This past week, I had a mom who expressed concern about friends using their cell phones during her daughter’s birthday party. She observed the friends not knowing how to interact with each other and choosing to be on their phones. When the peers weren’t able to access the local internet, some chose to play games on their phones rather than to interact with each other.
I join this mom in worrying about the quality of social interaction we are teaching and/or exposing our children to. Yes, cell phones and tablets are part of our daily lives; however, we adults help teach our children when is an appropriate time to use our devices, for what purposes and for how long. We adults may also be guilty of using our devices out of habit to check work emails or social media.
As a host, you decide if the party is going to be device-free or to have limited use of technology. Make sure your child knows this ahead of time. Use a collection box either when kids enter your home or at a certain time during the party or politely ask the guests to put their devices away for a certain period of time. They need to know that this is not the end of the world. (NOTE: please avoid a power struggle)
If your children are wanting to use their devices in a social setting such as a birthday party or family gathering, introduce them to other ways of using them to promote positive interaction as follows:
1) playing Heads Up a game found on-line (i.e. the person holds her phone at his forehead so he can’t see it, others give hints and the person guesses what or who he is),
2) sharing favorite songs and talking about what the songs mean to her or to others.
3) researching places or activities of interest in your community and doing them with caregiver permission (i.e. exploring local parks with nature trails, getting takeout from a restaurant to try new foods, making a new recipe, doing a fun science experiment ),
4) listening to music and coming up with corresponding dance moves or do your own version of The Voice, America’s Got Talent or So You Think You Can Dance,
5) taking pictures using playful props and posting with captions and possibly printing them out at a local photo kiosk to take as a gift to remember the experience.
Our children need us as adults to instruct them how to interact with each other in the moment in various settings. We establish the standards for what our children are exposed to in general. Having an unlimited diet of access to one’s phone, tablet, computer or video games is not healthy for anyone. Most children lack the ability to limit their use of technology on their own; they need to be taught. If we aren’t more proactive in teaching our children what is okay or not okay in the use of technology, we risk sending them out into the world ill-prepared for various social interactions. Creating boundaries and clear consistent expectations are essential to your child’s development on so many levels. This guidance will also help enrich the quality of your interactions as a family.
I challenge you to create technology-free times for everyone in your family on a regular basis. Try dinner time or certain car rides. Please share what happens. You may be surprised what you learn about your child and yourself!