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How Much is Too Much Tech?

by Twitchy on August 27, 2013

One of our biggest parenting issues at home (and not unique) is separating our thirteen year old from his computer. Or 3DS. Or ipad. Or wii. We give countdown warnings and yet we still must stand over him until he finishes the game/ reaches the next level/ saves and shuts down- or meltdown. It’s tiresome and frustrating. Life runs smoother to have no-go days than daily time limits as it’s either ‘on’ or ‘off’ with him.

Parenting a child on the spectrum makes things more complex with technology. Mr13 uses an ipad at school as his handwriting cannot possibly keep up with his ideas. All the skills he develops now will no doubt secure him a good employment future, which is extremely important. Spectrum kids can obsess in their chosen areas of interest until they become sought-after masters in their fields- but this takes contact hours.

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If my boy makes more friends via his youtube channel and Minecraft gaming than he would face-to-face, isn’t that legitimate socialisation that wouldn’t otherwise occur? If my boy finds it less stressful to make like-minded friends via a screen when contact with new people is challenging and school nastiness is a given, that makes it harder to argue for less online hours. Many psychologists encourage screen time as a wind-down when our kids come home from the stresses of school. This is just part of the complicated situation for us.

More concerning though, is the pattern his younger sibling witnesses. With an older brother and two parents who are very tech connected, she too now wants screen time and this bothers me more. My daughter is six and a half. Her brother was introduced to technology around the age of ten. (My husband and I were entering our twenties.) We don’t yet know what the effects of time spent on devices with small screens does to younger eyes, brains and social development.

This generation of babes born with gadgets at hand (“digital natives”) is part of one big sociological, biological and neurological experiment. It’s reportedly detrimental for babies but as children get older, observers and commentators are at a loss to accurately predict what this will all amount to.

I read a very interesting Time article last night on this. While every parent does indeed have to negotiate these uncharted waters for themselves, I have an issue with what one of the quoted experts says:

“Double standards are common, says clinical psychologist and school consultant Catherine Steiner-Adair, who interviewed 1,000 children and 500 parents in focus groups for her excellent new book, The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age. “What I hear from kids as soon as they are old enough to know the word is hypocrite,” says Steiner-Adair. “Kids say, ‘My parents are hypocrites. They say no phones at the dinner table, and then they take a call.’ There is always going to be a power differential between adults and children, but the problem is that ‘do as I say, not as I do’ makes kids feel like parents are abusing their power, which undermines your own authority, and it also teaches kids that as they get older, they don’t have to play by the rules.”

Sorry, but by what exact definition is this a ‘double standard’ or hypocrisy? Yes, we should be aware of our own conduct and no, we shouldn’t immediately contradict ourselves but are we adults on the same level with our kids now? What if, as in our home, it is work-related? The sad truth is many parents can afford more time around their kids today precisely because they are on call.

Is setting the rules, driving, voting, drinking alcohol, paying bills and staying up later a ‘double standard’? I think not. Yes, we have a lot to learn about all this, but for now our only way forward each day is to encourage a variety of activities and to set what we, as parents think is the best tech limit for each of our children. Good luck with that, by the way.

{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

Emma @ Five Degrees of Chaos August 27, 2013 at 8:40 pm

We ask the same question in our house too, Miss 6 is proud of the fact that she’s downloaded 106 games to her iPod touch and it makes me so nervous! Working in the digital space, it would be hypocritical of me to try and stifle it, but you are so right – how much IS too much? Returning the favour from #IBOT, thanks for visiting my blog 🙂

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Lisa@RandomActsOfZen August 27, 2013 at 6:00 pm

I think you’re the best ones to know how much is enough in each situation. It annoys me when the “experts” put out blanket statements generalising……everyone is different!
My 10 yr old is only mildly interested in screen stuff, she’s into her art more, and I kind of encourage it when she does turn on her ipad because I don’t want her to get left behind in the online world, so I guess there’s problems either way.
I’m sure you know what limits to set, and lines are always adjustable, according to the situations.
Some days honey, it’s just whatever works! xx

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Sam Stone August 27, 2013 at 5:44 pm

I have never known the best thing to do re screen time for my daughter. I think I was always feel guilty and think it is too much. I agree with some of the other comments on here too, how can I get her to stop when I am constantly checking email, messages, facebook, pinterest, instagram and reading my favourite blogs!

