We’ve been told over and over again that technology is negatively impacting our lives, but are the latest gizmos and gadgets really all that bad?

Before you switch off the Wi-Fi forever (or even for a few hours), consider how you’re using technology in your household. Is it enhancing your life, strengthening your relationships, keeping your kids safe? Or is it turning your family into Fortnite-playing, YouTube-watching, Insta-posting screen-addicts?

Technology: the Good, the Bad, the Future?

I will be the first to admit that technology dominates our household. We watch episodes of Teen Titans Go on Netflix. We practise timestables through Math Rockz on the iPad and we Skype with Nana overseas on the computer. But we tend to do these things together.
The issue comes down to the fact that we also spend a lot of time fixated on our screens in our own little worlds. My son has his Xbox, my daughter has her iPad and I have my phone.

Sure, we all need our alone time, but when does this behaviour become unhealthy?

The Dark Side of Digital Devices

According to addiction expert, Dr Nicholas Kardaras, kids, especially teenagers, can easily fall into the trap of isolated screen addiction. He has treated over 1000 teens who spend upward of 10 hours a day online, usually gaming or chatting on social media.

“iPads, smartphones and Xboxes are a form of digital drug,” Dr Kardaras explains. He believes screen addiction is comparable to substance abuse, both giving the receiver a “high” and releasing a large amount of dopamine. This is especially the case when looking at the effects of playing action-packed video games. “[Children] are not neurologically equipped to experience something so dopamine activating.”

The main issue is that this addiction can form in a short period of time and many parents are unaware it is happening under their noses.
He warns children can throw tantrums and become “very moody and aggressive” when their screen time is controlled. They may also lose interest in hobbies, sports and other activities.

Technology and Teens

Addiction aside, there’s also the issue of the dangers with technology, especially surrounding privacy and online predators. It seems like every day someone develops a new app that can cause plenty of concerns for parents. While my kids aren’t quite at this stage yet, I know it’s coming. And I’m already dreading it.

Be aware of Vaulty, Hide It Pro and Calculator%, which are designed to hide private messaging, texts and pictures. There are also plenty of apps that act as “Tinder for teens” including KiK, Yik Yak, Yubo, Whisper and Spotafriend. Scary, I know!
Most parents don’t want to be ‘that’ mum or dad who monitors their child’s online activity but sometimes we need to, for their safety, wellbeing and security.

The Future is Tech

While there’s no doubt that too much screen time is harmful and even dangerous to your family, not all technology should be banned. Technology, after all, is here to stay and continues to advance, often for the better.

iPads, for example, are a staple in most schools now. Children need access to digital devices to further their education and access assigned homework through platforms such as Reading Eggs, Mathletics, Writing Wizard and Sunshine Online.

The next generation of careers are geared toward technology. With the rise of driverless cars, drones, and the rapid growth in robotics, these industries are where the careers will be. And, like it or not, our kiddies need to be prepared for this.

Staying Connected and Safe

There are also plenty of technological gadgets that are designed for safety, not entertainment. Smart watches, for example, allow parents to keep track of their kids through GPS and include SOS functions so kids can contact mum or dad. For parents that work away or have relatives in other states or countries, technology provides a convenient way to stay connected through apps like Skype and Facetime.

Like many mums I do have to be away from my kids a fair bit, especially when travelling for work. Being able to see my kids, to say goodnight to them and to even read them a bedtime story through Facetime is absolutely invaluable. It makes being away from them that little less difficult. And we have technology to thank for moments like this.

Making Technology Your Friend, Not Foe

So how can we find that happy medium? How can we benefit from technology without succumbing to its addictive powers? Here are a few things to try:

Consider the WHY – Ask yourself what they are getting out of their electronic device. Are they using it for learning or leisure? Is it helping them wind down or winding them up? Is it keeping them connected or causing isolation?

Practise what you preach – Ask yourself the same thing when you switch on. Are you browsing Google to confirm a recipe for dinner? Or are you simply checking Facebook for the 50th time out of habit?

Limit ‘alone’ and ‘entertainment-only’ screen time – Many experts suggest reducing screen time to less than an hour a day (or none if your child is under 2) but this is entirely up to you. You may be comfortable letting your kids have more than an hour, or less.

Put screens to bed – Make it a family rule that screens stay off (and preferably outside the bedroom) at least one hour before bedtime. And yes, parents, this means you too!

Act before it becomes an issue – How can you tell if technology is starting to take its toll on your kids? If you notice their behaviour is changing, that they are fighting you to put the device down, that they are becoming withdrawn, aggressive or moody, then technology is becoming more harmful than helpful.

You know your children best. If they seem off, then it’s time to switch off.