The Tech Wise Family

Today, we are talking about an important concept: the “tech wise” family. This is such an important concept for families. Technology is here to stay.  It is the wave of the future. While it definitely has benefits, media can also be problematic.  In this post you will learn how to be “tech wise” with kids and the family. This is more than considering the effects of screentime. Helping families to be tech wise is a newer IADL that OT practitioners may need to add to their toolbox.

tech wise

Being tech wise as a family supports regulation, brain development, learning and motor skills.

What does it mean to be Tech Wise?

This post not only addresses young children and their viewing habits, but their caregivers as well.  Being tech wise means many things:

  • Limiting exposure to certain technology
  • Setting screen time limitations
  • Creating a technology plan as a family
  • Considering the impact of digital advertising on children
  • Privacy considerations
  • Inappropriate content
  • Cyberbullying
  • Sexting or online solicitation
  • Mental health concerns
  • SO much more!

The Tech Wise Family

Media is in schools, a part of socialization, in the community, in the living room, and a part of every aspect of daily life. As parents, it can be tough to manage all of this virtual input.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has a lot to say about how to be “tech wise” with kids and the family. 

When your children are viewing media of any kind, are you attending to the commercials and advertising that are being shown?   According to the American Academy of Pediatrics: 

Evidence suggests that exposure to advertising is associated with unhealthy behaviors, such as intake of high-calorie, low-nutrient food and beverages; use of tobacco products and electronic cigarettes; use of alcohol and marijuana; and indoor tanning. Children are uniquely vulnerable to the persuasive effects of advertising because of immature critical thinking skills and impulse inhibition. School-aged children and teenagers may be able to recognize advertising but often are not able to resist it when it is embedded within trusted social networks, encouraged by celebrity influencers, or delivered next to personalized content.”

Let’s go through some things to consider about steps you can take to be tech wise as a family.

A Tech Wise Family Media Plan

Creating a Family Media Plan can help you and your children set media priorities that matter most to your family. It is important to be tech wise, so your children are not in danger or being exposed to the wrong content.

Another thing to consider is digital advertising. This article describes research that shows that children aged 12 an under have limited abilities to understand advertising and marketing as a persuasive intent. The research shows that children 7 years and younger have limited ability to understand that someone else is trying to change their thoughts and behavior.

It says that from ages 7 to 11 years, children can start to recognize television advertising and persuasive intent with their parents’ assistance but lack the abstract thinking skills that help individuals recognize advertising as a larger commercial concept. This tells us that a tech wise family should have conversations about the influence of marketing that children might see in their everyday entertainment.

Children are exposed to advertising and marketing in so many different places: on social media, in TikTok videos, YouTube videos, through gaming apps and video games, and by their favorite influencers online. It can be hard for kids to filter through all of this to see that their favorite celebrities or characters are trying to influence them to buy or do something.

A tech wise family can have a plan for the amount of time spent on screens. A tool like a screen time check list is one option to support the whole family.

Additionally, talking through the things that kids see in their games or entertainment videos is so helpful for parents or guardians.

Media and Young Minds 

The American Academy of Pediatrics has been researching the dangers and effectiveness of media on the young developing mind. 

These are specific strategies a tech wise family can use.

