By Laura Lee Arnet
If you’re worried about how much screen time versus dream time your kids are getting, you’re not alone. But for your kids’ well-being, it’s time to reign in the connectivity: Recent studies have found that teens who sacrifice sleep time for screen time are at a greater risk for sleep disorders, mood swings and depression -- not to mention a less-than-stellar performance at school due to shortened attention spans.
So why do your digitally savvy kids value their connectivity so much? Think of your own exciting, enlightening and entertaining exchanges once experienced in drive-in movie theaters of your youth. The relationships your kids forge on social media platforms now resonate on that same kind of emotional level.
However, that doesn’t mean that your kids should forfeit healthy cognitive function for a midnight marathon of “Halo 3.” Here are five ways to help them find a better balance:
No. 1: Check your cell phone bills.
Find out what time your kids are calling, texting and receiving messages or calls from friends. Once you have a clear idea of what’s happening post-bedtime, you’ll know how to address the issue and what kind of boundary to set.
No. 2: Help them make the connection between screen time and health.
Ask your kids about their online and mobile device habits. Have they noticed any negative effects from staying up late to surf the Web or IM their friends? How often do they wake up in the middle of the night because someone called or texted them? The point here isn’t to bust them, but to teach them to make the right choices by helping them identify how certain aspects of their mental and physical well-being have been compromised by their screen-time habits.
No. 3: Create a technology curfew.
If you can’t trust them not to indulge in their devices after your curfew, have your kids hand over their devices every night at a pre-appointed time. Will you be hit with a deluge of groaning, punctuated by melodramatic door-slams? Probably. But at some point, you have to set boundaries to help them get the benefits of regular, uninterrupted sleep. Another option is to contact your carrier to turn off texting and phone service during certain hours. This way, you don’t have to play phone police all night, and their phone can stay in their possession.
No. 4: Give your rules a healthy context.
This isn’t about enforcing rules and restricting digital activity so much as it’s about keeping your kids healthy. Let them know that you know how valuable their devices are to them, but that we all need to learn to strike a balance. So instead of saying things like “No computer after 9 p.m.” or “Gaming is not allowed after bedtime,” try setting a positive tone to the boundaries. Focus on what privileges they do have. Say “You can use your computer from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., and your cell phone until dinnertime” or “Once homework is finished, games can be played until bedtime.”
No. 5: Be a role model.
Make sure you’re not always on Web devices too, especially when your kids need your attention or when it’s family time. If you’re arguing that, for the sake of their health, your children don’t need to be open for 24/7 interaction with the outside world, then maybe you don’t need to be either?
Laura Lee Arnet is a freelance writer and the co-founder of FireRocket Concepts, a digital marketing agency. She currently lives and works in San Diego.
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