There’s no doubt that there are many benefits that come from our technological world. Information can be accessed at the press of a button. Game systems can keep kids entertained both at home and in the car, and texting can speed up communication. Technology is all around us and is ready to serve our every need. The challenge is that technology can become a boss, not just a servant, determining our schedule, capturing our time, and limiting our ability to get involved in other beneficial activities. As with many good things in life, balance is the key. But teaching balance to a child is always a challenge. It means setting limits, and kids often resist.
BALANCE IS KEY
As children grow through the early elementary years and into the teen years, they need a variety of experiences to form a foundation for further learning. Television provides information and entertainment, but kids benefit from other options as well. They learn confidence through hands-on problem-solving and gain communication skills through practice.
The typical elementary child today has computers in the classroom and a number of electronic toys at home. Many schools have students now using computers as part of their reading program, in addition to exposing children to the different writing and presentation advantages that the computer can provide. Then, when children come home they spend even more time with technology as they jump onto their favorite game system or take a seat on the couch for some time watching television, leaving many parents wondering if all this technology is really best for their kids.
PUT FILTERS AND SAFETY FEATURES IN PLACE
When your children use electronics, be sure to set up appropriate filters and protective software. Internet safety is essential. Even though you may teach your child to not give out personal information or to stick to approved sites, kids invariably stumble into danger when computers aren’t protected.
Limiting technological entertainment choices forces kids into other creative alternatives and helps them develop in several ways. Reading a book engages the brain actively whereas television is a more passive way to learn. Getting involved in an art project requires a child to think creatively instead of simply picking up a video game. Some children can’t wait a few minutes without some form of electronic stimulation, revealing the weakness of not being able to entertain themselves.
Developing strategies to limit the use of computers, television, and gaming systems is a place to start. Check the parental control options, both to limit inappropriate information and also to set limits on time. Of course, one form of parental control is to say to a child, “Find a place to save your work in the next five minutes before I come over there and turn it off.” However, it’s often helpful to allow the software limits to be the bad guy when possible. Many programs allow parental controls that limit the number of minutes or hours a child plays or the time of day that the system works.
There’s no set guideline for the amount of time a child should be allowed to play with electronics. Some suggest limiting technological entertainment to one or two hours a day. Others limit that form of entertainment to weekends, and still others don’t allow electronics after dinner. All of these limits are designed to prompt children to engage in other forms of activity. You’ll have to decide what’s best for your family, but as you set limits, be sure to provide other alternatives to guide your child into healthy choices.
It’s often helpful to encourage afterschool activities. If your son shows an interest in music, for example, you might help him get into guitar or piano lessons. Scouting, art classes, martial arts, gymnastics, and swimming all provide children with good opportunities to round out their character and develop skills at the same time.
Enjoy the great outdoors. After homework is completed you might go to the park or encourage your child to play in the backyard, providing exercise and fresh air. It’s amazing what ideas and activities come up when kids go outside.
You might want to make dinner together. Boys and girls alike often enjoy helping to prepare a meal. You might allow your child to choose one meal each week to be your assistant. Planning, reading the instructions, and thinking about the finished product often help children gain a greater appreciation for the work involved. If you have more than one child, you might give each child separate jobs so that the family is working together.
It’s often wise to create a cabinet or drawer of art supplies. Find a convenient location in your home that you can fill with a variety of art supplies. This doesn’t need to be fancy. Ask your child what types of supplies he would like to have (e.g. markers, feathers, felt, scissors, glue, colored paper). Fill the space together. Art is a great activity to do after homework is done or when waiting for dinner to be ready. It’s also relaxing to do in the evening after bath time.
Playing games with kids is rich with entertainment, interaction, and learning. Board games are a great alternative to gaming systems and television. Board games give you and your child an opportunity to interact together. They teach the art of winning and losing and they’re a lot of fun. Encourage play dates with friends when time allows and have a shelf or closet of games children can play together.
One family created a list of six things you can do when you’re bored since their kids had a hard time getting involved in non-electronic activities. They were encapsulated into six words: creativity, reading, relationships, exploring, outside, and service. Each category had a subset of ideas.
Of course, sometimes kids don’t want to do any of the choices. They’re just miserable because they can’t watch television or play on the computer. At that point you might require that the child go sit in the hall until she can think of an idea from the list. It’s surprising to see how quickly children learn to find alternatives to electronics when parents are firm and there are no other choices.
IT’S ABOUT THE HEART
One of the heart qualities children learn when parents set limits is contentment. In helping Timothy to be a strong and wise pastor, Paul said in 1 Timothy 6:6, “But godliness with contentment is great gain.” Sometimes it takes firm limits to develop strong character in children.
Remember, technology does have its advantages. You don’t need to throw away your child’s Xbox or disconnect the computer. The key is to have a plan to keep those gadgets in proper perspective to gain the most from technology while helping your child grow and develop in other ways as well.