Why a child spends all his free time playing games or leafing through endless social media feeds, and whether smartphones are as bad as they say they are, discussed with Karina Richtere, a professional psychologist and expert in parent-child relationships.
The problem of children’s hobbies has always worried their parents. For example, 50-70 years ago, moms and dads actively forbade their children to read, because it would ruin their eyesight. But boys and girls are still selflessly immersed in books, reading with a flashlight under the covers.
Then there was the same struggle with comic books – the older generation believed that they dumbed down children and instilled in them a cliched mindset. Today, parents go to war on gadgets, but they look at their smartphones every minute, checking Watsap messages or Instagram feeds.
For some adults, this develops into a real addiction – they feel anxiety and discomfort if they fall out of online life or find themselves without the Internet and a phone for a while. At the same time, they expect from children a conscious attitude to the gadget and an interest in books, active games and meetings with friends offline.
If this kind of addiction occurs in adults, what about children? Their addiction to gadgets often becomes more serious than that of their parents. This is influenced by several factors. Here are the main ones:
1. Children have no self-control.
It is not a matter of lack of willpower or ambition, but of the way their brains work. There are areas of the cortex responsible for self-control and the ability to say “no” to any temptation. They are fully formed only at the end of adolescence, that is, about 20 years old.
2. Children are easily involved in things that interest them.
Remember how your kid could spend hours building a tower of cubes, and a teenager could paint a picture or learn to play the guitar, wiping his fingers in blood. Usually a child gives up an interesting activity if he can’t get a result here and now. But a smartphone with endless games and social media feeds offers entertainment for all tastes. Tired of playing games, you can ask what’s being posted on TicToc or watch cartoons on YouTube. Not interested in watching videos, you can download a new game. And so on to infinity.
3. Children prefer to have fun, not work
In general, this is a feature not only of the children’s, but also of the adult psyche. Other things being equal, anyone would prefer entertainment to work or learning. And the smartphone is an endless source of them.
4. If the environment around is not the most favorable, children prefer the alternative reality of the smartphone to the world around them.
Books and movies used to do this. Today, the virtual reality of social networks and entertainment services allows you to choose any suitable world and become anything without changing yourself. Gadgets today are becoming the very Gamelin doodler that takes children irrevocably into virtual worlds and completely captures their attention.
You need rules everywhere: 5 tips for parents
On the one hand, gadgets do not have the most beneficial effect on a child’s life. Long stay in a static pose, reading from a small screen and constantly flickering pictures directly affect the health of children and lead to problems with vision and spine, headaches, fatigue and overweight. They also affect cognitive abilities.
Studies show that excessive use of smartphones reduces learning, decreases cognitive interest, and can provoke the development of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
On the other hand, smartphones have become an integral part of our lives. And if a child does not have a gadget, he becomes a black sheep in the team: he does not know the current trends, does not know the celebrities and does not know how his peers live.
In addition, gadgets give access to educational platforms, help learn online from the best teachers, and develop a variety of skills. And, in fact, the problem is not that the child has a smartphone, but that it replaces his real life. How to fix it? Introduce a few rules:
1. Start with yourself.
If a child sees his parents all the time at the computer or with a phone in his hand, he will copy them and devote all his time to the gadget.
2. Don’t use gadgets as a distraction
If a child is taught from an early age that a gadget is the best way to fight boredom, over time entertainment will be associated only with it.
3. Limit not the time, but the content.
Make this rule: there are no limits for developing educational applications and videos, but for entertainment content (cartoons, social media feeds, and so on) the time is strictly limited. Through gamification and apps, you can learn languages, develop logic and vocabulary, train your math skills, and learn about nature and history.
4. Offer alternative entertainment
Kids don’t know how to occupy themselves. We need to teach them how to do it. Think with your child about what they can do to occupy themselves when they are bored. Books, walks with friends (younger students, for example, can be given tasks – to find 10 cones or make a district plan), constructors, developmental tasks in books (such as wimmelbooks or books to develop creativity) and so on can distract from boredom.
5. Set up gadget-free zones
For example, you can’t take your phone to the table or to bed, but you can use it to take videos and pictures or to report live from a trip when you’re traveling. Remember, the rules should apply to everyone in the family.
If you don’t allow your child to eat lunch with the phone, but you yourself read the news feed, this rule will cause a legitimate protest. The same goes for content: if you play casual games or look at your friend’s manicure on Instagram, it’s strange to demand that your child be interested in the nature of South Africa.
If your work is Internet-related and you spend a lot of time with your phone in your hand or in front of your laptop screen, show your child exactly what you are doing. He needs to see that you are working, not having fun. In this case the child will form an attitude towards gadgets as work tools, and he will not perceive them as the only source of entertainment.