With the rise of the internet and mobile technology, the children of today exist in a vastly different world than the one we grew up in. Whereas all the world’s information was once contained within the 32 volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica and the daily newspaper, we are now exposed to a constant barrage of 24 hour news cycles, advertising, ‘fake news’, ‘sponsored content’ and social media ‘influencers’ that make it difficult to find the balance of staying informed and nurturing our offline relationships with our families and friends, nature and ourselves.

Indeed, finding the balance has fast become one of the biggest issues facing families and children today. Information overload and addiction to screens and social media has seen a rise in a vast array of interconnected health and wellbeing issues. Obesity, anxiety, stress, depression, sleep deprivation and social isolation have all been linked to overuse and addiction to screens, social media and gaming in children and adults alike. When these issues present in children, the effects on their social development and learning can be devastating.

Much of this can be attributed to the ubiquitousness of technology and screens and the increasingly intelligent designs of games and social media. Where video games were once developed to be more technically and visually advanced then their competition, online games and social media are now engineered to influence the way we think and act in much the same way poker machines do. They target the pleasure centres of our brains with the sole purpose of occupying as much of our time as possible to expose us to the advertisements that keep their revenue streams flowing.

Facebook and other social media platforms know when you wake up, go to sleep and are most likely to use your device. They will send a notification just prior to these times in order to catch your attention and expose you to more content and ads. Online games from app stores will create rewards, blockers and limits which ensure children are compelled to continually check in with the game at regular intervals.

This is not to detract from the many advantages that technology has brought to our lives. Medical advances, long distance travel, free and open education and the ability to communicate with those far away as if we are face to face, are all aspects of our daily lives that we now take for granted. However, as the saying goes, we mustn’t allow technology capabilities to bring those far away much closer at the expense of making those close to us more distant.

To combat this, we must be proactive in setting limits and rules.  We must make a conscious effort to monitor our own technology use to set the example to our children. Below is a small list of things you can do now to help your children develop positive habits with their technology use.

Set the example – Be aware of the example you set to your children with your own technology use. Downloading an app such as ‘Moment’ can help you monitor the time you spend on your device and how many times you pick it up throughout the day. This can be quite an eye opener.

Create family rules and stick to them – These can vary for children of different ages and between weekdays and weekends.

Technology free times – Make a time every day that is technology free. The hours leading up to bedtime are particularly important as the light emitted from screens block the buildup of melatonin which helps us get to sleep.

Green time as well as screen time – Ensure children are given the opportunity to interact with nature and the environment.

No technology in bedrooms – Setting this rule early makes it much easier when your child becomes a teenager. If possible, have the computer/device in the living room or where family spends most of their time. This allows for easier supervision..

Encourage open communication – Talk to your child about their technology use. Ask what apps they are using. Get them to show you how they work, what they do. Continually encourage them to come to you if they feel uncomfortable or there is problem without worrying about being in trouble. If you threaten to take away their device when they come to you, they most likely won’t come to you again.

Staying ahead of the technological curve in today’s world is not easy and there will always be times where things slip by us. However, by setting the ground rules early and being tuned in to the effects, both good and bad, of technology in our everyday lives, we can help ensure our children are creating positive habits early that will allow them to flourish in their learning, relationships and daily lives.

Below are two great sites to help you stay up to date with how your children are using technology and the latest trends.

https://esafety.gov.au/

http://www.thinkuknow.org.au/