  1. Children younger than 2 years need hands-on exploration and social interaction with trusted caregivers to develop their cognitive, language, motor, and social-emotional skills
  2. They believe children under 18-24 months should have NO exposure to media, except perhaps Skype or Facetime with a live person on the other end.  This includes passive exposure while a parent or sibling has electronics on in the background, or in their presence
  3. Children ages 2-5 can safely be exposed to one hour of media per day.  This is more effective when adults are actively engaging with their child
  4. Young children can not transfer what they learn on a video screen to 3D real life.  A child may be able to do block designs or puzzles on an iPad, but will be unable to transfer this to real puzzles
  5. Well designed programs such as Sesame Street and other PBS programs have consistently shown merit. Again these should be viewed with your child
  6. Digital books are acceptable when viewed and interacted with an adult caregiver
  7. Young children do not understand facts versus fiction. I had a student who wanted to go to heaven like in the movie Coco, so he tried to lie down in the road to get run over. He was too young to understand it is fiction, and that he would not magically come back to life. Another student tried to stab his mother with a butter knife, and said she would still have four lives left if she died. These are frightening stories.
  8. Population-based studies continue to show associations between excessive television viewing in early childhood and cognitive, language, and social/emotional delays, likely secondary to decreases in parent–child interaction when the television is on.
  9. Pediatricians should be asking families about their media use, as well as educating them about the importance of early brain development
  10. Choose high quality programming (such as PBS, Sesame Street, or Common Sense Media)
  11. Recommend no screens during mealtimes and stop all media one hour or more before bedtime (due to the negative influence of visual stimuli on the sleep cycle)
  12. Avoid fast-paced programs (young children do not understand them as well), apps with lots of distracting content, and any violent content.
  13. Turn off televisions and other devices when not in use.
  14. Avoid using media and technology as the only way to calm your child. Although there are intermittent times (e.g., medical procedures, airplane flights) when media is useful as a soothing strategy, there is concern that using media as strategy to calm could lead to problems with limit setting or the inability of children to develop their own emotion regulation.
  15. Monitor children’s media content and what is downloaded. Test apps first.  Some apps appear child friendly, however there is questionable content
  16. Lock devices out of certain apps, limit access to certain tv channels, purchase a device or app that monitors the amount of media use per day.  Here is a list of the 10 best parental control apps.

Parental Media Use 

Part of being a tech wise family is the parents or guardians being a model for their children.

According to the AAP, parents’ background television use distracts from parent–child interactions and child play.  Heavy parent use of mobile devices is associated with fewer verbal and nonverbal interactions between parents and children, and may be associated with more parent-child conflict.

To support parents and children together as a tech wise family, be sure to keep bedrooms, mealtimes, and parent-child interactions free from digital content.

Family and Technology Use: Benefits of Media

Despite all of the warnings, and negativity surrounding technology, it does have some benefits for children of school age and higher:

  • Both traditional and social media can provide exposure to new ideas and information, raising awareness of current events and issues.
  •  Interactive media also can provide opportunities for the promotion of community participation and civic engagement. 
  • Students can collaborate with others on assignments and projects on many online media platforms. 
  • The use of social media helps families and friends who are separated geographically communicate across the miles.
  • Social media can enhance access to valuable support networks, which may be particularly helpful for patients with ongoing illnesses, conditions, or disabilities.
  • Research about screentime also supports the use of social media to foster social inclusion among users who may feel excluded.
  • Social media may be used to enhance wellness and promote healthy behaviors, such as smoking cessation and balanced nutrition.

Risks of Media

  • A first area of health concern is media use and obesity. People are often sedentary and prone to snacking while watching television
  • Evidence suggests that media use can negatively affect sleep hygiene. Exposure to light (particularly blue light) and activity from screens before bed affects melatonin levels and can delay or disrupt sleep
  • Children who overuse online media are at risk of problematic Internet use, and heavy users of video games are at risk of Internet gaming disorder. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, lists both as conditions in need of further research. Symptoms can include a preoccupation with the activity, decreased interest in offline or “real life” relationships, unsuccessful attempts to decrease use, and withdrawal symptoms. 
  • The prevalence of problematic Internet use among children and adolescents is between 4% and 8%,and up to 8.5% of US youth 8 to 18 years of age meet criteria for Internet gaming disorder
  • the use of media while engaged in academic tasks has negative consequences on learning
  • There is some evidence of a newer condition termed virtual autism linking media use with autistic type symptoms
  • Evidence gathered over decades supports links between media exposure and health behaviors among teenagers such as early drug, alcohol, and tobacco use
  • Cyberbullying, sexting, and online solicitation
  • Mental health concerns – students who browse and follow media versus interacting with people online have a higher chance of depression
  • Privacy – young people do not understand what information to keep private. Once information is on the internet, it is hard to erase it.
  • Some parents can be distracted by media use, and miss important opportunities for emotional connections that are known to improve child health. When a parent turns his or her attention to a mobile device while with a young child, the parent is less likely to talk with the child.

