By Richard Singleton
Summer is upon us and that means that soon our kids will have more time on their hands than almost any time of the year. What might be more important than the time on their hands are the tech devices in their hands. But, before we get to the tech habits of the kids, let’s make sure we parents have our tech tendencies in check, too.
Recently, Inc. magazine’s John Brandon wrote a provocative little article entitled “One tech mistake you should fix today.” Ironically, he wasn’t waxing eloquent about your pesky Windows 8 Start button woes, wasn’t jabbing at your Mac mishaps and wasn’t even suggesting that you dump your relatively new smartphone for the latest and greatest king of the hill.
Rather, Brandon makes this simple – perhaps painful – observation: “The problem: you’re not taking enough breaks from the computer.”
Ouch! I thought he was just going to tell me to backup my computer or cleanout my bloated email inbox. He had to go and get personal.
Brandon makes a brief but compelling case. He notes interesting medical challenges that come with too much screen time. Namely stress, depression, back pain and maybe most interesting, a phenomena creatively termed “screen apnea” – a condition where one momentarily slows or even stops breathing while starring at their computer screen.
Too much screen time in the office might be easily avoided by some simple behavior changes: forced time away for your desk, putting down your tablet or mobile and taking a quick stroll to the breakroom for a coffee (yes, I refuse to believe that it has anything but beneficial effects), a brief, brisk walk around the office or just some light stretching near your workstation. But please do save the yoga, boot camp exercises and endless monologues for the studio, gym and mirror. Your colleagues will thank you for not exchanging one bad habit for another.
So, solving the riddle of too much screen time at work is fairly straightforward, if somewhat hard to choke down. The research for the hypnotic appeal of the screen may be telling a far more concerning story for our kids.
Several years ago, research from Case Western Reserve researcher Scott Frank, M.D., MS, shockingly called attention to the association of hyper-texting and many unhealthy behavioral choices. About 20 percent of teens report sending more than 120 texts per day. These hyper-texters were 40 percent more likely to try cigarettes, twice as likely to try alcohol, 43 percent more likely to binge drink, 41 percent more likely to use illicit drugs, over three times more likely to have had sex and 90 percent more likely to have had four or more sexual partners.
It’s vital to understand that texting too much doesn’t cause these behaviors and cutting back on texting and social media use won’t magically cause them to decrease. These are just associations, but they are important associations. We dare not ignore them.
Frank put it plainly: “This may be a wake-up call for parents to open a dialogue with their kids about the extent of texting and social networking they are involved with and about what is happening in the rest of their lives.”
Consequently, like so many issues that live in the orbit of technology use, healthy behavior in our children comes down to the relationship of the parent and the child. Healthy communication, healthy boundaries and time away from technology together in enriching family activities are a must – moreso than ever before.
Consider having a time of the day, a significant part of a day or a whole day of the week when there is a tech fast by the whole family. Go outside together. Go for a trip to the park. Take Fido to the dog park together. Take a trip to the coffee shop and just sit near each other having drinks and light conversation. Help children learn the joys and importance of reading actual books. Find meaningful moments to have important conversations about struggles, questions, relationship issues, goals, plans, friendships and worries your teen is experiencing. Our kids don’t always open up. In fact, if we aren’t in the habit, they might find it cruel and unusual punishment to pull themselves away from their phone for us. Even so, with all kids, there are those little slivers of conversational sunshine that peek around even the darkest clouds. Grab every moment. Seize every opportunity. We’ll never look back and wish we had more time on our computers, phones and tablets. We’ll often look back and wish we had more time in building and nurturing relationships with our children. It will be one of the most important relationships of their lives, and amazingly, it requires a social network just big enough to fit around the kitchen table.