It’s important to realize there are always two sides, good and bad, to technology. For years experts have been talking about the negative affects and overuse, but there are positives to technology as well. There are times when technology is ok and should be embraced by families. It enables us to communicate with those far away and allows us to have an enormous amount of information at our fingertips. It’s also been a connection and therapy of sorts, for people who blog, tweet, and use chat rooms and forums (like ours!) But I want to use this editorial to talk about the positive aspects of technology. First, when I say technology, I’m referring to anything that is wired and chipped/connected in an electronic way (including, but not limited to: TVs, computers, electronic handheld games, smartphones, text messaging, iPads, etc.

Let’s face it, technology is rapidly moving into our lives every day. Social media, cell phones, iPads, and digital tv are pushing all of us towards increased interaction metween ourselves and media. The important thing is to approach it positively. Tell your child when they can use it instead of when they can’t. It’s all in the approach.

Recognize its priority in the family as a device. Is it appropriate during weekdays? If your schedule permits, yes. If all the other pressing priorities are addressed and followed through successfully. If your daily routine consists of homework and afterschool activities that use both mental and physical activity, it’s perfectly fine for your child to have some downtime in front of a tv or on a computer game.

Decide what the appropriate amount of time is. With schools knuckling down on physical education and the obesity rates at epidemic level, it is all in keeping priorities in tact. There’s activity and then virtual activity. Keeping the balance is important. Even though Wii has baseball, there’s a big difference between playing in front of a TV and playing on a field with a real bat, ball, teammates, and the weather-related elements.

Kids as young as first grade are learning how to use computers. It’s great for homework and question research and in-classroom use. As a result of young children learning how to use technology, you as a parent must keep up with it as well. This will help with monitoring your child’s online activity as well as teach you new things and you can enjoy having a shared interest with your child.

When it comes to social media like Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, etc. you need to decide when you feel it’s appropriate for your child to be on these sites. Make sure your child understands the rules to be on a site and you feel it’s age appropriate for them. This is not a decision that should be made based on age or peer pressure, it’s where your child’s maturity and responsibility really come into play. This also includes the level of their social skills. Younger children, who are still developing social skills, need to be watched more closely. Younger kids need to develop real life, in-person skills before dipping a toe into learning a new set of social interaction. However, it is also good to keep in mind what your children are learning from social media technology: due to an increase in the written form of communication, via email, text message, blogging, tweeting, etc. it helps to develop writing skills in a different way.

When it comes to TV, a 20-minute “free time” is common and fine. Also, by limited the number of TVs in a house (like say, one to a common room and another to the master bedroom) it’s easier t monitor free time and keep an eye on what the kids are watching. Also, it allows other family members to come into one room and be together. Everyone has used a tv for quiet time or a time to unwind, or when the kids are sick. It’s when you start to rely on it on a daily basis (as a babysitter) that you need to be careful. A TV as a babysitter does not meet the demands of not interact with your child.

Music is also another great outlet (and an extremely instrument one in teaching and allowing a child to interact) that is a “win” when it comes to technology and your child. In the case of music, however, just be mindful of the type of music children are listening to.

With mobile phones, most parents will admit that they buy their child a cell phone before the time they would have liked to have purchased one because of parenting peer pressure. If the only reason you’re justifying buying a cell phone for your child is because everyone other kid has one, that’s not enough of a reason. You need to teach children how to use a phone properly, when it’s appropriate, and have emergency family numbers programmed into it. The reality is though, if you’re using a phone to keep track of your child, you really should know where your child is in the first place.

A little phone aside to keep in mind for older kids and teens: A father actually said to me, “My daughter will only speak to me if I text her.” I told that dad my father will only talk to me if I call him. He wants to hear my voice, even after 40 years. My dad always tells me he can hear a lot from my voice and doesn’t want to be misguided by a text message. He’s like that with both me and my brother. And, he’s got it right! You can’t have (and shouldn’t have) a full-blown conversation with your child on a text.

Lastly, I’m frequently asked by parents if it’s ok to take away TVs, phones, computers, as a diciplinary action. I say, yes, BUT, this is good to do only if it’s going to stop their entertainment. You cannot take away a computer from homework or research use. Just social and entertainment. There are programs you can buy to temporarily block social media sites so you can keep control even when you’re not in the room. Keep checking in with your child while they’re doing work. You can also check the internet browsing history (if the history has been erased after your child uses it, it’s time to ask some questions).

Good luck online and off!

xJo

Note: It’s important to realize there are always two sides, good and bad, to technology. For years experts have been talking about the negative affects and overuse, but there are positives to technology as well. There are times when technology is ok and should be embraced by families. It enables us to communicate with those far away and allows us to have an enormous amount of information at our fingertips.

Copywritten by Jo Frost

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