As Parents, What Can We Do? – Part 3 of a 3 part series
Unplug! To start, remove screens from the bedroom. As shared in the first post of this series, lit up screens at bedtime have been linked to depression and poor sleep. Technology should be turned off and put away two hours before bedtime. If you are not sure, keep record of how much time your child spends in front of a screen. Have them spend an equal amount of time being active. Have them build with Legos instead of Minecraft, read real books instead of on a tablet, and spend time in nature and playing sports instead of watching TV. Request that schools do not give children a tablet or Chromebook until they are at least 10 or even 12 years old (or find a school that does not). Remember, educational technology should not replace something children can learn through hands-on work. In the next decade, technology will continue to change at a rapid pace. As a result, there should be no rush to introduce it in the classroom during the early years.
Create a safe, engaging, accessible, orderly environment for self-directed play. In turn, you will not need to constantly entertain your child and will have time for what you need to do. Put toys in smaller baskets on shelves within their reach rather than in a large toy box. This makes viewing, choosing and putting toys away easier for the child. Establish a balance between having enough toys to offer choices, and too many that your child feels overwhelmed. Rotate toys over time if you have too many, or give some away. Furnish this area with child sized tables and chairs. Appropriately sized furniture makes children feel more comfortable, creating self-confidence and leading to success.
Establish tech free times and zones. We already talked about removing screens from the bedroom due to their effect on sleep. It is also important to keep cell phones out of bedrooms and bathrooms to protect our children from innocently taking private pictures that then end up in the wrong hands. In addition, make family meal time a priority. Eat meals together and do not permit phones or tablets at the dinner table, including at restaurants. Engage your children in conversation! Consider making the car tech free as well. Talk to your children about their day, play games with them such as “I Spy” or the alphabet game. Sing songs together or make up stories as you drive.
Balance their time. Our children are not yet able to balance screen time with other necessary activity on their own. As parents and teachers, we need to be their guide to prevent the start down a slippery slope towards negative choices. Have them earn tech time by spending time reading, helping around the house or being active outside. Remind them that technology is a privilege, not a right.
Establish Rules. Rules about media use need to be based on family values, parent/child communication and individual personalities. Discuss guidelines with your children and have them be a part of the decision process. Rules will obviously change over time as they age, but it is always easier to give them more than take it away. Boundaries must be set for children until they are able to gain, through experience, the tools they need to limit their own usage. Create your own family media plan or contract and stick to it!
Go a week without screen time. Challenge yourself. Spend time with your children. Play with them, explore with them. If you need to use a computer or cell phone at home for work reasons, try to save that for after they have gone to bed. Don’t be too busy following the hype of the latest technology that you miss out on experiencing life. Choose memories over material things. Travel – for the cost of the latest cell phone you could purchase a round trip ticket to Europe.
Create an emergency activity kit. Overloading toddlers and young children with smartphones and other media technology can inhibit their development. The use of mobile devices to entertain young children during daily routines such as errands, car rides and eating out has become very common. However, what some critics refer to as “shut-up toys” can be detrimental to their social development as they impede the development of self-control and problem solving skills. If electronic media devices become the prevalent method to soothe and occupy our youth, how will they develop their own ability to self-regulate?
Prepare yourself for times when your child is bored or unplugged in these situations. Fill a basket or backpack with books, paper and pencils, travel games, arts and crafts, etc., that they can use in the car, at a restaurant, or while waiting at the doctor or the bank. Create it as a family and change it up every now and again. Resist the temptation to give them the phone or the tablet. (We wouldn’t even hold it against you if you told them it needs to charge or you can’t find it.)
The most important thing we can do for our children is be the example!
Children close their ears to advice but open their eyes to example. Even newborns watch their parents and tune into
their distraction. Multi-tasking parents are challenging the greatest, most intensely defining example in a child’s formation of self. Competing for a parent’s attention with their mobile devices shortchanges their development. So, put down your phone! (Especially since our brains are not really set up for multi-tasking.)
Limit your own screen time. Again, save it for after bedtime if it is a must. Family time should be a priority – eat together, play together. Collectively with your children, write down a list of everything they might enjoy, particularly over school breaks. If they say they are bored, have them go look at that list. Suggest other activities, such as games, puzzles, going outside or for a walk.
Monitor your child’s internet use and teach your children about internet safety. Keep their pins and passwords – you DO have the right as their parent! Decide what they are going to watch or play ahead of time and when that is over, turn it off. Vet new games and apps that they would like to see if they are appropriate.
Children are great imitators, so give them something great to imitate.
Carol Martorano, M.Ed., has been working in Montessori for 20 years as both a teacher and administrator. She is the parent of two teenagers who attended Montessori through the elementary years and is currently the Head of School at the Montessori School of Long Grove, in northwest suburban Chicago. She has her Montessori credentials in Elementary I and II, as well as Administration. She earned her Master’s Degree in Educational Leadership and sits on the board of the Association of Illinois Montessori Schools.