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Josefa @always Josefa August 27, 2013 at 5:14 pm

This is a tough one Twitchy. I already can see that my boys are going to need lots of boundaries with technology (gaming, ipads, internet) especially as they get older. But if I think about it, maybe I need these boundaries as well??

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Twitchy August 27, 2013 at 9:16 pm

Ah yes, such a tricky one. For me, blogging and social media very much so. I want to catch up on ALL THE THINGS but I guess we have to be aware.

Emily @ Have a laugh on me August 27, 2013 at 3:01 pm

It’s hard to get kids to do things one way when we are doing it ourselves, and my daughter says to me, well why are you on your phone, iPad, computer etc and 90 per cent of the time it’s for work, okay sometimes it’s blog or CCS related but not often. And then I tell her I’m an adult and I make the rules and when she’s an adult she can make her rules, until then I’m the boss. And she’s not even 6 yet! I’ve read that screen time for those on the spectrum is beneficial – and it’s all about moderation I feel.
And I’m slightly worried about those born with technology in hand as my nearly two-year-old can find an app he likes and open and start playing it, that can’t be good!

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Twitchy August 27, 2013 at 9:17 pm

My husband works with people in all time zones across the globe and frequently needs to be on conf calls at all hours, but at least he can do it in his pj’s if need be. Over and above those imperatives, work *could* take over all free time, as can SM. I guess we just need to stop and think about what is reasonable so we have some sort of plan.

Deb @ home life simplified August 27, 2013 at 1:33 pm

This is a topic I revisit regularly, generally speaking I let my kids self regulate tech time so it s not forbidden fruit, but do intervene at times when I think it s mindless (ie zombies on the sofa watching anything that comes on) or a beautiful weekend day after they’ve watched a bit/played games etc. mine are 8 1/2 and 10 and also do other stuff so I think it balances out over time. Some days it is lots f reading or art, other days are gaming or vegging out.

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Renee at Mummy, Wife, Me August 27, 2013 at 1:24 pm

We haven’t entered this territory yet with much younger kids. I know it’s something we will have to be wary of though. We will attempt as hard as it is to find a balance with everything they do.

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nikki - suburp August 27, 2013 at 12:56 pm

“This generation of babes born with gadgets at hand (“digital natives”) is part of one big sociological, biological and neurological experiment. It’s reportedly detrimental for babies but as children get older, observers and commentators are at a loss to accurately predict what this will all amount to.”
This is really the one thing people need to keep in mind. I have been relatively strict with my son until he was school age, then experimented with timers, restrictions, reward system etc. It’s not that easy when, indeed, all these bring on more distress than they actually manage screen times. The alternative is NOT hours of pink-cheeked play out in the street with a gang of mates but more likely a miserable, lonely kid who will be acutely aware of the absence of playdates and cryptic behaviour of peers, not to mention that my own time and inspiration for entertainment is indeed limited sometimes. So if my child’s special interest and favourite passtime is video games, and not footy, riding a bike or building dams in the nearby creek, so be it. he has screentime everyday.
i am managing, however. there are certain times where there are no gadgets allowed and it’s literally ‘written on the wall’ (the rules). he’s only 7 and i am computer literate enough to shield him from inappropriate online content and contacs.. for now. there is no negotiating on that.
I also find it interesting, that you mention the ipad in school as my son has been introduced to this for the same reasons, but i have asked them to delay the systematic use for now, to allow him to have at least some positive results that include handwriting (this might be wishful thinking by me).
overall, i understand how kids will come to see hypocrisy in the behaviour of SOME parents, but as you say, and I think you can convey this to your kids too, there are reasons parents can or have to do certain things that are just ‘not on’ for them. fact.

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Twitchy August 27, 2013 at 1:35 pm

Thanks for saying that Nikki, I’m glad what I say resonates with you. I have heard the hints dropped many times before that we should limit Mr13’s tech use in social or dining out situations. The problem with that is, he’d go less willingly and earlier on it would’ve even been a struggle to get him to go at all, without his security items.

JodiGibson (@JFGibsonWriter) August 27, 2013 at 11:45 am

I don’t have an answer, does anyone really? Every situation is different and I know myself I am too connected to the computer screen at times and saying it is ‘my work’ isn’t the answer. We parent our kids by making sure they do a bit of everything. Screen time, book time, play time, active time, outside time. Some days screen time is more than others, but we can only try and hope that our kids turn out okay.

