It’s a love/hate relationship with technology.
On the one hand, we want our kids to learn, connect, create, and participate fully in 21st century life with technology. On the other hand, we worry. We have power struggles. We reminisce about the good old days.
Navigating this is getting beyond the “lock down” or “hands off” approach and parenting towards digital citizenship. While it is easy to name all of the things we do NOT want kids to be doing in digital spaces, it can also be helpful to be clear about what we do want.
A couple of recent studies point to two important places to start:
“I just feel exhausted” a 9th grader told me after a talk a couple of months ago. “There are always things to be doing, updated, responding to. I mean don’t get me wrong I love it…Most of the time. But it is exhausting.”
Children and youth today are consuming and responding to streams of information at unprecedented rates. Some young people are starting to articulate just how tiring it can be to be “always on, always connected.”
Many of us think that we are either paying attention or we aren’t. Research over the last ten years, however, has revealed that we have two different attention systems: a “looking out” system and a “looking in” system. Looking Out we use when we play video games or read a text from a friend. Looking In we use when we reflect, remember, feel social emotions, or daydream. The challenge for us humans is that we can’t use both attention systems at once. Instead, we toggle back and forth between them.
It turns out that “looking in” is important for our social emotional health. For example, the more often we reflectively pause when confronted with an emotional story, the better we are at abstracting the emotions and morals from one specific event and applying them to others. The challenge today is that in a media rich world, our looking in attention is increasingly pulled to looking out at sound bites, snippets, and clicks.
The takeaway from this research is that media and technology are not inherently bad. Instead, balancing this time with introspection and rest is what is important. Try some of 1000 Petals Rest Activities.
We’ve known for a long time that little children need live social interactions to learn effectively. Dr. Marjorie Hogan, a spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics, reminds us “that need doesn’t go away” as children grow up.
Indeed, we’ve written before about the late Clifford Nass’ research with heavy media multitaskers. He found that face-to-face time counterbalanced negative social and emotional impacts of heavy media use among tween girls. Our kids might be born into this world hardwired for empathy and connection, but research shows that they need a lot of in-person interactions with peers to fully develop these skills.
Researchers with the Children’s Media Center at Los Angeles likewise found that pre-teens who spent five days at an overnight nature camp without access to technology showed significant improvement over that time in recognizing nonverbal emotion cues compared to the control group that retained normal media habits. Time in the natural world, an experience known to have cognitive benefits, may have laid a productive stage for more meaningful interactions but this factor alone doesn’t explain improvements in emotional communication.
The takeaway from this research is that spending time with peers in positive social interactions can help balance out time spent with screens. Try some of 1000 Petals Social Emotional Games to build community.
The digital world in which our children are growing up is complex and changing quickly. As adults, we need to advocate and model balance. How do you bring this balance to your students or your own children? How have you addressed these concerns. Leave a comment!
Erin Walsh, M.A.
Mind Positive Parenting Speaker
Erin cares about parenting and teaching for courage and connection in the digital age. She combines brain-science-made-simple, storytelling, and practical strategies to help families, schools, and kids build on their strengths. She has addressed a wide range of audiences throughout North America and has consulted on issues related to digital media, children, youth.