We all know that parenting is anything but a walk in the park in our modern world, even though it is also an incredible joy and blessing. Every family is unique and has their own priorities, beliefs, circumstances and parenting styles. There is no right or wrong, just the best that we can do with the knowledge we have and the situation we find ourselves in at any given point in time. What strikes me though in the last few years is that we seem to have handed over a large part of what used to be “traditional” parenting, to not only agencies such as schools, creches, coaches, trainers and other childcare facilities, but to the children themselves. I appreciate that there are different parenting styles like permissive (no enforcement of rules), authoritarian (punishing disobedience), authoritative (enforcing of rules by creating positive relationships), uninvolved (providing little guidance or nurturing) or attachment parenting (creating a strong bond between child and parent) for example. I myself believe that elements of various parenting styles are valid depending on the child’s personality and specific situations requiring a certain type of intervention. By that I mean that even though I am not a fan of an authoritarian parenting style for example, there are situations where obedience is necessary, primarily to ensure the child’s own safety and well-fare. In addition to the afore mentioned parenting styles every parent also has their own individual approach, influenced by their upbringing, beliefs and experiences, which is perfectly normal and even necessary in order to respond to their particular personalities, circumstances and needs.
Particularly in the past year though, I observed with worry, that especially in relation to technology (smart phones, iPads, play stations etc.) many parents, regardless of their parenting style, are concerned about their children’s excessive use of these devices. Now, I am not talking about teenagers, who obviously have to be allowed more freedom and start taking responsibility for their own actions, I am talking about 5-10 year old children. I find it quite difficult to find the right approach/words in these conversations, as on one side I appreciate the parent’s genuine worry and expression of helplessness, on the other side I am surprised that they don’t take more responsibility and give their children clear boundaries. I am not being judgemental because I know myself how difficult it can be to give our children clear guidance without trying to control them and like any other parent I am often struggling with giving clear boundaries myself. I do believe though, that the area of internet based technology is a different kettle of fish when it comes to applying rules and boundaries. We’re not talking about letting children make their own mistakes and then learn from them. This is not just a hot pan, a high tree branch or over-indulging in sweets. This is a lot more serious and the damage that can be done by the simple click of a button cannot be underestimated. Pictures and videos cannot be unseen, this isn’t a “they’ll have to find out for themselves” scenario. Not only are young children developmentally unequipped for much of the “normal” inappropriate content, if we don’t take responsibility, and even control, for what our children witness on these devices, we are leaving them open to be severely traumatised.
I appreciate that we will not be able to shield our children from many negative experiences and it is part of life and learning to become resilient facing adversity. Children will have free access to the internet eventually, but it is our responsibility to decide the appropriate time for this to happen and to educate ourselves and our children in this process. We don’t let our children smoke or drink alcohol at an early age and we need to take a similar approach when it comes to internet based technology. Do my children have iPads? Yes, they do. Do they have access to the internet? No, they do not unless they are closely supervised if they use it for a particular reason, full stop. Are they allowed to use their iPad every day? Absolutely not, they know they are allowed to use them on long car journeys or going on holidays. My phone is MY phone and my children do not have access to it, apart from the occasional viewing of photographs or a video clip in my presence. I know I might sound a bit militant 😉 but I strongly believe that this area is one of the biggest threats to our children and their mental health in the modern world. Apart from inappropriate content there are so many more aspects to this problem: Many children have become addicted to this form of entertainment/activity. Every spare minute is spent on smart phones and iPads and it is scientifically proven that this is an actual addiction. Not only that, children are missing out on outdoor activities, real life social interactions, exercise, creative activities and so much more. There are already signs of serious consequences emerging, particularly when it comes to excessive screen time for young children.
The following is a short passage from my book “Roots and Wings – Childhood needs a revolution”:
There are many studies suggesting that, especially in the first three years of a child’s life, the so called “critical period”, permanent damage can be done to brain development by too much exposure to “screen time”. A young child needs certain stimuli from his/her environment and the people in it, i.e. the “real world” in this crucial developmental stage in order for his/her brain to develop fully. These stimuli cannot be found in activities on tablets or smart phones and an overuse can lead to the stunting of brain development in certain areas. When young children are read stories by their parents for example, it encourages their brain to imagine parts of the storyline, what the characters in the story might look like, where they live, what their voices might sound like. “Screens” take away this process as it spoon-feeds the total experience which will actually make children’s imagination lazy and weaken their cognitive muscle.
This above problem actually has another layer, as more and more young parents have become addicted to their phones themselves. Rather than engaging in meaningful interaction and communication with their young children, oftentimes their phone has their undivided attention resulting in possible deficits in attachment and social/communication skills. No parent wants to purposefully harm their child and I believe it’s high time to educate new parents about the possible damage they are unknowingly causing.
I appreciate that we can’t go back in time and technology has its place in our society, there are many fantastic opportunities and benefits. But we must make sure that we foster a healthy use of these technologies. Rather that standing by helplessly, we need to take control of an appropriate introduction to technology at an appropriate age. Education is key for both children and parents. We can’t close our eyes and pretend it’s all going to be alright. If we are being honest smart phones have become a problem for many of us but awareness of this is the first step! Apart from giving clear guidance and boundaries to our children we need to be role models and give a good example. We can start by limiting our own screen time, especially when our children are in our company. We also have to become more active in voicing our concerns and demanding action for necessary intervention and education starting with early intervention in pre-school/schools and parental education.
Let’s do this for ourselves and our children xxx
To read more about how we can bring more mindful moments into everyday life for us and our children, take a look at “Roots and Wings – Childhood needs a Revolution”
Also our Mindful Games are a great resource for both parents and educators to promote social skills, emotional awareness and mental well-being.