Ever since Nintendo made the Pokemon Go video-game app available, young people have been exploring their communities with their eyes firmly fixed on their smartphones rather than on the wonders of the world.
If endless hours spent capturing imaginary creatures seems like an electronic addiction, it very well may be, but that’s nothing new. Many children have been plugged into electronic devices for a long time now, rarely looking up as they help virtual animals save the day, keep race cars on track and watch endless loops of videos on YouTube.
And that can be a concern, says Elaine Fogel Schneider, Ph.D., a therapist and author of “7 Strategies for Raising Calm, Inspired & Successful Children” (www.askdrelaine.com).
“They are so attached to technology at such an early age and it’s changing their brain circuitry,” Schneider says. “They begin to lose the back and forth communication with their parents, and/or siblings, and the whole notion of empathy. For really young children, these devices have become the babysitter. I fully understand that parents need a break (as do grandparents), but there have to be limits.”
Schneider has tips for parents who worry about how they can control their child’s electronic pastime.
• Set rules. Limit the amount of time your child can spend on an electronic device and be consistent in en-forcing those rules. This way your child knows that when you say he or she only has two minutes left, then there really is only two minutes left, not three or four hours.
• Use a timer. A timer does not “lie” and can take the blame away from you when you’re limiting your child’s time on the device. Use the timer that measures down the time your child is spending on the tablet, smartphone, and/or technological game, so that your child knows the end for using that device is approaching, and it won’t be a surprise when time is up. You can even have your child select a tone on the smartphone that he or she likes.
• Be ready with another activity. Plan an alternative way of engaging your child so when the device is turned off, some other interest can be provided and take his or her mind off the electronic device. “Describe what you’re going to do so the child’s interest is piqued into doing something else that he or she enjoys,” Schneider says.
• Use these tips in your home at first. As with everything, at first there’s a learning curve, so there may be tantrums, tears, melt downs and even depression. That’s why Schneider recommends following these tips at home first. “I wouldn’t think of trying this out in public right away since I don’t think you want to endure the wrath or glances of diners or shoppers as they hear your child scream,” Schneider says. In time, though, the child will know what is expected, she says, and will be able to disconnect from a smartphone, tablet, or other electronic de-vice without major meltdowns.
“In the long run, you’re doing a service for your child by limiting the amount of time spent on an electronic device,” Schneider says. “I can remember hearing my own mother’s words, ‘I’m doing this for your own good!’ And that’s really true.”