6 tips for giving the gift of technology

Contrary to what you might think, screens are still the No. 1 holiday item on kids’ lists this holiday season. Trendy novelties, like hoverboards and drones, trail behind demands for iPhones, tablets, gaming systems and computers. And with homework requiring technology and the Web, parents often feel pressure to succumb to their child’s technology requests.

Parents that were inclined to splurge on the hoverboard in the hopes of increasing their child’s activity level, may decide against the potentially unsafe motorized scooter after seeing images of it catching fire on the Web last week. But does a toy have to explode in flames or cause other physical injuries to be damaging to children? The definition of “dangerous” becomes interesting when one includes technology in the mix. Parents reading this may wonder, how is technology really harmful to kids? That depends. Clearly technology danger is less obvious and more insidious than the explosive hoverboard, and yet children today are impaired by technology’s addictive tendency when it’s not limited.

Technology dependence develops when users become hooked on a game or social media and their brain chemistry is altered as a result. The longer a child fixates on technology, the more addicted they become. The brain releases neurotransmitters that make them feel good and they crave greater amounts of technology to maintain that “high” feeling. That’s why it’s so difficult for parents to get children off devices once they’ve been using them for more than two hours. And the greater the cravings, the bigger drop they experience when they stop using technology; hence, the blow-ups when parents say enough after two-plus hours of use. Scary stuff and yet it’s real.

Specifically, those drawn to gaming are lured into playing more and more at higher stakes, with the need to play to win. Social media is addictive in that once a person begins the social media posting cycle, they get hooked on their likes and followers. Users become obsessed with what others are posting and compare their lives to those of others. They may even wonder why they weren’t included in their friends’ outrageously fun events displayed on social media, like a badge of status. And for texters and Web surfers (also addictive), there’s that feeling of sheer panic when a cellphone or tablet is misplaced or worse, lost.

Most parents have heard these concerns before and yet when the only item on the holiday gift list is the newest device or the gaming system (that all their friends have), parents struggle to say “no.”Despite the potential dangers of technology overload, I’m not advocating against all technology. It’s only natural that parents want their children to be ecstatic when they open their holiday gifts, and for many children, that may mean receiving the gift of technology.

If you decide to give technology, here are some guidelines:

1. All technology that is given at the holidays comes with a rule book and contract. I am a believer in telling your child: “I am allowing you to use this item and, as the parent, I am the owner and decision maker. Before you can use, you have to agree to my rules and if you violate my rules, I am not allowing you the privilege of keeping this tech device.”

2. Keep technology use to one to two hours at a sitting to avoid growing addiction.

3. Use the technology yourself so you understand the technology that they will be using.

4. Limit and manage data. IPhones and devices will have data. Limit the data because kids don’t need unlimited data. Unlimited data leads to endless Web surfing and YouTube viewing in the car, at school, and in places where there is no Wi-Fi and they don’t need to be using data. It breeds addiction.

5. Know social media. Follow your kids’ social media sites. Insist on access to their sites and have their passwords for maintaining control and for safety.

6. Be aware of “hiding apps.” These are apps that allow kids to hide pornography, chats and potentially dangerous contacts. Apps like Calculator%, KyCalc or Best Secret Folder are disguised as fully functional calculators. But when a secret pass code is entered, it unlocks a system that allows kids to store photos and text messages they don’t want you to see. KeepSafe and Vault apps allow users to upload pictures and videos into the app and keep them secured under a password.

Children and teens are not able to use technology moderately and prudently without parental guidance and oversight. If you are gifting technology, be prepared, before you give it, to manage the device and its usage.

Dr. Kate Roberts is a psychologist and parent coach on the North Shore. Questions can be directed towww.drkateroberts.com www.twitter.com/DrKateParenting, www.facebook.com/Dr.KateRoberts.



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