Monitoring Media as a Tech Wise Family

One of the most important ways to support children in their development and learning as a technology wise family is by monitoring the technology use. Because technology is such an ingrained part of everyday life, there is simply no getting around it in most cases. What we can do as families, is support our children’s development by monitoring the usage of technology on a daily basis.

As parents in a tech wise family, we can offer balance. We can support our kids’ minds and nervous systems through play, learning, sensory motor input and regulation so learning, emotions, behaviors, and mental well-being flourishes. Much of this can be impacted by another crucial aspect, the parents’ co-regulation abilities.

The following are some recommendations for supervising and monitoring media within the family:

  • Develop, consistently follow, and routinely revisit a Family Media plan
  • Address what type of and how much media are used and what media behaviors are appropriate for each child or teenager, and for parents. 
  • Place consistent limits on hours per day of media use as well as types of media used.
  • Promote that children and adolescents get the recommended amount of daily physical activity (1 hour) and adequate sleep (8–12 hours, depending on age).
  • Recommend that children not sleep with devices in their bedrooms, including TVs, computers, and smartphones. Avoid exposure to devices or screens for 1 hour before bedtime.
  • Discourage entertainment media while doing homework, designate media free times together.
  • Promote activities that are not technology related. Make non-tech activities a part of every day. Some ideas include reading, talking, hiking, board games, mini golf, etc.
  • Communicate guidelines to other caregivers, such as babysitters or grandparents, so that media rules are followed consistently.
  • Engage in selecting and co-viewing media with your child to insure it’s safety.
  • Have ongoing communication with children about online citizenship and safety, including treating others with respect online and offline, avoiding cyberbullying and sexting, being wary of online solicitation, and avoiding communications that can compromise personal privacy and safety.
  • Actively develop a network of trusted adults who can engage with your children.
  • Have young students use their technology in the presence of adults. Move the computer to the kitchen table, no media in the bedroom, or on the bus.
  • Use spyware and other apps to limit and control viewing access. PC Mag has a list of recommendations
  • Last, but not least, engage in fun, non-technology activities with the whole family. Try these service ideas for ways to support the community.

When I see the amount of young babies sitting in strollers watching an iPhone video, it makes me cringe. I have to restrain myself from commenting to them, or reciting facts and figures. I think there are some people who know and don’t care, however I believe there is an equal number who follow the crowd and have no ideas of the dangers out there on both mental and physical development.

I am thankful my girls grew up in the early 2000’s before media and internet use exploded.  We stuck to VHS tapes, PBS, and Disney Classics.  No television in the bedroom, and no phones until middle to high school. The three of us shared 4 GB of data a month, which would last a teenager a day or two now. Be mindful and wise about family and technology use.

Tech Wise Solutions: Use a Screen Time Checklist

One tool at your disposal is to use a checklist as a tool to monitor screentime. Set up limits by requiring certain non-screen activities be completed prior to entertainment on screens.

Here is a printable tool you can use. Enter your email address into the form below and the printable checklist will be emailed to your inbox. You can then print it from any device.

This resource is also available inside our Membership Club. Log in and access the tool.

Grab the Screen Time Checklist

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    Victoria Wood, OTR/L is a contributor to The OT Toolbox and has been providing Occupational Therapy treatment in pediatrics for more than 25 years. She has practiced in hospital settings (inpatient, outpatient, NICU, PICU), school systems, and outpatient clinics in several states. She has treated hundreds of children with various sensory processing dysfunction in the areas of behavior, gross/fine motor skills, social skills and self-care. Ms. Wood has also been a featured speaker at seminars, webinars, and school staff development training. She is the author of Seeing your Home and Community with Sensory Eyes.

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