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Technology and Children

3 Important Takeaways From Growing Up With Technology

Trying to balance your child’s technology use can seem like a frustrating, if not impossible task. While you might feel alone in your struggle, everyTechnology and Children parent has had to grapple with this difficult task. On Saturday, March 7th, parents and educators came together at The Wolf School to get some expert advice on this challenging issue.

Dr. Randy Kulman, Dr. Jennifer Jencks, and Dr. Jill Walsh, led the conversation at The Wolf School’s fifth annual Complex Learners Conference – Growing Up With Technology: Navigating The Digital Landscape At School & At Home. This full day conference gave participants a chance to hear the latest research, ask their own questions, and learn practical strategies to try on their own. Here are 3 of the biggest takeaways from the day:

1. Create a balanced, healthy play diet

As all 3 speakers highlighted, technology is here to stay. It can be easy to be overwhelmed and even scared by technology and the frequency at which your child or student uses it. But it’s important to instead try to view technology as a new form of play. 

While technology use shouldn’t be the only type of play that children are doing – Dr. Randy Kulman encourages that it can be part of a balanced, healthy play diet and does offer opportunity for creativity as well as social connection. 

Instead of trying to eliminate technology use, teach your child how to use technology in a healthy way. Dr. Jill Walsh shared a great analogy – having one cookie isn’t bad, but don’t eat an entire package. Make sure your child is still getting outside, reading, exercising, and socializing in person with family or friends. In setting limits, it can be especially helpful for your child to see that you understand the benefits of technology and aren’t trying to take that away, but simply trying to help them develop a healthy balance with it. 

2. When it comes to anxiety, look at the whole child

One of the major concerns parents have regarding social media is the anxiety it may be causing. Dr. Jennifer Jencks stressed that when it comes to anxiety, look at the whole child to really understand how social media will impact them. If your child is socially anxious or struggles with anxiety day to day, the impact of social media on their anxiety may be more severe than a child who has no prior anxiety issues.

One of the most impactful things adults can do in this situation is to talk to the child. Help your child identify the symptoms of anxiety and encourage them to open up to you regarding any negative feelings or experiences that might be coming from social media. 

Emphasize that social media doesn’t always show the “reality” of things. This can be particularly hard for kids to understand, but many people choose to only highlight the best things going on in their life on social media, leaving out everything else. 

The anxiety and negative feelings brought on by social media may be brought to school the next day, so communication is key. You might not be able to stop every negative feeling but you can be there to help your child through it!

3. It’s not about the app – it’s about the connection

Talking with your child, especially your tween or teen, about social media might often lead to raised voices and frustration. Dr. Walsh emphasizes that when talking about social media, it’s critical that parents and educators recognize that social media simply doesn’t mean the same thing to us as it does to them.

While many of us may use social media, we didn’t grow up with it ingrained as part of our life and social habits. Because of this, it is never going to affect us as deeply as it does the younger generation. Recognizing this can help you understand that your child doesn’t care about the app itself, but is instead focused on the connection that it provides to peers. 

Taking that understanding a step further, when your tween or teen does open up about their experience on social media, Dr. Walsh advises you not to get caught up in past fears or trying to remember which app is which and instead just actively listening to what your child is trying to say. While the means may be different, the issues that arise from it, like jealousy, anxiety, fear of being left out, or bullying are all issues that we can relate to. 

Technology, video games, social media and everything else in between don’t have to be scary and don’t have to be a struggle. With patience and understanding, parents and educators can be there for their children to guide them through healthy technology use and help them navigate through the turbulent emotions that often come with adolescence. 

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