While parenting has never been easy, parenting in the digital world requires a total new skill set that many parents are struggling to establish. What we want to remember as we negotiate our way through this maze of devices is that raising children is likely the most important job in the universe, and if done correctly, will ensure sustainable futures for people and planet. Parenting which is haphazard with few rules or structure results in children who struggle to meet their most basic needs. The following article was written to remind all of us of the 7 basic needs of children, and to point out that our children have a right to grow up in the most nurturing and safe environment that we can provide them. “Where are you going, my little one, little one? Where are you going, my baby, my own? Turn around and you’re two. Turn around and you’re four. Turn around and you’re a young girl going out of the door” by The Kingston Trio.
- To be loved
We all want one thing in life, and that is to love and be loved. In consultation children and teens continually report that they feel as if they are constantly letting their parents down and subsequently failing to gain their acceptance. Feeling unloved is a lonely and sad place for children who thrive on parental attention. Children need parental reassurance that they are ‘okay’ and that their parents are proud of their accomplishments. Parents often feel as if their job is to point out things their child does ‘wrong’ limiting time spent in pointing out what they do ‘right’. Find one thing your child does right every day and offer them a compliment will go a long way toward creating a well adjusted and happy child.
- To be healthy
Today’s screen obsessed children are sedentary, overstimulated, and far from healthy. 1 in 3 children enter school developmentally delayed, 1 in 4 are obese or overweight, and 1 in 3 are sleep deprived. Screen use increases adrenalin and cortisol causing high blood pressure and fast heart rate with heart attack and stroke incidence increasing in our younger population. Wireless radiation causes cancer with 1 in 2 people getting cancer in their lifetime and 1 in 4 dying from it.
- To be happy
1 in 6 children have a diagnosed mental illness and 1 in 11 are addicted to screens. Today’s screen-centric children are far from happy. When connected to screens family members can’t help but be disconnected to each other. This ‘disconnection’ is the origin of mental illness and eventual screen addiction as in the absence of love and caring by the parents, the child as a default attaches to a device. Parents spend an average of 10.5 hours per day on entertainment technology. If your family is struggling with screen overuse, the first step is for parents to put down their screens and pay attention to their partners and children. Children who complete the school driven 24-hour “Survivor Unplugged Challenge” report they are happy, slept better, and didn’t fight with parents and sibs.
- To be listened to
The rapid and hectic pace of today’s families leaves little time for thoughtful and meaningful conversations. Children and teens have so much to tell their families as they quickly move through their 18 years of preparation for adult life. Filling every spare minute with mindless and chaotic stimulation from screens creates a frantic family lifestyle characterized by members who have never known what it’s like to communicate with each other. Dyadic conversations composed of talking in complete sentences and listening to and interpreting each other’s responses is almost a lost art in today’s families. Children are entering school without comprehensible speech. Infants who are exposed to TV and are not read to or played with, have higher incidence of autism. Turn off the screens and go outside and listen…to the silence, to the sounds of nature, and to each other.
- To play outside and take risks
Children whose parents fear that the world is ‘not safe’ stay inside more and use more screen-based technologies. When questioned about keeping their children inside, parents report that at least they know where the child is and what they are doing. Many parents of teens prefer they be home than out at parties or socializing with their peers. These parenting practices are detrimental to achieving normal developmental milestones and result in a teen who is socially phobic and fears ‘real’ friendships. Taking risks is part of growing up independent and resilient. Stuart Brown in his research on play histories found that children who had extensive histories of playing outside and building things with their hands were more successful as adults than children who stayed inside watching TV. Building forts, ‘fixing’ things, and doing outside chores are excellent ways to give your child the edge they need to succeed.
- To be literate
Although only 3.2% of Canadian children have a learning disability the National Assessment of Education Progress in 2015 reports 1 in 3 students are performing at grade level and half of grade eight students have not achieved job-entry literacy for printing, reading and math skills. Teachers spend an average 14 min per day in printing instruction in the primary grades, yet expect students to pick up a pencil and legibly print for up to 60% of their day. Screens cannot teach literacy…teachers teach literacy. Printing is the foundation for printing and math literacy. Bring back the chalk boards and bring back the hour per day it takes to teach children how to form their letters and numbers, and stop use of ‘education’ technology grades K-3 to ensure literacy for all students.
- To be masters at social communication
Speaking isn’t just about articulation to get your needs met, children who are masters of communication perform at much higher levels in post-secondary education and eventual occupations. Screens isolate children and prohibit social communication between family members. Families who have the background TV on speak 90% less to their children contributing to speech delays. While social skills are the salient determinant of job success, over half of North American homes leave the TV on all day effectively reducing their children’s chances of school and eventual work success.
This article was written by Cris Rowan, BScBi, BScOT a biologist and pediatric occupational therapist passionate about changing the ways in which children use technology. Cris’s website is www.zonein.ca, blog www.movingtolearn.ca, and book www.virtualchild.ca. Cris can be reached at email@example.com.