Parents can be rightfully proud of their tech-savvy little ones, who have often learned to swipe before they can speak. But where’s the line between healthy and balanced digital kids - and full-blown techno-brats?
Parents are kidding themselves if they believe their children are being entertained “for free” by their devices, notes Canadian behavioural and parenting specialist Victoria Prooday.
“The payment is waiting for you just around the corner. We pay with our kids’ nervous systems, with their attention, and with their ability for delayed gratification.”
The impact is especially evident in classroom behaviour.
Educators say kids are entering school “emotionally unavailable for learning,” and experts are pointing the finger at screen-time - and the hands-free digital parenting style that allows kids unfettered access.
Tech-savvy - or techno-bratty? The line can be a fine one, but here are some of the warning signs parents need to listen out for.
“Mum, I’m boooored!”
We take it for granted that our children need “stimulation.” But too much of even a wonderful thing can have unexpectedly negative outcomes.
Poodray points out that the average classroom - compared with, say, the average video game - is a distinctly low-definition experience. Human voices. A few rows of desks. Books with two-dimensional images and lots of boring black squiggles on white paper. Is it any wonder that kids who cut their teeth (literally and figuratively) on high-energy, special-effects-heavy apps get antsy?
Quite simply, their brains have become accustomed to high levels of visual and auditory stimulation - and teachers can’t compete.
“I want it now, Daddy!”
A generation ago, children were taught that “good things come to those who wait.” But in an on-demand, fast-food, instant-download digital world that truism no longer feels so true.
“The ability to delay gratification means to be able to function under stress,” observes Poodray. “Our children are gradually becoming less equipped to deal with even minor stressors, which eventually become huge obstacles to their success in life.”
The quick-fix of an app or game can be a lifesaver for frazzled parents on a long drive, or even a long line at the supermarket. (Kids aren’t the only ones who demand instant gratification!) But when “entertainment entitlement” - as some researchers are calling it - becomes entrenched, the impact on learning can be profound.
Reading is an obvious example of a skill that requires a robust capacity for deferred gratification. No child “wins” at reading without intense, protracted and visually monotonous effort.
“Sharing? Not caring!”
Social skills are at the heart of successful adult life: academically, professionally and in private life. But kids who have grown up with social media may be at increased risk of developing social awkwardness and anxiety when it comes to real-life relating.
Consider conversations that happen offline. They depend on a skill that linguists refer to as “turn-taking” - reading the cues, both verbal and non-verbal, that signal when it’s appropriate to speak or to listen. Like most skills, this one takes time and practice to develop.
Children who clock more hours of screen-time than “life-time” don’t get the opportunity for that time or practice. They grow accustomed to doing, saying and reacting in virtual isolation. The feedback they may get from others online is fragmented and delayed.
A child rules the world online. He or she may even be creating their world online, on Minecraft or Fortnite or Roblox. That’s exciting - but it can also structure expectations about how the world works. And it can make classroom management a nightmare for teachers.
“I’m the boss of me”
We smile indulgently when a three-year-old says it. But should we?
My son doesn’t like vegetables. My daughter hates going to bed early. He doesn’t like toys, but he’s amazing on his iPad. She just doesn’t like putting on her shoes and socks. He knows how to use a knife and fork but prefers a spoon.
Poodray says she hears comments like this from parents all the time. “But since when do children dictate to us how to parent them?” she asks. “Unfortunately, in order to achieve our goals, we have to do what’s necessary, which may not always be what we want to do.”
This is especially true in a classroom setting, where the agenda is generally not self-directed, and where collective rather than individual effort is required. Questioning the authority of the teacher to “be the boss” is unlikely to be indulged.
The child who throws a techno-tantrum whenever Mum or Dad suggests it’s time to give the tablet a rest is doing her best to keep adults in the role of subordinates.
This extremely common behaviour reveals a parenting style that is tentative about, perhaps even fearful of, setting limits.
Says Poodray, “Don’t be afraid to set limits. Kids need limits to grow happy and healthy.” She advocates making a schedule for meal times, sleep times and technology times.
Cyber educator Martine Oglethorpe of the Melbourne-based consultancy The Modern Parent agrees - and she advocates Family Zone as the most effective way to set and maintain those boundaries. The mother of five children between the ages of 6 and 17, Oglethorpe is a firm believer in putting screen-time limits in place as early as possible.
“The internet is an amazing resource for kids, and we wouldn’t want to deprive them of it, even if we could,” she says. “But just as have clear rules about bedtime and balanced meals, we need to let our children know that when it comes to technology in our home, we, the adults, are in charge.”
If your goal as a parent is to raise children who are tech-savvy (not techno-bratty), Family Zone can help. A powerful solution for managing family screen-time, Family Zone lets parents set effective boundaries for children’s online activities on every device they use. Use Family Zone to control access to games and apps, set bedtimes, restrict social media, block adult content and more.