Help me understand kids in this digital age

So, help me out. Usually I climb up on my soap box and pontificate my opinions to coaches and parents about how, we together, can raise healthier kids. But today, I am at a loss. I think I struggle with something that we are all facing, and I would love input on ideas that work for you and your family. I’m talking about our kids being held captive by their electronics.Gymfinity Baby Laptop

Here is what I know

  • Having certain electronics are a necessity for kids now-a-days. iPad for school, home computers, and phones all have a function for today’s kids. Both of my kids have school issued iPads. They get assignments on them, write papers on them, do research on them and communicate with teachers on them. What they cannot do on the Apple, they do on the home computer. We also got our kids phones earlier than I would have objectively thought we should. But, subjectively, we saw that since my wife and I both work strange hours that we needed a way for the kids to reach us from school, home, or a friend’s house.
  • Gaming systems are the new telephone. Old sit-coms ran the premise of teens being on the phone for hours to cliche proportions. Today, my teenager gets on X-Box to communicate with friends, play together, and operate within the social network…..for hours.
  • All electronics have negative side-effects. For all of the functionality the provide, they also provide dysfunction in the form of distraction and a place to hide from reality. For all of the information they can give to us, they also allow access to the largest collection of stupidity ever assembled, I’m looking at you YouTube.

Here is what scares me

  • Kids are not playing outside. I am a big advocate of using parks and playgrounds and it seems that we have become so afraid of letting our children out of our sight that we don’t allow them to play away from home. If your kid stays home, and my kid stays home; they resort to electronics to “be active” and play together.
  • Our little ones are deprived of learning cues like watching us to emulate and begin to develop social interaction skills, because we are on OUR phones too much. Watch any parent in a family restaurant and see if they can make a meal without looking at their phone. If they do, you should buy their dinner. Skills and traits that children learn from emulating us are endangered because we have reduced our un-distracted interaction.
  • Kids are losing the lessons of group play. Children bond when playing with friends, they learn social cues, problem resolution, tolerance for differences in people, how to share, develop independence, experience winning and losing in a peer group that supports either outcome, they learn responsibility of being a part of a social circle, and respect for others. Granted many apps can provide some of this online, but nothing can ever replace human interaction.
  • Kids cannot cope. They cannot develop conflict resolution, communication, compromise, or the proper way to confront an issue anymore. With the majority of communication being done electronically, kids will not develop the skills needed for face to face human interaction and thus tend to cower when confronted with of any real life conflict.
  • Kids are less creative today, and I fear them losing the skill all together. Kids rarely get to have real life experience tinkering, creating art, or developing original concepts because we provide too much guidance (that’s a whole other post) or they experience too much of “real life” online. My son used to play a game that had him resolving riddles using structural items. But he’s never held a gear, pulley, lever, or any of the other tools found in the game in his own real hands. Has he learned anything from this “game”.
  • Again, at the risk of opening a larger can of worms, I believe that kids don’t grasp the finality of death. I see little kids that think that dying can be overcome by re-spawning like in a game. I see games that display graphic death as a form of entertainment. I have explained to my children that killing is not a game, death is not funny, and ending someone’s life is a horrible thing, but they still love the first person shooter games. Ugh.
  • Here is a chain of effects that has me worried: Kids play games, lose track of time, cannot do chores or schoolwork, resulting in a conflict with parents due to a lack of responsibility which fosters the need to escape further into virtual life because they cannot resolve conflict. AND since they lose time while gaming, they lose sleep by staying up too late, subsequently they become more irritable and school work suffers, creating school and more parent conflicts, and the chain continues on and on. Either scenario is not good.

Here is where I have problems

  • I have tried to diligently monitor gaming hours, screen time and the time they check out from reality, but it’s hard and I feel like I am losing the battle. I have made every effort to put my phone away when I can, limit my own online gaming to lead by example, and I even downright refuse to be on my phone during dinner or while driving. But the example seems to go un-noticed.
  • I have played games with my kids, and I get the hero status and coolness points because I have dipped my toes into their pond. I can converse about Fallout 4, Fortnight, and Minecraft with the best of them. But the gaming has gone too far and now it is hard to distance myself from the connection. However, I do see things getting worse and so I know that I need to do something.
  • We had a contract with the kids that they could earn video game time by doing chores and keeping ahead of studies, but the battle was lost because we could not keep up with the demand. When X Box became the social interaction between friends, my wife and I were put in a place to either limit social interaction or let loose the reins. Now, there is no chance to put that snake back in the bag.

