Kids today, loafing through the summer... playing tennis (on a console), lobbing projectiles (with Angry Birds), reading in the shade (on a Kindle), chatting with their friends (on Twitter).
It’s almost a cliché to lament kids' need to be constantly plugged in, but the truth is that technology has many benefits, especially when parents establish parameters for healthy technology use.
A 2010 Nielsen study found that children between the ages of 8 and 10 spend about 5.5 hours each day using media — 8 hours if you count the additional media consumed while multitasking. And it's safe to assume that kids might spend even more time online during the summer. Could it be that online time might actually help counteract some of the common summer “brain drain”?
Some of the positive aspects of technology include:
Social networking helps kids understand the world around them. They keep in touch with their friends when they’re on vacation, or alleviate feelings of isolation when they need to stay home if parents are at work. It’s in the online world where they can find communities of people who share their interests.
Video games have been shown to increase hand-eye coordination and reasoning skills. And Xbox’s Kinect and Wii get families up and moving.
You will never have to hear, “Are we there yet?” on road trips.
And, reading is reading after all!
However, the key is for parents to help kids to find a balance, so they don’t spend all summer plugged in. Some guidelines for encouraging healthy technology usage in your house:
Plan other activities to limit the time kids have to veg out. Unstructured time can be great for creativity, but too much usually encourages them to turn to technology. Sign them up for a fun summer camp, or help them find a part-time job. Introduce them to a hobby or organize in real life (IRL) outings with their friends.
Encourage regular physical activity. Register for tennis lessons, or hang out at the lake in the afternoon. Invite your kids for an after-dinner walk or bike ride, or pull together an old-school neighborhood kickball game.
Set boundaries: Make sure your kids are completely turned off at nighttime so buzzes and beeps don't interrupt their sleep.
Join in the fun! Play video games together. Start a Words with Friends game that can be played while you are away at work. Text them a funny story about something you saw on your commute, a link to a sports article that might interest them or reminders to take out the trash. (Sometimes it’s easier to be a virtual nag!)
Don’t forget that a vital part of healthy technology use is common-sense safety precautions. Some pointers to share with your kids:
- Don't "friend," "chat" or have cyber contact with anyone you don't know IRL. Even adults can be fooled by a smooth online talker.
- Caution them about sharing financial and personal information, which could get into the wrong hands with ease and cause ongoing problems for them – and you!
- Beware links in emails that can lead to phishing sites, which can infect devices with malware, Trojans, and other viruses.
And, finally, consider your own devices. Whether you willingly submit your iPad on a long car ride or find that your children have commandeered your smartphone while you bask on the beach, make sure they won’t be exposed to inappropriate content. And double-check that your security is updated, so they don’t inadvertently expose your own devices to viruses, Trojans and more.
Healthy technology usage can bring multiple positive benefits to enhance family time this summer when accompanied by common-sense guidelines and appropriate security.