As a parent, if you feel like you are barely surviving your own transition into our current technological age, you are not alone. Though your children may have never known anything else and can sometimes run circles around your phone operational skills, they are in a battle of their own – technological advances are moving at such a fast pace and changing our day-to-day experiences so rapidly that we don’t always know which of these changes are healthy and which ones might prove detrimental in the long run.
The relatively recent ubiquity of smartphones is no exception. Just like any technology, smartphones can be both helpful and harmful depending on how they’re used. This article explores how to help your children maintain healthy boundaries with their smartphones and understand both their possibilities and their capacity to cause harm.
The Dangers of Smartphones
Smartphones are incredibly capable pieces of technology. The things they make possible would hardly have been imaginable even a decade or two ago. But along with their incredible functionality comes a host of potential negative side effects. Smartphone overuse can cause a number of problems. This is especially true for children. Here are some of the negative outcomes that can result from smartphone usage:
Addiction that Comes with Strong Side Effects
Prolonged or heavy smartphone use can create the same type of addictive behaviors that other substances like alcohol, sugar, and drugs can. Addictive symptoms include irritability when one’s smartphone is not present or available, interrupted sleep to check for notifications or messages, fear, or anxiety when one does not have access to one’s smartphone, and more. These symptoms can indicate actual addiction that sometimes requires intentional action or even rehabilitation to reverse.
Negative Effects on Sleep
In addition to what is mentioned above about waking up to check for notifications or respond to messages during the night, smartphones can also inhibit sleep by increasing brain activity and stimulation right before bed, providing a distraction that causes one to stay up later than he or she would have otherwise, and more. Many studies have indicated the adverse effects that even the act of staring at a lighted digital screen before bed can create.
Lessened Social and Community Connections with Friends and Family
Engaging with smartphones stifles time that could be otherwise spent interfacing with people in real time. When engaging with a smartphone, children miss out on practicing engaging with others in face-to-face conversations and interactions. Even if a child is engaged in a social environment or event but looks down at their phone every few minutes or seconds to do something on their phone, the constant interruption and disengagement changes the value of the interaction and usually means that the child doesn’t get the same benefit out of the experience that they may have if they weren’t frequently distracted by something separate from their surroundings.
Higher Risks of Mental Health Difficulties
The properties of smartphones and the effects they can commonly have on users create high risks for mental health difficulties and sometimes even mental illnesses. Addictions or addictive patterns, reduced sleep, heightened anxiety, and limited social interactions can create or exacerbate a host of mental health conditions including clinical depression and anxiety, bipolar disorder, and more.
Positive Effects of Smartphones
Now, as we all know, there’s a reason practically every person in the entire world has a smartphone. Smartphones are powerful, portable tools that can create tremendous value and good. They can allow us to connect to people around the globe that we would never have the opportunity to engage with otherwise. They can provide invaluable learning aids for educational purposes. Their use and ownership also provide opportunities to teach valuable life lessons to your children.
For these reasons and more, instead of just getting rid of your children’s smartphones (which you may have been tempted to do after the previous section), employing strategies for helping your children engage with smartphones in wise and healthy ways can help them benefit from their devices without succumbing to their potential for harm.
Tips for Helping Your Children Maintain Healthy Relationships with their Smartphone
Here are a few tricks to use to help your children engage with smartphones in ways that will help rather than hurt them:
Extol the Value of Using Smartphones in Moderation
Too much of a good thing becomes a bad thing. And because countless smart product designers are employed to figure out how to influence us to use smartphones for larger periods of time, it’s incredibly easy to let smartphone usage become unhealthy.
It’s important to both model and teach moderation concepts for your children. Use time limits and app usage allotments. Institute challenges amongst your family members for who can go the longest without looking at their phone on a given day or rack up the least screen time per week. These ideas and more can help curb smartphone overdoses.
Teach Appropriate and Inappropriate Uses for Smartphones
Just because you can use a smartphone to accomplish something doesn’t mean you necessarily should. Try journaling or keeping schedules on actual paper. Buy your kids cameras or wristwatches. Teach them about tools for navigating life that are becoming lost art forms – things like maps, street signs, writing letters, and calling people – or better yet, going over to a friend’s house and seeing them in person rather than facetiming them.
Limit Smartphone Use Before Bed and in Social Spaces
Help your children understand the ways smartphone usage can adversely affect their sleep. You could have a time cut-off in the evenings or institute a “phone goes into the phone box before bed” policy (this is good for adults too).
Likewise, help your kids understand the importance of being present in social settings. Have them put their phones away when their friends are over. Don’t allow your kids to have their phones while at the dinner table. You could have a phone box, tray, or spot in the kitchen and help all household members develop a habit of dropping their phones into it when they enter. You’ll be amazed at how this can change the dynamic of the household.
Smartphone overuse can be a formidable adversary. It can feel like an uphill battle to teach your children responsible ways to limit their use. Don’t worry if this takes some time, patience, and compromises along the way. Developing these habits with your kids over time can pay off a huge return in the long run.