Is it just me or does it seem like everyone carries their cell phone with them everywhere? The one that gets me the most is taking it to the bathroom. Or what about the email chirps or text message dings that have become the background music during family dinner? I'll admit - I am guilty of having my cell on me most of the time. Ok all the time. But I'm trying to get better about being more "out of touch" especially when spending time with my kids.
While intentionally not browsing on my phone while waiting in the Doctor's office, I came across an article in Parenting magazine that was oh so fitting.
Technology has created a world of both wonder and worry for the modern family. I'll never forget when I got my first email account. In college. I felt like I was a character on the Jetsons. Sadly now email is almost a thing of the past. And what about doing research in the Encyclopedia? Man, I am really dating myself. But it's true. Snail mail. Going to the library to check out a book. Handwriting a paper. All things of the past. The average family household now has a whopping 23 tech devices. 59% of kids have witnessed their parents using a mobile device while driving. Children under 5 are more likely to be able to play a computer game than tie their shoes. And no that doesn't make your kid smarter.
Parents need to know what it means to be a good digital role model. Some people are better than others at knowing when and where to draw the line, while other's need to set boundaries. Do you really want your child moving at the speed of 4G? Regardless, I think we all could benefit from this simple checklist of Digi-do's and Digi-don'ts that should be applied in this powerful, plugged-in, pixelated world we live in;
1) All devices should be treated equal: It used to be that screen time meant TV time. But now that the average family has nearly two dozen screens under one roof, they must be treated the same. "Whether it's playing with an app on an iPad, watching a movie on TV, or playing a computer game, they are equally engrossing to kids," claims Parenting magazine. However, they state that if a device is being used for an activity that's productive or educational, or fosters family interactivity - such as reading an Ebook together - that shouldn't count against screen time.
2) Monkey see, monkey touch, swipe and drag: Nine out of ten Americans have seen people misuse technology. Translation: We are all offenders. Consider these two statistics from Intel's "2011 State of Mobile Etiquette" study: 46% of kids have seen mom or dad use the phone during dinner, and 49% don't see anything wrong with it. If the kids witness you doing it, they will assume it's approved behavior. Hmmm. Valid point. Parents need to set an example as good digital citizens. That means no texting while driving (not even at red lights which I myself need to get better at), or it's safe to assume your kids will follow suit when it's their turn behind the wheel.
3) Make eye contact, not iContact: While doing research for her book "Alone Together; Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other," Turkle met kids who complained about their parents being disconnected. "They talked about moms who bring their phones to bedtime, or coming out of school and the parents making a hand gesture instead of eye contact because they're finishing an email." One I see all the time - a parent pushing their kid on the swing with one hand and looking at the phone with the other. The result? Kids are disconnecting as well. It's sad when you see kids having trouble making eye contact. Sadly kids would rather send an email, text or Facebook than talk face to face with teachers, coaches and parents. The result? Social skills are vanishing. The answer: Make and maintain connection, without pit-stopping for a tech interlude.
4) Establish electronic curfews: Creating "blackouts" encourages families to do things together and forces kids to get creative with their free time. With preschoolers, unplugging the power strip from the wall and claiming a "power failure" is an easy way to do it. For older kids, a more foolproof option is "BreakTime," an app from myi (http://www.myi.com/), a service that lets users customize their household's Internet usage. BreakTime allows families to put the Internet on hold for a length of time on any device (mobile phones, computers, gaming systems, tablets) that receives connection.
I encourage you to set some boundaries both for yourself and your kids. I think it's important to get a handle on this because there is no going back. Our kids need to know that YouTube isn't the answer to everything.