Why do you think children spend so much time online? Often we blame the lure of technology, the endless sites children can engage with, or that children don’t have any self-control. However, our actions as parents can also be a reason children spend so much time with technology. Read my latest opinion piece on the topic below. This article was published in The Age, Sydney Morning Herald and the Canberra Times.

 

Is technology destroying family life? By Dr Joanne Orlando

I was out with my children last week and couldn’t help but smile as the voice of a toddler on a swing called out ‘higher, higher’. Normally a scene like this would conjure up images of a mother and child laughing and bonding together, but as we live in the internet age it wasn’t so idealistic. As it turned out, Mum was so engrossed with an online conversation on her mobile that she didn’t even notice her young son calling out for attention. Needless to say, he didn’t ever get that higher push, and he ended up playing on the slide where he didn’t need his mum to have fun.

Electronic devices are making our lives richer, more accessible and more exciting, but are we now spending more time with technology than we are with our loved ones?

Once upon a time the biggest technological nuisance for the family was the phone ringing during dinnertime, yet it is now common to see our loved ones hunched over their phones or pads as they take one distracted bite of their food after another. Once the plates are cleared the family might move to the living room for some television, but whereas the family unit may have once watched the program together, the new normal is to envelop yourself in a technological cocoon for the night. Each person may catch the occasional glimpse of the show, but thier attention is now being split between chatting with friends on the phone, watching YouTube clips and answering work emails. Our fixation with technology has created new routines that very different from traditional notions of family time.

The increasing ways we are using technology in isolation from one another is reflected by the latest figures from UK communications regulator Ofcom. A recent study found that for the first time ever children aged between 12-15 years are spending as much time online as they are watching television, around 17 hours a week for each. Many of these children are now not even bothering to sit in the loungeroom with the family when they are online, with an incredible 20% of five year olds now more likely to be alone in their bedroom when online.

Even special family occasions are now infiltrated by mobile technologies. If you are like me you are undoubtedly irritated with your family members who spend more time watching sport on their mobiles than they do celebrating Grandma’s 80th birthday party.

It would be easy to blame Generation Y’s over-use of technology for the decline of family communication, but should kids really get all the blame? Parents are the ones who ultimately make the decisions concerning the use of technology at home, and these crucial rules have important implications for the family dynamic. The home is where children learn their values, specifically what is important in family life. Building a warm and cohesive connections are crucial not only for our own family, but for society as a whole.

I would argue parents must first think about their own use of technology. The internet has irrevocably blurred the boundaries between work and home, meaning many parents are still working in one form or another when they are at home with their family. What message does a child receive when, in the middle of telling a story about something important that happened at school, mum stops listening to reply to an urgent message from the office? It doesn’t take long for children to understand that technology takes first place at home, and their needs come second. The behaviour we model is ultimately what we do get back in return.

Many parents think that technology can make parenting easier, and use technological devices to keep children occupied when they might otherwise become distracted or loud. But we must understand that the child will interpret this as meaning they should use technology to be quiet and disconnected from family activities happening around them.

Children learn by watching us. If we want them to feel connected with the world around them rather than the cyber-world, they need to see us enjoying activities grounded in the real world. If we want our kids to ignore the lure of answering their friends’ endless online messages as the family sits down for dinner, we have to show them what it looks like to turn our own phones off! If we want them to grow into adults who value family and meaningful bonds with each other, we need to make time to give them our undivided, technology-free attention. Technology is now an integral part of our lives for good or for ill, and as parents we need to show our children exactly what it is to move offline to enjoy and value our family life.

 

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