BEING WELL

Parents’ New Digital Dilemmas

 @JennDennard
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It’s been a weird week for our family as far as electronics are concerned. My husband suffered through several days without an iPad (it was in the shop for a busted audio outlet), and then managed to drop his iPhone in the pool. Watching him scramble to replace the phone — calling the local Apple and AT&T stores and weighing the pros and cons of spending $700 (yep, you read that right) on a new phone — was exhausting. His predicament highlighted for me the strange situation we 21st century folk find ourselves in: We’re addicted to our devices to the point that we nearly suffer an anxiety attack when they’re unexpectedly taken away. 

 

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I wasn’t completely surprised by my husband’s hyper-ventilations. I had, after all, read an article a few days earlier detailing an Apple Watch user’s anxiety issues directly related to his wearable and hyper-connectedness. In response to his health concerns, his doctor advised that he:

• Take a vacation without an internet-connected device.

• Exercise more.

• Relax.

Wise words for all of us, in my opinion. My husband’s device-related franticness and the doctor’s suggestions for a digital sabbatical immediately came to my mind when my oldest daughter, now in her last year of elementary school, asked if she could save up her allowance money for a tablet. Not only is she already a huge fan of playing Minecraft on the family’s iPad, but she is now being encouraged by her teachers to bring in devices for classroom use. The idea of her having her own tablet isn’t a bad one on the surface, but it does pose a type of parental conundrum that I don’t think our parents’ generation had to face. How do you prepare your child for a world that revolves around technology without inadvertently chaining them to it? How do I help her keep up with her peers in the classroom while, at the same time, protect her from online bullying and morally suspect influences that may arise as a result of hanging out with those same peers?

The dilemma had been fairly abstract up until I found my daughter with several friends looking at one of the friend’s Instagram accounts. I firmly told my daughter, (and her friends) that she was not allowed to post anything via her friends’ devices. I later told her that, from here on out, play dates would be free of screens. I want her after-school hours to be filled with bike riding, reading, and games fueled by her imagination – not by a screen that contains influences I can’t always control – no matter how secure a parental digital lock may be. 

While I don’t always adhere to the recommendation of limiting your child’s daily screen to 30 minutes, I do believe that digital distractions have direct repercussions on our health and wellness – perhaps even more so on developing minds and bodies. For now, I’ll work to set reasonable expectations (not to mention a good example) for my daughters in the hopes that they learn to rely more on real-life relationships than technology.

 

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