So, here I am.  A man who works with children in the gym and I can structure training to achieve our goals here, but at home I am rendered helpless to achieve any control over the electronic beast that has overtaken my family.

I have read the articles that explain how gaming assists in brain development, creates a positive release of dopamine for children, may enhance reading ability, and even read that the distraction factor is not as bad as we may think. I know that my family is not nearly as bad as some others, my son’s friends are online every hour of every day, when ever my son logs in.  We are attempting to control the monster (electronics not my son) but it’s seems futile when it’s one-sided.

Here is where you come in. Advise me. Instruct me. Empathize with me. Encourage me or tell me to stop whining. Is it me, or are some of my fears real?

3 thoughts on “Help me understand kids in this digital age

  1. Allow me to talk about the other side of this. I’m in my late 20s. I’ve been a gamer since I was a small child. I can honestly say that it saved my life. It allowed me an escape, a way to talk to other people and feel like I mattered somewhere, even if it was in a fake and virtual world. It’s taught me coping skills, it’s taught me morals where my parents failed to, it’s even how I learned English (I did not grow up here). It’s how I got into programming, it’s how I’ve met many amazing friends who I now know in real life. One of them recently got married, I was one of her bridesmaids, that was our first real life meeting. I even met my husband through a video game. We’re both “normal” people. We have friends, he has a good job, I stay home with our young kids, we own a home and navigate through life and social settings just like you would. As a teen? Oh boy, I gamed for hours and hours. I’d stay up til 3am playing my MMO of choice, and got up at 6am to play some more before heading to school. But I turned out ok – better, even, than if I hadn’t had that option. I can honestly say I would not be where I am in life without that escape and social outlet. I have thousands upon thousands of hours logged in various games. I’m 27 now and since having my kids, Im logging a lot less hours – they come first. But I still log on ever they go to bed. We take trips, the kids play outside, we have meals without phones in front of us to set that example. My 4 year old has an interest in video games, and I indulge her here and there – I think its better to allow it than it is to forbid it, that’d just make it more interesting cause mom said no. We live in this digital age, and I feel like it’s better to teach our kids how to use technology responsibly than it is to try and shield them from it. Online interaction IS human interaction, a very powerful one for teens with social anxieties even. It ideally doesnt replace face-to-face interactions, but in case it does… well, I turned out ok. Breathe. Youre not raising a zombie, it’ll be ok.

    I understand it can seem scary, and harmful, and if taken too far it can be. My stepbrother would not even leave his room to use the bathroom, stopped attending school and quit participating in life – but none of that would be true if there wasnt already an underlying issue, gaming in excess just turned into a major symptom. Once the underlying issues were addressed and treated, he got right back to being a functioning member of society. He just picked gaming instead of overindulging in alcohol or drugs. Anything can be abused.

    • This is fantastic. Thank you for the comment. I do believe that there is hope, I know my kids are bright and their future will likely be too. It is not that I hate gaming, I have logged many an hour as well, I just worry that it may cause some sort of developmental set backs because of the amount of time spent in the basement. Maybe it’s just that I want my kids to experience all that I experienced, skinned knees, playing outside until called for dinner, etc. But you make an excellent point, this is a digital age and maybe we should learn to harness and train the beast rather than fear and forbid it. Thanks for your input, I love to see both sides of things.

  2. You are right to be concerned! New information was just published this week In the journal for the American Academy of Pediatrics about delayed development of white matter in the brains of preschoolers who are allowed screen time.
    There is plenty of other evidence as well about screens impeding language development (because little kids mimic mouth movements of humans to learn how to pronounce sounds, but cartoon characters have inaccurate mouth movements).
    Also, there was an in depth study of desensitization of children to violence and death through graphic cartoon imagery as often used in video games. This can be utilized effectively to prepare military personnel for gruesome aspects of war, but is not a great idea for young children.
    Phones can be useful for communication in situations like yours. But, they don’t need smart phones for your kids to be able to call you, or their friends. Flip phones would do the trick. They’re still available, less expensive, and you don’t have to be stressed out about what children are doing if you eliminate the dangerous freedoms of internet and social media for kids who aren’t ready for the emotional consequences of those things. It wouldn’t be well received by your kids, at first, to swap out their smart phones for plain phones, but sometimes being a parent requires implementing unpopular plans.

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