Though Bill Gates founded Microsoft, as a parent, he made sure his children weren’t consumed with technology.
“I love to remind parents that Bill Gates did not give his children a phone until they were in high school,” said technology author Arlene Pellicane. “When Steve Jobs introduced the iPad and was interviewed by the New York Times on what was missing from his home, he said his children were not allowed to use the iPad because he knew how addictive it would become for them.”
Pellicane has researched the effects of technology within individuals and families. She co-authored “Growing Up Social: Raising Relational Kids in a Screen-Driven World” with Gary Chapman and wrote “Calm, Cool and Connected: 5 Digital Habits for a More Balanced Life.”
The bait of technology
Many kids will trade all the toys in the world for a small screen.
“Let’s contrast a chalkboard with an iPad,” Pellicane said. “If you took a chalkboard away from them, they weren’t like, ‘Give me that back. I can’t live without that chalkboard.’ If you try to wrestle an iPad away from them, you’re going to hear, ‘When am I going to get that back? I was in the middle of my game. I just want to watch one more show.’”
Everywhere you turn, technology is transfixing us.
“Whether it’s a phone, tablet or computer, screens today are not neutral devices,” Pellicane added. “It used to be, ‘It’s just dependent on how you use it.’ But as you hear more and more research, behind that screen there are hundreds of thousands of people trying to make this as addictive as possible.”
Pellicane gave two reasons why real relationships have been replaced by screen time.
> Stopping cues: “Today, you have to choose to not watch a show,” she said. “These technologies are bottomless. Parents need to recognize our kids or teens aren’t going to stop on their own because technology doesn’t encourage this.”
> Rewards: Technology offers intermittent and unpredictable rewards when you post a photo, video or quote. We love to see how many likes, comments or shares we total.
When all is said and done, we substitute connection with people made in the image of God for images on a screen.
“Many times, we’re so centered on screens instead of people being at the center,” Pellicane said.
The brain on technology
Screen time is addictive.
“It’s time for us as parents to realize this is a digital drug,” Pellicane said. “Of course, no parent would say, ‘We’re going to try cigarettes or have a little bit of whiskey today.’ But we’ll give kids an iPad because that keeps them quiet and entertained. There’s so much more happening.”
Technology affects our brain.
“Our brain isn’t meant to ride a rollercoaster all the time,” Pellicane added. “Amusement pleasure can be overdone. When kids are watching TV, videogames and scrolling through social media all the time, there’s no free time anymore to process what your mind has gone through for that day. You’re hindering the development for your child’s brain.”
Nonstop screen time is, in a sense, similar to giving your brain dopamine shots.
“Dopamine is the part of your brain that’s like, ‘Wow, that was great,’” she said. “The pleasure center and cruise director that wants to find something fun again. Dr. Archibald Hart talked about in our book, ‘If you overload your pleasure center, then the simple pleasure can’t get in because things have to be so big and so grand.’ It’s that idea that your brain doesn’t recognize the beauty of a flower, sunset or smile.”
While scrolling is simple, going outside is intentional.
Whatever parents decide to do with their kids, making memories needs to trump technology.
“When our kids grow up and leave the home, they’re not going to be like, ‘I miss my home so much where I sat in the corner and did my Instagram feed,’” Pellicane said. “But they will think, ‘There were so many Sunday afternoons I rode my bike with my dad.’ Many times kids will do activities and parents will just watch. What we encourage parents to do is, ‘What are activities you can do with your kids?’”
Pellicane said interactive activities include Nerf gun wars, doing puzzles, cooking, throwing a ball or riding bikes.
Boundaries for technology
Fighting technology requites setting boundaries.
Pellicane shared five H.A.B.I.T.S. to put into practice:
> Hold down the off button: Don’t let your phone’s text messages, people’s posts or emails be the first or last thing you see.
> Always put people first: “The Pivot” means to pivot away from your device, make eye-contact and talk to the person asking for your attention.
> Brush daily with a clean conscious: Be aware of what you watch.
> I will go online with a purpose.
> Take a hike: Go outdoors to restore.
Lastly, Pellicane said to set boundaries by creating a couple of “digital free zones.”
> Mealtime: To laugh, connect, share stories and thus have a space to talk.
> Bedroom: Collect devices at night. Instead, create “common spaces” like the living room to go on devices.