Technology Use By Children: A Guide For Parents
Technology use is now an integral and imbedded part of everyday life. As we move well into the third decade of the 21st century, we’re becoming increasingly dependent on a whole host of different technologies.
Our children, in turn, are being exposed to technology usage more and more, and from an earlier and earlier age.
While few of us can imagine life without the internet, our smartphone, or maybe even a Google Home device, from a health and wellbeing point of few, we’re only just beginning to understand the impact of technology on our lives and the lives of our children.
Understanding Technology Usage
The number one problem raised by parents is their children’s overuse of technological devices. While many people might refer to an “addiction to technology”, from a clinical point of view it’s important to realise that as of today overuse of technology is not considered diagnosable as an ‘addiction’ in the technical sense of the term.
Nonetheless, overuse of technology is real and prevalent. Of course, not all technology use is unhealthy. Using technology can be necessary, helpful and healthy.
What is healthy technology use?
Technology which is used for much-needed relaxation and leisure can be a healthy way to de-stress. Children who use technology for limited and controlled periods can benefit by escaping from the stress and anxiety of their lives in a safe way.
Even internet and social media use offers people an element of added control over their lives. Everything from self-presentation, level of anonymity, and increased ability to use their discretion in sharing information helps people feel safer when communicating and interacting with others.
Of course, there are also plenty of opportunities to engage in educational materials through technology. These new channels for developing and improving various skills can formulate a healthy part of a child’s growth.
Lastly, technology—even social media—provides a platform on which individuals can build positive and healthy relationships. One can foster a sense of community and increase their overall communication with others in an environment in which they feel safe and supported.
What is unhealthy technology use?
Definitions of tech use
The positive, healthy uses of technology need to be emphasised to avoid unhealthy technology usage. It’s important to note that there is no set, quantifiable or objective standard for determining when technology use becomes considered problematic or unhealthy.
Everyone is different
Every child requires different considerations and every family has different sets of values and ideas about how, how much and how often their children should engage in screens, devices and technology.
Some conceptions of unhealthy technology include:
Impeding daily life
One way of thinking about unhealthy use of technology is when the child’s daily routine becomes impeded by their use of devices or screen-time. When their other interests wane in favour of increasing use of technology, interpersonal or social relationships suffer, or commitments are missed and priorities ignored it may be a sign that the technology use has become unhealthy.
Negative physical outcomes
Overuse of technology can result in any number of physical outcomes. From eye strain to sleep deprivation, increasing emotional instability and overall decline in school or work performance, keep an eye out for such negative changes in your child.
Negative emotional outcomes
Yes, social media and interactive gaming can help foster positive relationships and social interaction but it’s certainly well known that the opposite can occur. Even though cyber-bullying is a very real issue, even feelings of isolation, depression, loneliness, lower-self esteem and general dissatisfaction interacting with an offline world can all worrying outcomes as well.
What to look out for:
Overuse or unhealthy use of technological devices is associated with a number issues including:
- Sleep problems
- Pre-existing Autism Spectrum Disorder related symptoms
- Low academic achievement
- Low self-esteem
- Reduce time management skills
- Social problems
What can you do about unhealthy tech use?
Due to the fact that there is no psychological or clinical disorder for unhealthy technology use, there is similarly no proposed golden standard for treatment or intervention.
However, there are a couple intervention strategies that have been used and shown to be beneficial. None of these strategies are mutually exclusive from one another. In fact, they work well when used in combination.
Cognitive behavioural therapy
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT for short) is the most commonly used and effective way to encourage balanced and healthy technology use amongst children. CBT is a form of therapy that recognizes the association between a person’s thoughts and a person’s behaviours. It works to support the individual in identifying what may trigger certain negative behaviours, and then develop healthy coping strategies to avoid such triggers and prevent such behaviour.
It can be very helpful for children to be included in family agreements and decisions regarding technology use and screen time. Not only does this create clear and agreed upon expectations of when and how technology can be used, it also involves the child themselves and helps them understand healthy and unhealthy behaviour.
Most technologies and devices have some level of parental control. This may allow you to restrict access to inappropriate material, monitor time spent and limit access by physically or remotely disabling the child’s device.
Using timers helps children understand how long they have left to use and engage with their device. It provides them with a frame of reference and allows them to independently monitor how much time they have left, thus preserving their sense of autonomy and independence.
A visual schedule can help children understand what steps need to be completed and routines need to be followed before they are able to spend time on their device. This ensures that the use of technology doesn’t negatively impact daily routines or replace other priorities.
Reward systems are effective for encouraging children to make positive and healthy choices in relation to their use of technology. We don’t recommend using food-based rewards as this can manifest other issues related with healthy eating. For more information, see our blog on encouraging healthy eating in your kids.
Modelling healthy technology use
Don’t underestimate your power as a role model for your children. If you’re overusing your technology and constantly on your devices, you’ll be modelling unhealthy behaviour and your children may imitate your conduct. By exhibiting healthy technology use, your children will have a model from which to learn how to balance engagement with the digital world and engagement with their everyday, real life.
Seek professional services
If you’re concerned about your children’s use of technology or struggling to implement some or all of the above mentioned intervention strategies, you’re welcome to get in touch with the One Central Health team.
Our highly qualified, trained and experienced clinicians offer numerous helpful services to help you, your children and your families.
- Counselling and therapy
- Social skills
- Online social skills
- Anger management
- Family counselling
- IQ and learning assessments
- Poor academic performance
- Intellectual ability
- Transition or time management skills
- Visual schedules
If you’d like to book an appointment with one of our therapists today to find out more about healthy technology use, make sure to give us a call on (08) 9344 1318, or fill in our online contact form.