If technology is like food, in other words we can’t live without it, why not borrow some wisdom from the world of nutrition to help us fin the best approach to a healthy digital consumption?
While our own parents may have fretted over Stranger Danger when they sent us off trick or treating, Halloween nowadays might cause us to worry more about what our kids are getting up to under our own roofs. Teens these days are drinking less alcohol, dating less, and partying less than previous generations. This may come as a welcome relief to a generation of helicopter parents who grew up on a diet of “Say no to strangers” and sob stories of the local latch-key kids, but our kids are being exposed to a different type of danger as they spend more and more time alone with their phones. A 2017 article by the Atlantic, Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?, suggested that while post-Millennials are safer physically than adolescents have ever been, they could be on the brink of a mental-health crisis.
So what are we to do about this modern pandemic? If you’re here, then you probably know the answer: balance is key. However, it’s easier said than done when we ourselves are still trying to get to grips with being connected 24/7. Some have compared tech addictions to nicotine and other drugs. But perhaps the easiest way to tackle the problem is to think of tech as food. Realistically, we can’t live without it - so we must work out how to make it a part of our life without it being detrimental to our health.
Take Halloween candy, for example. Candy is cheap and cheerful, and you couldn’t imagine Halloween without it! But it's also bad for you if consumed in excess, and it's very easy to eat too much! In the same way, we can say the internet is the same as candy. It's so easily accessible to pretty much everyone, and it's also extremely easy to overuse and succumb to its negative effects.
Nobody wants to give up candy, and nobody wants to give up the benefits of technology. You can use the skills you already have in your parenting toolbox regarding healthy eating as a way to encourage a happy tech balance at home, so you can focus on fun this family holiday!
The not so sweet side of candy and of the internet
Inform & educate
We all know that too much sugar is bad, but most parents allow their kids to have it in moderation. They know that their child won't feel the same enthusiasm for a gluten-free Halloween tortilla as they will about candy corn. In the same way, we all know that too much screen time is detrimental to our health. However, very few parents ban their children from using the internet completely.
Everyone's familiar with the balanced diet and theory of everything in moderation now. But it wasn’t until the 70s and 80s that nutrition education became part of the school curriculum. Schools in the U.S. began implementing a program following a 1969 recommendation from the White House Conference on Food, Nutrition, and Health, which was later authorized under the Child Nutrition Act. Of course, we need to include digital safety and wellbeing in school curriculums, but we can also educate and inform our kids in our own homes. Talk openly and honestly with your children about the potential dangers of the web, but also invite informal discussions of what your kids are up to online. Who’s their favorite YouTuber? What’s the coolest app right now? The more normal these types of conversations become, the more comfortable your kids will be to approach you should they encounter problems like cyberbullying or online predators.
Set meal times
You wouldn’t think of sending your child to school without a healthy breakfast! And we all know what happens when you skip a meal… chances are you’ll end up snacking unhealthily all day. That’s why setting specific times for screen use is a great way to train your kids to take ownership of their digital wellbeing. It’s a good idea to talk together first to decide when the dedicated times might be. Maybe it’s after homework is completed, or only on weekends. Whatever you decide, Qustodio easily lets you schedule screen time and limit specific app usage. We also highly recommend setting screen-free zones for the whole family, like the dining table and the bedroom.
Offer healthy alternatives
If you leave a bowl of candy sitting out, chances are your children (and you) will overindulge! But if you offer healthy snacks like fruit and nuts, it’s a lot easier to make the healthy choice. In the same way, you need to make sure you’re offering plenty of screen-free alternatives in your home. Make time for family board games, cooking sessions, country walks, and trips to the library. The more resources you give your kids, the more likely they’ll be to leave the iPad to one side and pick up a paintbrush instead!
Lead by example
If you're always picking the candy instead of the apple, or have erratic eating habits, your children will follow suit. The same goes for your tech-use: if you’re meticulous about modeling healthy habits, your kids will grow up with a balanced attitude. That means if you’ve set screen-time rules, stick to them yourself. No replying to work emails at the breakfast table or sneaky scrolling on those family nature hikes! Children are quick to spot when you’re not paying attention, so if they see you putting the screen first, they’ll learn to do the same.
With these healthy habits in place, you can look forward to fewer tricks and plenty of treats for your family this Halloween and beyond!