LETTER: Heathy Technology Series Educating Parents & Kids

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{This is the first in a series of three articles about the Watertown Lecture Series focusing on children and technology.}

In today’s hyperconnected world, the way adolescents “learn, play, and interact has changed more in the past 15 years than in the previous 570 years. In 2010 U.S. adolescents spent an average of 8.5 hours per day interacting with digital devices, up from 6.5 hours in just 2006. Thirty percent of the time they are simultaneously using more than one device, bringing daily total media exposure time to 11.5 hours.”

This past Wednesday, we launched the Healthy Technology Speaker Series thanks to a generous grant from The Watertown Community Foundation. The series is a collaborative effort between local parents, Watertown Public Schools, the Watertown Special Education Parent Advisory Committee (SEPAC), the Watertown Boys and Girls Club, Wayside Youth and Family Services, the Watertown Youth Coalition, Live Well Watertown, the Watertown Education Foundation and Families for Depression Awareness.

The first event featured Laura Indigo, who led us through mindfulness activities for adults and children, and Jon Mattleman, who framed the problem of the hidden and emotional consequences of the internet and digital space. Mindfulness activities help us—whether we are 5 or 95—reconnect to our feelings, thoughts, and bodies. Even a few minutes of mindfulness can return a child or adult to a powerful feeling of wellbeing. Jon agreed that while technology is incredible, if we feel compelled to be connected 24/7, we are losing out on personal human-to-human relationships, time for reflection, and calmness in our lives. Our goal is healthy connections online and offline too. Some of Jon’s core messages include the following:

  • Digital platforms magnify the toughest part of adolescence. Too much exposure to the wrong messages can be humiliating and scary, negatively impact self-esteem, and induce anxiety, isolation and lead to self-harm.
  • Our children’s brains are still developing: Kids make impulsive decisions and may not understand the permanence of what they put online. If you put a nasty statement or an indecent photo online, it never goes away. This means that kids cannot make bad decisions without the aftereffects haunting them.
  • Technology and risky behaviors are intricately linked. Digital access increases the risk of drinking, drugging and sex. Kids communicate their worst emotions online, leaving their friends unsure how to respond and filled with anxiety.
  • Cyberbullying is real, the impacts are painful, and the majority of middle and high school students do not tell their parents about it.

What to do?

  • Set limits. Reduce exposure. Whether your child is 1 or 15, make rules. If you pay for a phone, you can take it away.
  • Even if you feel as though you have lost control, you can decide to get it back any day. Children are minors and require parental direction.
  • Put a family contract in place regardless of your children’s ages. For example, technology can only be used in common areas of a home; school work first; no technology before school; no technology at the dinner table; phones are not allowed if you have sleep overs.
  • Talk to kids about technology. Have you used this app? What do you like about your favorite app? Have you heard of problems? What would you do if…?
  • Talk with your family about healthy technology use. What do you do that you enjoy and that is health promoting?
  • Have tech-free times. Unplug. Try mindfulness activities.
  • Model appropriate behavior.
  • Stem the tide of over use by talking with your kids’ friends’ parents. Do not go it alone.
  • Build safe communities with other parents, schools, teachers, coaches, extended family members, friends and others.

We want to highlight the importance of building resilient children. As a community of parents, teachers, and caregivers, we can help kids cope with digital technology by using it thoughtfully, reaching out to a trusted adult if they observe or experience a negative event, and gain the skills, language and confidence to prevent, stop, respond or walk away from negative online activity. Building healthy coping skills is an important aspect of this series.

During the next two sessions, we will continue to work together to identify solutions that work for your family to keep children safe and healthy. Please join us—or stay with us—for the next two sessions in the series on April 1, Cyber Safety and April 8, Technology and Child Development. The events start at 7 pm at Watertown Middle School. Signup at Eventbrite at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/healthy-technology-use-for-students-families-tickets- 15952770165. Childcare available. Go to https://www.facebook.com/ParentSpeakerSeries to learn more and to find a library of resources.

The Healthy Technology Speaker Series Committee

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