Raising kids in a digital age

Raising kids in a digital age

I went to a talk by a very passionate researcher the other day who relayed the following message to us in hope that we, as parents, would listen. I hope this hits home.

We are now living in a digital age where we often spend more time online than off. Our  children are watching us stare at a device, day in and day out. We all know that most of the times we pick up the phone is now out of habit. He asked us to do a small experiment. For one day, say out loud the reason you are picking up your phone, each time. He said we wouldn’t last an hour without being able to actually give a valid reason for each pick up. And he was right. Try it.

Scrolling releases dopamine- a chemical in the brain that gives us feelings of pleasure and satisfaction. Our brains want more dopamine, which triggers the habit of wanting to check our phones constantly throughout the day. This effect is magnified in the underdeveloped child’s brain. This is why tantrums result when you say no.

The effects of smart phones/Ipads (social media ,games and Youtube) has now been researched adequately due to their extensive use. We now have enough evidence to KNOW that children using them is just a very, very bad idea. Research has now shown that children under the age of 16 are exhibiting higher anxiety levels (especially young teenage girls), higher suicidal rates, depression never seen before at such young ages, lower academic rates and disrupted sleep patterns. The biggest knock off affect is anti social behaviour- we are teaching our children to isolate themselves from others. The long term effects of this are disastrous.

Our youngest used to play “fun games” on my phone when he was around 3 years old. I noticed how as the days and weeks passed all he wanted to do was play on the phone. It got so bad that he started crying and screaming when I said no. I realized this was not a moderation game- it was all or nothing and “all” was not an option for us. We removed it totally (after lots of tears) and have never looked back since. It is definitely not missed.

Children need to be “bored”. Boredom is what facilitates the brain to be creative and imaginative. We do not need to pass the phone because we “have something to do”. Allow the bored phase to be experienced and watch what happens. You do not have to always entertain your children. Alternatively if you have something to do, set up an activity while you cook. Put out a puzzle. Fill a bucket of water and sit baby on a waterproof mat to do some transferring activities. Set a few cups of beans and sand up. Add a spoon and muffin tin.  There are really thousands of stem type of activities you can look up. Google them or navigate to our playtime highlight on our Instagram for ideas.

The message the speaker drove home was – keep your children off devices, Youtube and social media until they are at least 18! Exposing them to unfiltered content (and allowing doom scrolling) is possibly one of the worst things we can do as parents today.  If we want to raise socially intelligent people who can make their own decisions instead of being unconsciously  persuaded by people on a screen, allow them the time to be bored, to interact and to be social. Model the type of behavior you as a parent want your children to grow up and exhibit. You are literally a mirror. Put the phone away. Spend time with them, talk to them, interact with them instead of putting them in a chair with a device. You may think using the phone as a baby sitter is just a phase, but the earlier you introduce and use it, the more damage is done and the harder it is going to be to remove it. The less screen time your children have, the easier it becomes for them to “play alone”. Children need time to learn how to play. TV and screens eats away at this. Long term this causes more problems for you than its worth. 

How to limit screen time (referring to TV here). Honestly remove the phone/Ipad totally. I cannot give guidelines on how to moderate this. It`s just impossible. Stick to TV as you screen time alone. 

1.Have a specific time of day for their show (ours is 4pm – 5pm only). Stick to this daily and don’t give in otherwise this does not work. Routines work so well - kids enjoy structure and rules provided you stick to them. 

2.Announce “show time” and make it very clear that after X minutes it`s finished. Set a time. An alarm can also work well.

3.ALWAYS give a 5 – 10 minute warning before turning it off. Turning a show off without a warning would annoy even us adults - consider they too are humans and need to be told. Avoid a tantrum by giving them a heads up. If they scream when its off ,consider offering piggy back rides and try encourage laughter. This really works to break the crying. Or make a suggestion like “lets go to the garden to throw ball? Jump on my back? “

4.Monitor what they are watching. Sit and watch 5 minutes of a show before allowing them to. There are less shows these days that are actually friendly and appropriate for young children. PG means PG. To this day, we still find DSTV 306 and 307 to have the best shows. Netflix has far too much to choose from and You tube Kids is a big no no. The more childish the shows the better. Our 8 year old still watches Paw patrol with his 6 year old brother.

5. The last tip is to consider removing the TV from the family area when your kids are young. This may sound extreme however enjoying a space without the screen becomes much easier to manage as it is just not there. Our TV is in our bedroom. They watch on our bed then that`s that. I am convinced this one thing has really changed the desire for it, for us personally that is. No it`s not for everyone but consider how much easier it could be to manage? It does not have to be forever. Another option that works is to place a throw or blanket over the TV while it is not their show time. This way its "not there".

Lastly and most importantly – get into the habit of enjoying family time together before bedtime. 5pm onwards is our time each day. No screens and no phones. Just us in a room together.  Games, ball throwing, tennis, throwing bean bags into baskets, book reading, drawing, bike riding, walks around the neighborhood etc are just some things you can do before bed time. We have so much time to teach our children new skills. Catching a ball takes practice. Teach them.

We hope this helps you on your parenting journey. The battle with the screen is real however one thing I can say is this - the less they have the easier parenthood becomes as they get older. The aim is to grow a strong connection with your humans. We have always been extremely screen limiting and I can say that it is paying off. We have many days now where the TV is not even on anymore. It is not missed at all.  And this (to me) is wonderful. This is the aim of the game. Watching my kids play ball together outside is truly satisfying. 

Good luck!

Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.