3 minutes reading time (624 words)

Put the Electronics Down!

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Because December is gift-giving month, I find myself contemplating the perfect gifts for my wife, our children; grandchildren; and other friends and relatives. I am especially focused on the method(s) by which I will be able to share these gifts with the recipients.But that's an item for discussion another time.

So allow me to use this platform sound a word of caution, please.

If you are a parent of school-aged youth, I am sure you are aware how they are immersed in, and surrounded by, technology. They know no world without cell phones, laptops, and several social media sites that they frequent. Why is this important? Because this constant access to technology continues to have a profound impact on the developing brain of youth.

With that in mind, you might be interested to know that by age two (my grandchildren included.) 90% of children have an online history. Also, teenagers send an average of over 3,000 text messages a month. And, our kids are spending an average of 7.5 hours per day using entertainment technology. Pew Research reports that 25% of teens report being online through mobile devices almost constantly, and 92% report going online daily. And not to be outdone, about three-in-ten U.S. adults say they are 'almost constantly' online

Some studies indicate that a steady diet of technology consumed by today's youth is delaying the development of prefrontal cortex of the brain. That could eventually result in youth failing in short and long term planning, lack of attention, and an inability to maintain impulse control. The same studies further conclude that if these trends continue, this could lead to ADHD, coordination disorder, developmental delays, learning difficulties, sensory processing disorder, anxiety, depression, and sleep disorders.

All of this should be important to parents because the shift to mobile internet use changes the way teens access information and creates new challenges for parents who wish to monitor their children's Internet use. If you wish to restrict your child's exposure to certain kinds of online content, mobile devices can make it more difficult for you to use the passive monitoring strategies most parents prefer to use, instead requiring more technical solutions.

People much smarter than I continually point to four primary factors children need in order to experience healthy development. These include: Movement; touch; human connection; and, exposure to nature. Increasingly, more and more of our youth are living two lives: one online, one off. And studies show that this makes them more vulnerable to depression, loneliness, and low self-worth. This is based on something psychologists are calling social comparison theory–and teenagers are most susceptible.

So what can you do? Here are some suggestions:

Make sure you get the passwords your children use to access the internet. This is non-negotiable.

Set clear parameters for checking in on kids and stick to it. Trust is everything.

Lead up to the responsibility from a young age. Social media accounts are a privilege earned when good judgment is consistently shown.

Get your own account on any medium they are using. Following teens is not optional. Watch from afar, but do not bombard their page.

Subscribe to their pages and posts so you don't miss anything. Use missteps as opportunity for conversation and teach them about critical thinking.

There are many more things that you, as a parent or caregiver, can do stay current with today's technological advances and ensure that you know what your child is doing, when, with whom, whenever. But start with a conversation. Have honest talks with the youth in your life, and make sure they know where you're coming from, and that you're serious. Make sure you establish a trusting relationship because that is the primary foundation your child can grow and prosper through.

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