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What is the big deal with devices?

If technology is the future, why are devices so bitter-sweet or a love-hate relationship?

This surely is a difficult one. There are so many pro’s and con’s with devices and we are yet to find a safe, happy medium.

Being a parent of teenagers, we are the first generation to raise our youth with technology being such a huge part of our lives. When we grew up, we had a TV and connected to it was a Nintendo, with wires. No Bluetooth to make it easier. It was quick that mom will shout “go play outside” if she felt we spent too much time in front of the TV. Looking up information, we had to rely on Encyclopaedia, a book set that was probably part of every home back in the day. They were our go-to manuals for information when doing a project and the local library would be stocked with school kids doing homework and searching for answers to complete an assignment.

If we would unravel technology to make sense of it, there are certainly positive points that does serve us well and unfortunately negative points that makes it a little harder to parent. This is the bitter-sweet part for me.

On the positive side, we have the world in our hands; news, ongoings, connection with family and friends, being able to track our children and get hold of them easily, ordering items for delivery to our doorstep, answers to questions and doctor Google – all at our fingertips, making us a little lazier every day. On the less fun side would be the time we spend on our devices in a day. According to a quick search, on average we look at our phone around 150 times a day.

It’s easy to see how phones become an addiction.

For teenagers there are a lot more to consider and time on their phones have higher statistics. Here’s why –

1. They are fun seekers
2. They have a fear of feeling left out

Kids of already as young as 7 get given a phone and once they reach their teens, they are basically inseparable. The average child can clock in about 7 hours of screen time in a day. Staggering! Scary! Who can blame them? They are trained from an early age that it is OK to use a device, either from what they see us doing or because we allow the device to be a convenient babysitter. The tough part of this is, they miss learning the art of interaction and communication completely and it saddens me. Their manners and mannerisms get lost and so the world will move from physical connection to digital connection.

Let’s start with the possible positives:

• They feel they have a fighting chance staying on social media track with their peers. They fit in!

• They feel they belong to their tribe, they can share stories and experiences which creates a connection.

• For them it is fun to interact and spend time online (gaming or chatting), other than doing research and homework.

• The excitement and anticipation which helps them to look forward to school and going back to school after holidays.

The 3 most important nagging negatives:

1. Devices sadly hinders brain development. Mostly the grey matter, especially the developing frontal lobe which happens more from their teen phase onwards. This area is for reasoning, decision making, logic, organizing, planning, prioritising and impulse control. The term “use it or lose it” comes in practice during this time of brain development, a very important point to remember why saying no to excessive screen time is so important.

2. Screen time influences sleep cycles. Already it is a challenge, but normal, for teens to go to bed early and they cannot in turn, help but to sleep late. When using devices right up to sleep time, it takes the brain longer to shut down because the artificial blue light delays the release of melatonin (your sleep hormone). Insomnia and sleep problem can be created over time if not addressed properly.

3. Influences their mood. Social media is a huge contribution to depression in teens. So much to say, but in a nutshell fear of feeling left out + underdeveloped frontal lobe = depression. Teens are all about fun, friends and phones. If they don’t feel connected (followers, online friend count, etc) and they cannot figure out why (by the help of their underdeveloped logic and reasoning skills) it is easy for them to fall into depression and show signs of different emotions which can lead into something as serious as suicidal thoughts and acts.

There is so much to be said about devices, screen time and technology. To figure it out is overwhelming and every parent of a teen must fight the system, because not everyone does the same or believe the same.

While we figure out to be parents of the first device generation, here are a couple of tips to consider. Some will hurt and some will be easy. I think consistency wins. If you decide to have rules, make them as a family. Involve your teen to help make the rules and then stick to them:

1. No phones 2 hours before bedtime
2. Dinner rules – no devices (great to catch up and have personal connections)
3. Teach them phone etiquette (greeting, putting phone away when talking, etc)
4. Limit time spent on phone at home (2-4 hours is enough)
5. Be Smartphone safe! (teach them great safety tips)
6. Have a data package (this teaches them finance and responsibility with limits)
7. Have an open relationship regarding devices. Be ready to talk and help when they need assistance. Be present.

Most importantly, be the example! Kids do great with rules, but they do better when they see the rules apply to everyone.