I’m a big believer in using parent mantras to accompany your parenthood journey. Mantras help you focus. The mantra “The World Really Is Different” can be used to remind us that technology is a fact now. We are raising our children in the next industrial revolution where smart technology will change how they live their lives. However, most people are still asking if technology is the newest addiction or the next best tool for documenting and improving our lives. Instead of agonizing over whether or not it’s okay, we need to focus on teaching our children how to control technology rather than letting it control them.
“By embracing technology, we can steer it instead of fear it,” says Kevin Kelly, co-founder of Wired and author of The Inevitable. Unless you move to a remote, off-the-grid location and never let your children leave, technology will be an integral part of your daily life. The sooner you accept that technology is our new reality, the better off you’ll be. Here are five ways using the parent mantra “The World Really Is Different” can help you and your children take charge of technology:
1 | Use technology in smart ways
Screens are here to stay. There will come a time when people will think it’s funny that we worried so much. Instead focus on sharing smart uses of screens. There are lots of things in life that we use to amuse or distract us, but that doesn’t make them inherently bad. My kids use their devices to watch silly YouTube videos and play games, but they also build their knowledge of the world and find their place in it. They use iPads to make stop motion videos and to read with a Kindle app. They also use iPhones to set timers for remembering to take care of things independently. I take the time to teach them which apps can help them stay organized and which can open up their creativity.
2 | Teach kids to make conscious choices about their screen time
Besides using technology in smarter ways, it’s also important to get kids to understand that every time they use technology they are making a choice. When kids are taught to think about how often they switch to new apps or stop watching something halfway through to respond to a text, we give them the opportunity to become more thoughtful about their distractions.
Distractibility is often a complaint from adults about children and technology use. Teaching kids to pay attention and make better choices like using an app that turns off social media during homework time makes sense for their future.
3 | Help kids find a balance
Instead of repeatedly telling kids to get off their phones, help them find other ways to stimulate the production of dopamine. Sports, exercise, community service, human relationships, developing a passion for something, playing board games, and laughing all create some of the same positive feelings that interacting with friends on an iPhone or watching a funny YouTube video can.
4 | Keep technology in perspective
When children spend the majority of their time doing only one thing, there’s likely to be an underlying issue. Get to know what your child likes and start understanding it. Children who see you trying to learn about something they love, will also see that you love them. When I saw my son spending an inordinate amount of time watching a show called "Good Mythical Morning." I started lying next to him to watch it too. Turned out, it was super funny and very smart. It might not be something I would choose to watch on my own, but now I know it’s not inherently bad and is even kind of intelligent. Demystify your child’s technology use in order to see what’s really happening.
5 | Recognize that instant messaging is a way for kids to stay connected
Communities are different now. People don’t always live near extended family anymore. In order to stay in touch and feel a sense of belonging, kids use instant messaging. In a scientific study, it was found that instant messaging significantly contributed to the well-being of distressed adolescents. In addition, introverted participants profited from instant messaging more than extroverts. Talking with kids about the messages they send and the way others receive them may help them see that you get how important that communication is.
It’s not reasonable any longer to hope that technology won’t play a role in our children’s lives. Instead of spinning your wheels trying to limit it or take it away, find ways to connect and empower your kids. Talk to them about their online identities as much as you talk about their developing personal identities. Explain that people will get to know them online and in person and those identities should align in a positive way. Embrace technology with your children because the world really is different.