As our use of cell phones, Facebook, IM, and texting has exploded, discussions about the impact on family life have started. I'm personally lost without my Blackberry - and on the upside, it lets me take an afternoon away from the office, attend a school event, and know that there are no work-related issues in progress. It gives me peace of mind and helps me stay in touch. Still, I know there have to be limits and that our natural inclination is to exceed them.
A child psychiatrist, Eitan D. Schwarz MD has written a book, "Kids, Parents, and Technology: An Instruction Manual for Young Families" that describesdevelopments in neuroscience that urge parents to rethink the place of media in their lives: "Be fully present with your children. Ban distracting media from your family time in the car and at home. When distracted online, a phone call, or texting, you may be interupting the vital bond your kids need for healthy wiring of their brains."
Warning that family life and childhood development itself are being weakened by technology use, the book helps parents turn technology into a positive family resource rather than a threat. A recent Kaiser Family Foundation study shows that older children are engaged with the media as much as eight hours a day; only 1/3 of families limit media; but even when parents do set rules, media consumption by kids drops by only 1/3. Limiting and rule making are just not enough.
Dr. Schwarz provides an indispensible guidebook for parents of children from infancy through eight years. The book's goal, he says, is to help parents lead youngsters towards beneficial and positive uses of the Internet, videogames, smart phones, and other electronic media, “As they grow, they will form better habits than today’s media-soaked teens, 1/5 of whom now get as much as nineteen hours of media daily.”
“The instruction manuals we receive with digital media devices don't teach parents the most important things -- how to use the new gadgets to fully benefit youngsters and family lives," says Dr. Schwarz. "My work with parents and families showed me the problems technology is creating for them and helped me identify the type of information they need to make certain that these devices contribute to family life in a positive way.”
As years go by - we will undoubtably learn more about how our constant "connectedness" impacts our children's development. Let's ensure we stay connected to them too. Learn more at www.mydigitalfamily.org.