During the pandemic, technology enabled children to continue their education safely from home and maintain social interaction with their friends and family. As classes became virtual and parents allowed children confined at home to spend more time on their devices, screen time shot up drastically.
Growing children stand to benefit from technology in a myriad of ways. According to child psychologist Anita Jaffer from Texas, USA, technology can help prepare children for adulthood if used wisely. It offers easy access to a plethora of knowledge and academic platforms via the Internet, along with advancements such as digital art, music mixing software, virtual reality, and more.
These resources can help children channel creativity and strengthen their intellectual prowess. The use of technology, including online and video games, can also enhance spatial skills, strategic thinking, problem solving skills, and motor coordination. Moreover, using devices to perform even minor tasks can instill a sense of independence and empowerment.
However, it is equally important to be aware of the harmful effects technology can have on the psyche of children. Anita shared that children who use technology excessively can become dependent on their devices for stimulation and engagement. A dependency of this kind at an early age can hinder mental and psychological development. With its emphasis on speed, technology also makes children accustomed to instant gratification and diminishes their attention spans. This can be a major drawback in adult life where achieving major goals requires patience, time, and sustained effort.
Anita recommends that parents encourage their children to use technology in a way that “enhances life rather than interrupting it.” Technology can often encroach upon time that could be spent on experiences like building relationships, observing adult interactions, and exploring new spaces. These experiences help children develop confidence, social skills, and emotional intelligence. Those who do not spend sufficient time on such experiences often struggle to voice their feelings and have difficulty managing negative emotions such as fear, anger, and pain. Such children are also more likely to show aggression and get involved in conflicts.
In addition, the excessive use of technology is also linked to a lack of adequate physical activity, which can compromise a child’s physical development and endurance while also putting them at risk of obesity.
Parents should take a “consistent, balanced, and intentional approach” with their children and guide them to use technology in moderation, advises Anita. Having calm and open conversations with children while taking their perspective into account can help parents find a balance that is fitting to their family’s situation.
Expectations and rules should be clearly expressed and enforced with consistency. Possible ideas include barring all devices at meal times and assigning a special area in the house for computers or tablets. Incorporating family activities into the daily routine, such as making breakfast together every morning and praying together in the evening, gives children a reason to disconnect and bond with their family.
Anita also encourages parents to learn about their children’s interests and find enjoyable activities outside the technological sphere such as crafts, science projects, travel, board games, and outdoor games.
“Make your presence fun and make family life exciting,” she said. Alternatively, children can be encouraged to participate in sports, community-based activities, and charity work. These experiences organically steer children away from technology by offering engagement and enjoyment through other means.
Two growing concerns regarding the use of technology are cyberbullying and cybercrime. To combat these concerns, Anita advises parents to be aware of what their children are doing online. Children should be educated about the dangers of cybercrime, and interaction with strangers online should be strongly discouraged.
Most importantly, Anita notes that parents must offer a safe space for their children to turn to if they face any problems. In the case of cyberbullying, she advises parents to be supportive and reassuring while making it clear to the child that they are not at fault. Records of the bullying should be kept as proof and it may also be beneficial if the child is encouraged to take a break from social media. Should the parents deem it necessary, it may help to have a conversation with the parents of the child responsible, or report the bullying to school authorities.