When I reminisce about my childhood it definitely doesn’t include smartphones or iPads. Instead, I distinctly remember when my parents bought our first family VCR. Next came an Atari system, which my brother and I were allowed to play once a week for 30 minutes. We had one phone line in the house and we all had to share.
I laugh when think about this now, but I also appreciate that with a VCR and Atari my parents never had to worry about us chatting with strangers or stumbling into inappropriate content. My social life was our neighborhood crew who rode our bikes to school, and the only bullying that took place was on the playground, which was pretty mild all things considered.
The reality is that my kids will never know the simple pleasures, or excruciating frustrations, of low-tech life. They are exposed to more tech than I ever was and I am constantly monitoring all devices to the best of my ability to ensure their safety and security. At this point I do wonder, before they enter their teenage years, could I ever make my kids go completely tech-free to experience life as I knew it, and would it be worth it?
I know I am not the only parent who thinks about this. A simple internet search yields dozens of articles including many hits on the website Screen Free Parenting. This site is full of insightful articles authored by Dr. Screen Free Mom, or Screen Free Dad encouraging parents to dial down tech based activities in favor of face-to-face family activities and more. They argue that delaying screen exposure and focusing on screen-free activities is the pathway for greater happiness in the long run. They also factor in the impact of social media on children, including the potential for bullying, connectivity with strangers, and worse. Why expose them at all, they argue, when tech-free life is out there to enjoy?
Several years ago the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood started national Screen-Free Week. It encourages parents and children to take a pledge to turn off screens for an entire week in favor of screen-free activities like reading and outdoor sports. My daughter’s entire school took the Screen-Free Week challenge last year and, I will admit, there were moments it was difficult. She wanted to watch a show to unwind, but I handed her a book instead. She wasn’t in the mood to read so she went outside to play with the dog.
Given all the screen options out there, and how schools are increasingly relying on apps and search engines for homework, it also meant having all the teachers in school assign homework on paper only. It was refreshing for me, but the students weren’t quite as sold on the idea.
A recent study reported in TechCrunch shows that limited screen time results in happier children. It cites that limited screen time, coupled vigilant monitoring by parents, can help your children incorporate tech safely into their lives while still maintaining balance with non-screen activities.
This research is supported by broader evidence from organizations like Center on Media and Child Health, which has spent over fifteen years studying the effects of screen time on children, both negative and positive. Their recommendations are clear: limit screen time, review what they access, and help them better manage their own use--and of course, model healthy media and device use as adults.
Latch Mobile is committed to keeping your child safe when screens are on with a service for parents that monitors what children see and do on their devices, alerts parents to risks and dangers like sexting and cyberbullying, and helps parents have informed and effective conversations with their child before there are consequences.
There is no easy answer when it comes to how tech-free our children should be, and while a completely screen-free childhood is a thing of the past, on Safer Internet Day, maybe we can try to turn those screens off and get outside.