At my preschool, we keep it real. We don't have any computers, iPads, or other electronic devices for our little students to use. Instead we have blocks to build, puzzles to solve, paints to create with, and dress ups to transform ourselves into new and exciting roles like police officers and chefs and space travelers. I get so much joy out of watching our young students interact with one another and learning to play a new game, master a new skill or make a new friend.
Clearly, I am not a technology hater. Not many bloggers and twitters are. However, I have concerns about the long term effects of over reliance on technology; especially when it comes to young children. So I have made a simple list of five steps parents can take to responsibly manage their children's technology exposure or screen time. I know through observation at my school and through my parenting seminars that good parents are making grave mistakes when it comes to monitoring their children's media consumption both from a frequency and content standpoint. So here are my tips:
1. Make A Diary
Take a week to record all of the technology exposure your children have through out the day. Simply put a pad of paper in a convenient spot and write down a close estimate of when they play video games, watch TV, or are on the computer.
2. Take a Technology Vacation
Decide as a family to take a break from technology for a weekend. Do this as a family, don't make it a kid's only thing or it will feel punitive and that is not the point. This unplugged time will give you perspective on what else you can accomplish with out technology. Have some plans in place, such as baking a cake, or an art project, or a trip to a museum or forest preserve.
3. Celebrate Your "Keeping It Real" Weekend
Have a special dinner to celebrate your weekend without technology. Ask the members of your family what they missed most. Talk about how much screen time is the right balance for you and your child.
4. Post Limits And FUN List
Create a poster that outlines the technology limits that you are setting for your family. When it is written down and posted, it will be a reminder that real experiences trump virtual ones. Right next to the plan, keep a list of real FUN experiences that you would like to share as a family. Ideas might be heading to the beach, visiting a new park, checking out books from the library, playing a board game, baking a treat, shooting baskets, making a craft, visiting a relative, or even just taking a walk.
5. Congratulate Yourself On Good Parenting
Children learn through experiences in the real world. Virtual worlds are fine for entertainment. But raising a healthy, happy, well adjusted child means exposing him/her to more than just entertainment. Children need to learn about the world around them. They need to see, feel, smell, touch and taste things. They need to be in nature to learn to love it. Think of their brains as Facebook pages. If all of their "likes" are technology related rather than reality based, it does not bode well for the future of our planet. They need to fall in love with nature in order to understand the importance of being "green". Experience is our greatest teacher, so be a great parent and help your child gather all the experiences he/she needs in order to develop into his/her greatest potential.