doing dishes?
- How about children sitting still with the head arched over in what is definitely a medical emergency in the long run?
Unfortunately, there are no complete and definite answers to these and many other questions.
What then can a parent do? Is it not time we considered digital detox as part of the answer?
First things first. Let us go back to the last Century which saw the birth of screen time.
The television and digital detox!
It all started way back in the middle of the last Century (20th Century to be exact) when the TV set was the most fashionable item in the house. As of the 1950s, over 10 million television sets were in use, and overall, screen time was getting massive adoption.
The television became the most desired device in the world in the 1970s, far outshining the telephone and toilet installations.
By then, TV abuse was defined as day and night-long bingeing at the expense of productivity at home and in the office.
In a Sussman S and Moran MB research published in 2013,
Addictions also may include behaviors that are often intrinsically not associated with excess, are not generally considered life-fulfilling, but are often considered a waste of productive time (e.g., television viewing).Sussman S, Moran MB. Hidden addiction: Television. J Behav Addict. 2013;2(3):125–132. doi:10.1556/jba.2.2013.008
The need for a digital detox in the 21st century!
Today, around 50 decades on, TVs now number 1.5 billion globally. All homes in the developed world own one or more TV sets, and the same is true in 70% of homes in the developing world.
Excess use of the television is prevalent with bingeing popular TV series such as The Big Bang Theory and Game of Thrones.
The 21st Century is also a century for Generation Z and Alpha cohorts who are true digital natives. They are born right inside technology and will indulge in tech pass-times more than other generations when they grow up.
Also true in this Century, the TV screen has been upgraded to include the Internet and other tech contraptions. These include smaller screens such as the laptop, tablet, smartphone, and other miniature mobile screens!
Just like the TV set was abused from long ago, so are mobile devices today which have probably turned many into ‘idiots’, very much unwilling to work and relate with family, friends, and colleagues.
Here are just a few situations where too much screen time is problematic and why your digital child needs to unplug from technology:
- Health: obesity; tech-neck; cancer; physical inactivity; vitamin D deficiency, laziness.
- Social & family life: reduced face-to-face interactions; isolation; depression, anxiety.
- Exposure to bad content: adult content; violent content; profanity.
- Poor sleep habits: poor sleep, messed up hormonal functions.
- Digital malpractice: bullying; stalking; photo/video leakages.
- Negative image syndrome: less beautiful/handsome assumptions.
- Poor communication.
- Fear of missing out (FOMO).
- Lowered concentration levels.
- Reduced attention span.
- Less productive, industrious and creative.
So, what now for your digital child?
The 5 real-life hacks to get your digital child to unplug from technology
In order to initiate a fair digital detox game-plan, become what you want your child to become! It is a heck of a battle to fight, but here are a few things you can do.
1. Become an outdoor model
The temptation to over-indulge screen time is facilitated by a sedentary lifestyle which we all do and accept. The assumption is that children are better off at home than wandering out in the neighborhood.
This is probably true due to escalating urbanization which comes with risk factors such as criminality and communicable diseases.
If this makes sense to you, it is your responsibility to deliberately get yourself out of that couch every now and then to get venture outdoors. The kids will subconsciously follow you.
The random design of outdoor activities should get them to subconsciously unplug from technology gadgets soon enough.
There are no hard and fast rules on how often you can do this, but the more days you do it, the better.
Ultimately though, you are doing this for your child, and for very good reasons.
First and foremost, kids need to be out of the house in order to accumulate 60 minutes (WHO recommendations) of moderate to vigorous-intensity physical activity on a daily basis.
Second, kids have to get out daily to absorb vitamin D from the sunshine.
Third, they need to socialize with people other than family members only – this may not be a daily routine though. Fourth, they get to take risks as a result of mingling with nature and other people.
Finally, they will get to appreciate nature, which may ultimately drive them into loving stuff other than smartphone screens and television sets.
Besides, you can get them to participate in community games, volunteering, camping, site seeing, and visiting animal parks.
In total, your child should be outdoors for at least 3 hours. Of course, more is better.
