One source of contention for divorced or separated parents is their children’s exposure to technology and how to limit it. Whether you have a cooperative co‑parenting relationship with your significant other, your former significant other, or your spouse, both of you should be concerned about limiting your children’s access to technology. Today, technology for kids can be a source of learning and entertainment and in a pinch (when parents have to get dinner made or take a few minutes to answer emails), a terrific babysitter. Unfortunately, for school-age kids, technology can be a two‑edged sword. Computers can be used to do research, play online math games, and improve language skills. Television (and DVDs – am I dating myself) can offer educational programming such as documentaries and other educational materials and even videogames (sometimes much dreaded by parents) can encourage developmental hand-eye coordination and can promote physical activities, such as dancing (but the disadvantages are also many). They include:
- It may interfere with sleep. Children nowadays are very busy with homework, after-school activities during their weekdays and extracurricular activities and sports during the weekends. Add to that the numerous hours of TV watching (which can average up as much as 3 to 4 hours a day according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry) and you can have a recipe for sleep deprivation in kids. In addition, electronic stimulation (from watching TV or using a computer) has been shown to interfere with sleep as well;
- May cut into family time/person-to-person interaction. The use of computer games, cell phones, iPads, and TV means that we are not interacting together as a family. This is particularly concerning given how difficult it can be for families in today’s society to find good quality time to spend with each other. While it can be fun to have a family movie night or play a videogame together, the fact is that screen time means less face-to-face interaction time;
- It may encourage short attention spans. Social media and our video universe create the demand for instant satisfaction. This promotes limited attention span. Limited attention spans can interfere in the ability to study well and to perform well academically; and interference with schoolwork. Children who spend large amounts of time watching TV, playing videogames, or being online are more likely to have lower grades and read fewer books. Study research has shown that cutting down kids’ screen time may improve kids’ health and grades.
- It may expose kids to too much advertising and inappropriate content. Some television shows, videogames, and online sites depict sexuality and violence as well as inappropriate stereotypes and drug and alcohol use. Commercials are well known to promote junk food and toys in powerful and seductive ways that are designed to get our children to not only want these items, but to campaign their parents to obtain these items.
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- Do not put a TV in your child’s room. Studies have shown that having a TV in a child’s bedroom has been linked to lower test scores in school, sleeping problems, and obesity. Your children should be limited to watching a television placed in a central location in a house, so that you as a parent can monitor what they’re watching;
- Turn it off! If no one is watching a specific program, turn off the television. The proper function of a television is not to create white background noise. Particularly, keep it off during mealtimes and especially when people are studying and doing homework;
- Assist your children in choosing a video game or a television show. The best way to know what your child is watching is by helping him or her pick out a show or game. Before picking out a new movie or a game make sure you read the reviews or previews and talk about the movie or game with other parents. Above all – know your child and trust your own instincts on the issue;
- Limit your child’s screen time. Whether it’s 1 hour of TV or videogames a day or a couple of hours a week, limit the amount of time your child spends watching TV, playing videogames, interacting on social media and stick to that number. You’re the parent and the boss of your household. If you want your children to interact with you more, have a better chance of doing well in school, and be more active physically, reduce their screen time; and
- Provide alternative activities instead of technology. Find great ways to spend family time together without tech devices. You can establish a family game night. Or you can have everyone in the family reading good books together and commenting upon and talking about them at dinnertime.
The list of how to limit your children’s access to technology is not exhaustive. So don’t be afraid to use your own ideas and other suggestions that you may read about or hear about. I know that our children’s use of electronic devices is a source of frustration for almost every parent. However, the consistent use of some ground rules should make a difference in your children’s lives and your family life.
Board Certified Marital and Family Law Attorney Charles D. Jamieson understands that children and divorce are extremely sensitive and important issues. Thanks to extensive experience and a focus on open communication, Attorney Jamieson adeptly addresses the complex issues surrounding divorce while delivering excellent personal service. To discuss your divorce or other family law matter, please contact The Law Firm of Charles D. Jamieson, P.A. online or call 561-478-0312.