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Twitchy August 27, 2013 at 1:22 pm

Funny you mention books: my son broke the ipad at breakfast rule again (regular amnesia), which then encouraged his sister to grab the other one. I told them both off, then said I didn’t mind books at the table. Next thing you know, Mr13 is introducing Miss6 to the joys of his old Captain Underpants collection and they sit there peeing themselves at their silly/ toilet names from the chart.

iSophie August 27, 2013 at 10:19 am

Arghghgh surely does sum it up. I agree that adult vs kid tech time can absolutely be different. We often ban the boys from all tech, sometimes for days. I actually donated my old iPad to the school, specifically to be used in the year my eldest is in. He has two spectrum kids in the class and even thought they were meant to have an iPad they didn’t. #teamIBOT

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Aroha @ Colours of Sunset August 27, 2013 at 9:58 am

I don’t really have a problem with what the quote is saying, because as soon as I read it I knew I was guilty of it. Mr 5 is addicted to phone/ipad/TV/apple TV/computer, and he knows how to use it all. And we take his iPod away from him when he has a meltdown over having to turn it off, then we rinse and repeat the same thing the following week. He lost his TV privileges for the week which means none of us can watch TV (until he’s asleep anyway). It’s a really tough subject, you made a lot of good points about why technology is good for your son, but what point is it too much? I guess that’s an individual thing and will change from person to person. :/ Wish there was a black and white answer, would make it much easier! x

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Fiona @ Imogens Angels August 27, 2013 at 8:49 am

Argh! this subject drives us crazy too, we introduced our teen to tech at a late age too, as it drove me crazy to see kids plugged into a screen. Now he is in almost middle high school he is extremely plugged into facebook and the rest. I now plan times when we go out and are screen free and actually look at each other and engage in real life convo. It is all about trying to find that middle ground….sometimes you win, sometimes not so.

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Twitchy August 27, 2013 at 9:16 am

Yes Fiona, aaaargh is the best word on the entire subject. Would’ve made for a very short post, though 🙂

Seana Smith August 27, 2013 at 8:13 am

Hello there, I agree that children need to know that the playing field is not level and the parents are the parents. We have explained (many times!) that we aren’t playing games, we’re working or doing photos or reading newspapers online or whatever. But at the same time, a switch off for us all is a good plan.

For sure I am on my computer less than I was, and at weekends rarely get to sit down at the laptop… which I miss but it’s all too easy to neglect the kids and if I won’t drag them into the fresh air, no-one will.

Big issues, and my spectrum kid spends a lot of time online – mostly Facebook being in touch with his heavy metal pals worldwide… but he really needs those face to face skills too… he has a part-time job, probably the best thing ever for him.

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fairy dust August 27, 2013 at 7:47 am

My other half and I are just entering this world of time control and awareness with the 4 and a half yr old. However he has always said it is a good skill if you want to be a surgeon……so just a different take on it and an article I pulled out to share…food for thought for all those out there . So for any mums whose child is on the spectrum or not…your child may one day teach these surgeons through game sessions if not be a surgeon themself x
”Conclusions: Video game skill correlates with laparoscopic surgical skills. Training curricula that include video
games may help thin the technical interface between surgeons and screen-mediated applications, such as laparoscopic surgery. Video games may be a practical teaching tool to help train surgeons.”
Article by the people below x
The Impact of Video Games
on Training Surgeons in the 21st Century
James C. Rosser, Jr, MD; Paul J. Lynch, MD; Laurie Cuddihy, MD; Douglas A. Gentile, PhD;
Jonathan Klonsky, MD; Ronald Merrell, MD

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Robomum August 27, 2013 at 7:26 am

This debate will rage for as long as we have ears, eyes and mouths to judge others. Whatever works I say. If the pad gets another mouthful of food into my difficult eater, how is that bad? Managing all of our screens is a serious issue, I posted about it recently too.
And yep, good luck with it. X

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Pinky Poinker August 27, 2013 at 7:21 am

Very good point you are making. Kids don’t know what they need. How could they? We are there to set guidelines for them and it’s silly to say it’s a double standard.

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Leanne @ Deep Fried Fruit August 27, 2013 at 6:47 am

Yeah, good luck with that … a “problem” we are facing too. Says she who sits at a computer all day ….
Leanne @ Deep Fried Fruit

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