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Technology and the family: When is enough enough?

Technology and the family: When is enough enough?

April 9, 2018

It’s Friday night. Your family is sitting on the couch watching a movie together. Dad, mom and the children are each on their individual cell phones playing games, on social media or texting friends with the movie playing in the background on the television. You are on a lovely vacation and your family members are so consumed snapping selfies that you cannot enjoy the moment. You ask your daughter what she would like for her birthday and she doesn’t answer because she is intently watching her cell phone screen.

Sound familiar? Technology is an inevitable part of our lives today. It is difficult, if not impossible, to keep our children (and ourselves) from imbibing in the allure of the cell phone. It started off simple enough: a quick way to send a message without an involved conversation with a neighbor or friend, a way to touch base with your kids, coordinate dinner with friends. Before you knew it, you had lost the ability to have a moment’s peace. You cannot entertain yourself. You cannot tolerate silence. You cannot tolerate boredom even for one second. You are checking your cell phone morning, noon, night, standing in the grocery aisle, while waiting for church to start or your kids to come out of the classroom after school. You might miss something. We rely on technology to entertain us…24/7. We have become the proverbial Pavlovian dog.

So, how much is too much? We all understand the age of technology has removed some personal interaction from our lives (some good, some bad). We are more connected than ever technologically and yet more disconnected emotionally than ever before. We feel close to acquaintances on Facebook but never speak to our best friend in person. We feel a thrill when we get a “like” on our recent post. We ignore our children in exchange for playing on our phone.  Our children follow our lead. If they witness us on our phones 24/7, they are more likely to imitate the same behaviors. Monkey see, monkey do.

The ability to communicate effectively between humans is a difficult task. It requires extensive practice and years of reading and interpreting subtle cues of communication: body language, intonation or the tone and inflexion of voice, reading facial expression. All of this is lost in texting. Texting also removes some of the social barriers that prevent us from sticking our foot in our mouth. It is much more difficult to tease someone in person than to send a nasty text. We are emboldened by the anonymity of technology. Our children are being robbed of the important lessons of effective communication by texting.

Furthermore, children learn through doing. Humans are creatures that learn through sight, sound, taste, touch, experimentation, failure and learning to recover from those failures and try again. Gone are the days of playing outside all day, inventing new games out of sticks, rocks, cardboard and household objects. Children now spend an average of 3-7 hours a day on some form of media (television, iPad, iPhone, iPod, and computers). This robs them of the ability to learn to entertain themselves. It robs them of the opportunity to learn through experimentation.

Studies have proven that the amount of technology exposure a child experiences directly correlates with ADHD, ADD, depression, anxiety, social isolation and antisocial behavior. Humans are meant to interact with one another. Many of the rapidly changing pictures and messages on the screen train the brain to anticipate rapid sequence change of problems and emotions. Children who watch more than 2 hours a day of television/technology are more likely to experience anxiety disorders, depression and attention issues than those who do not.

This sedentary lifestyle also contributes to physical issues as well. Childhood obesity and diabetes are now of epidemic proportions in the United States. Our children are sitting in front of computers, phones, televisions instead of bike riding, playing basketball, and running around outside, playing hide and seek. They are burning fewer calories and are priming themselves for heart disease and diabetes.

So what is the answer? I wish I knew. I have the same issue in my home and have tried many measures. No one likes them. But no one likes to eat their vegetables either. It is my job to help my children make good choices and learn to self-regulate so they have the ability to make good choices as adults.

Tying cell phone or computer time to good behavior is huge in our home. Good behavior that has been previously outlined, earns you 30 minutes on the phone. A cap of 2 hours a day can be earned (computer, TV and cell phone combined).  Phones are charged in the kitchen at night and not in children’s rooms. No televisions or phones in the bedrooms. No phones or TV during mealtime. We have to talk to one another. Loss of respect towards parent means loss of phone/TV/technology privileges. Most importantly, model the behavior you want them to learn. If you want you kids to pay attention to you when you speak, put down your phone when they are talking to you. Turn the ringer off during dinner. It can wait. Don’t be a slave to that text ping. Don’t teach your children to be one either.

Nothing was more enjoyable than being away on a cruise and not having our cell phones work for one glorious week. The first few days we all went through withdrawl. Then we didn’t even miss the technology. Our lives seemed so much slower for that week. I am hoping to recreate the calmness in our daily lives as much as possible. Our children grow up so quickly. You blink and they are heading off to college. Don’t let your cell phone keep all the memories you had with them. Be in the moment and experience those memories for yourself.  

Dorsey Beggs MD

Dorsey Beggs, MD is a local pediatrician in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Dr. Beggs has been a pediatric hospitalist for 18 years and also has a private practice, Bebe Care Pediatrics. She has a special interest in children with complex medical needs and strives to provide families with the support they need to help their children thrive physically and emotionally.

Dorsey Beggs, MD
Bebe Care Pediatrics
4333 Pan American Freeway, NE
Suite B
Albuquerque, NM 87107
505-266-3835 office

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