Eight years ago, I wrote an article on the impact of the iPad revolution and how it was impacting families around the world. That was 2011, just a year after the first iPad was launched. Already the ripple effects of the mobile device revolution were beginning to show. The following is an extract from my article:
"It's a rather sad picture nowadays at restaurants; one that we are beginning to see more and more often. An entire family of four would be seated either waiting for the food or eating. The father would be surfing the Internet or checking email on his iPhone, the mother talking to friends on her smartphone, the teenage daughter listening to music on her iPod, and the little boy playing games on his iPad."
It is a similar scene today, with a difference – we now see infants barely a year old glued to their iPad screens watching a continuous stream of cartoons. And with the proliferation of android devices and the decreased prices of Internet data plans, it has become so much easier to get connected to technology, anytime, anywhere.
The smart phone has undeniably brought tremendous improvements to our lives; especially in the areas of communications, navigation, commerce and even in the political sphere. However, has the prevalence of technology impaired our ability to connect and form friendships offline? Are we leading smarter lives with the advent of the smart phone?
The smart phone has undeniably brought tremendous improvements to our lives but has it impaired our ability to connect and form friendships offline?
I think not. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released a policy statement in 2016 recommending that parents closely monitor the amount of media that their children consume. The AAP listed the following recommendations:
For children younger than 18 months: Avoid the use of screen media other than video-chatting;
For children 18 to 24 months: Parents should only choose high-quality programmes and watch media with their children;
For children aged 2 to 5 years: Limit screen time to 1 hour per day.
For children aged 6 years and older: Place consistent limits on the time and the types of media, making sure it does not take the place of adequate sleep and physical activity.
Since our kids were young, we have closely monitored the use of screens in the home. For instance, we allowed our older son to watch about 10 minutes of educational TV when he was about 1 and a half years old. Even this was in response to our pediatrician’s advice, as he had suggested that it would help to improve his attention span.
Today, our kids, now 9 and 7, watch no more than one 30-minute programme a day each, with the exception of educational nature programmes and when the family comes together for a movie night. We also strictly control the type of media and the content. We still hold firm to our belief that children’s screen time should be closely managed.
At the same time, I have also tried to manage the time I spend on my mobile devices. Eight years ago, I attempted to establish a “No Computer Day” on Saturday, where I do not get to access my computer at all. This was hard to maintain, particularly after I started my own business.
Last year, I decided to make another attempt to control my device use. I decided to switch off my phone every day at 7pm unless there was an important reason to keep it on. I met with success for a while, and somehow managed to function without my phone in the evenings. However, there were days when I needed to be contacted last minute ahead of the next day’s activities, especially when there is a change of plans. As such, I realised that being without a phone is extremely difficult, if not close to impossible, in today’s highly digitally-connected world.
The principle I have learnt over the years is not to completely isolate oneself from technology. Rather, it is the principle of presence – to be with the people you care deeply about and are physically present with; instead of interacting with the throngs of followers on social media.
After all, the closest people to us are not our social media fans, but our family and friends, who are the ones we truly need to spend time with.
The closest people to us are not our social media fans, but our family and friends, who are the ones we truly need to spend time with.
I believe that our children are watching how we use and respond to technology. If we want to teach them the skills they need to wisely manage tech use, we will first need to demonstrate that we are also walking the talk ourselves.
For more is caught than taught; and we are the models that our children will follow.
Mark Lim is Consultant & Counsellor at The Social Factor, a consultancy company which conducts training on life skills such as parenting, counselling, mentoring and special needs. He and his wife Sue co-write a parenting blog Parenting on Purpose, where they chronicle the life lessons from parenting two young boys aged almost 9 and 7.
- What changes would you like to see in your family’s screen habits?
- If you want to learn how to inculcate healthy screen habits in your home, register your interest for SCREENed, a parent-child workshop (for kids aged 11 - 14) designed to facilitate open conversations on technology consumption and screen time in the home.
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