Sticks and Stones Can Break a Screen

By Melissa Stefanec

As screens demand more and more of our attention, many people are looking for ways to spend less time basking in blue light.

Whether you’re a critic or supporter of the ever-expanding kingdom of technology, one thing in certain: technology is inescapable. We have to live with it.

However, technology needs to be moderated. As parents, we need to recognize and monitor how our families use and consume it. For the sake of our children, we have to regulate it like the drug it is — helpful in small doses and destructive in large quantities.

The case for moderation

In my day job, I work for a technology company. I spend all day thinking about Google. Technology is my livelihood. However, I recognize that good things, when left unchecked, quickly distract and eventually destruct. This is especially true for young people who lack the brainpower to self-regulate.

However, we can’t fool ourselves into thinking our children can ignore technology. From their education, to their careers, they will use technology in ways we never dreamed of. They will develop it, employ it and push its abilities to new limits.

Our children have to be technology savvy; their success and futures will depend on it. So, we have to teach them how to use it and control their use of it. If we don’t teach them to use technology in moderation, they will likely overuse it throughout their lives.

Tenants of healthy technology use

How we let our children engage with technology is an extremely complex topic. There are so many resources out there for parents. If you search terms like “safe technology for kids,” you get a lot of helpful information. However, in my opinion, there are some overarching tenets for parents when it comes to younger kids and tech. (I’ll write the “teens and tech” column when I get closer to that point in my life.)

We need to recognize technology inequality

Not all technology is created equal. We all know what low-brow media consumption looks like. We can’t equate an hour of a nonsensical cartoon with an hour of a nature show. We can’t equate an app that lets our kids smash walls with one that teaches them problem-solving skills. When our kids want to engage with technology, we should provide them with high-quality media.

We need to set healthy time limits

The road to technology escapism is paved with good intentions. No one plans to let their child play on a tablet for two hours. No one means to let their kid stream eight shows in a row, but technology is a great babysitter. However, as with any other babysitter, having one every night of the week isn’t necessary or healthy. When you set limits for them, let them know what those limits are. Then, they know what to expect.

We need to teach them how people abuse technology

Depending on the age of your kids, this one is tough. However, we need to teach our children to be “virtually” street smart from an early age. There are bad people in the world who want to do bad things to our children. It’s far more prevalent than anyone wants to think. Whether it’s a sex trafficker, pedophile or class bully, we need to protect them. However, we can’t be online with them forever. We need to educate them on the dangers of technology before it’s too late. The predators start grossly young.

We need to monitor our own usage

Children do what they see and repeat what they hear. If we model unhealthy technology use, our children will mirror it. Set up rules for your own technology use (one of ours is no phones at the dinner table) and follow those rules. Then, when it comes time for our kids to be independent users of technology, they will at least understand the expectations, even if they don’t want to follow them. Children quickly recognize hypocrisy.

We need to be informed.

If you are giving your child a new piece of technology, do your homework. Find out what ways people exploit that technology. Whether it’s video games, a watch, a phone or a tablet, get to know that device’s or app’s darkest secrets.

We need to offer them alternatives

It’s time to get back to the title of this article. Kids love doing things. We have to be willing to offer fun alternatives to technology. Last weekend, after a few long bouts of illness, I made my family get out for a winter walk. We want to visit the Erie Canal. It was cold, and the canal was partially iced over. My husband decided to start throwing sticks, stones and logs in the canal to crack the ice. My children loved it. I couldn’t get them to stop. We practically had to drag them back to the car. This is the sort of thing lasting memories are made of.

When we ask our children to engage with the real world, we need to give them spaces and means to invent, imagine and create. This is what will wire their brains to employ technology. None of us want to raise servants.