2. Give them permission and room to play
While technology is shaping job skills today there is always room for non-tech skills in real life. Your child may never find this out unless you give them a chance!
As mentioned earlier, the World Health Organization recommendation on physical activity is,
Children should accumulate at least 60 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity daily. (MVPA)WHO
In order to accumulate the 60 minutes of play-time, you have to let your child play and play more. Now the sixty minutes of WVPA is not easy to accumulate indoors. It will require a little jogging and running down the street.
Kids up to 10 years will embrace every opportunity to get out and run. And as long as you make these errands worth it, they will readily abandon their screens in favor of outdoor errands. Let them know why they need to play, and that they can play as much as they want.
Your child will discover skills and talents such as football, athletics or riding. All you have to do is sit back and watch the magic as it happens!
One last caution. Stop worrying so much that something will go wrong, or the child will get injured. While this is true your child is so robust, agile and quick at recovery and will have minor injuries heal fast. You do not have to be around all the time.
Let your child and peers disappear for a while to bask in the freedom of playtime!
3. Create digital free zones at home
Now, this is difficult for many parents. You are probably hooked needlessly to your smartphone and are at it even when family moments should be a priority!
Ask yourself these questions: Do you
- Use your smartphone during mealtimes?
- Sleep with your smartphone?
- Have electronics scattered all over the place in the bedrooms?
- Bother to monitor how long your child uses the computer and TV?
These are big questions and your answers are probably YES to all. If so, you have serious problems in your house which need sorting. By all means, ensure certain places and moments are totally tech-free!
Popular places that should remain tech-free include:
- dining table
- family moments indoors and outdoors
- homework sessions
- during a workout, unless they are complimentary
- during a one-on-one with your child
In addition, set time limits that should apply to all in the family, unless of course, it is an emergency or when work calls. Remember, no double standards, especially if it hinders family moments.
4. Unplug from technology by making it a tool
While gaming is bad if played for extended hours and interferes with productivity, it may actually help your child learn life and work skills. Moderate gaming within the stipulated time frames, or as a family also enhances bonding and awareness.
A parent may easily learn which child is failing to achieve certain milestones simply by playing together. Games can help children read and write fast, master patience, become strategic, and develop cognitive and creative awareness.
Besides they get to learn the dangers of real-life experiences. Beware though of violent games. These can teach them violence!
Still, get your digital child to embrace technology as a tool than simply a means of entertainment. By 10 years, your child should be doing more than just bingeing on TV or gaming aimlessly!
Let them know that computers
- are for gaming and learning as well
- should be used as literacy tools
- are important for research
- can be used for coding
- will prepare them for the future job market
Let them keep these and other valuable knowledge in mind and you just about get them to unplug from technology!
5. Discuss health implications of technology misuse
If you have lived a life without technology, you probably know well how much your digital child is missing by being sedentary and getting over-hooked! These lifestyles are dangerous according to science and need to stop.
If you exercise active and positive parenting, you definitely will get your child to understand why technology can be a problem if abused. Active parenting means you are ever-present and are truly concerned about the health and overall well-being of your child.
Discuss tech-related effects listed below with your child from the very beginning and you will be surprised how they respond:
- The importance of physical activity early in life
- Too much screen time means physical inactivity
- Tech overuse is addictive and addiction is bad
- Overuse can lead to posture problems
- Tech neck is bad for the spine and the chest
- The eyes can be affected in the short and long run
- Electronics in the bedroom interferes with sleep quality and related hormones
- Related radiofrequency can cause cancer if not monitored
- Mindless use can lead to poor social life
- It can hinder communication such as eye to eye communication
Above all, let your child know tech is not everything in life.
Your child will happily share with you some of the effects mentioned above if they are already happening, and you may just be lucky to get them sorted out before they become chronic.
The final word
It is important to ensure there are no double standards at home!
While this hurts, always remember to let your child know he or she is a player in the race to unplug from technology and the larger scope of digital detox. Your child should have a say when you too, are abusing technology.
Your child is not WRONG all the time and neither are you RIGHT all the time. Empower everyone in the house and screen time overuse will get sorted out sooner or later.