The Dolphin Way

Raising Healthy, Happy, and Motivated Kids Without Turning Into a Tiger

Our Technology and Our Children

Technology is great, but we must all learn to use it responsibly.

There are not many things parents feel more conflicted about than the issue of technology.

There is no doubt that technologies like the Internet and iPads are all around us and are here to stay. And like anything, there are many drawbacks and benefits of technology use. On one hand, kids can spend too much time with it, look up inappropriate information, and can even become addicted to technology. On the other hand, using technology is fast becoming a necessary part of life and is being used more and more for education in schools.

A USC study found that by 2015 Americans will be consuming media at an unprecedented rate. The average number of hours of media use per person, per day will hit 15.5 hours if use continues to grow as it has the past few years.

Although it is tempting to blame technology for sucking all our children’s attention, parents must realize that most kids have no access to technology without adults. We have a lot more control than we may think!

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Some parents feel helpless when it comes to technology or they do not set any clear rules or expectations. I call this permissive jellyfish parenting. With no set boundaries or technology guidelines, children of jellyfish parents will often use technology inappropriately.

Other parents have over the top rules about technology with no compromise or adaptation even within our rapidly changing high tech environments. I call this authoritarian tiger parenting. Children of tiger parents will often resent their parents or cheat and use technology behind their back.

I encourage parents to be a balanced dolphin parent. Like the dolphin, these parents are smart, collaborative, and can adapt to different situations. Instead of being inflexible strict tigers or overly permissive jellyfish – dolphin parents’ guide and role model appropriate technology use.

Let’s start with guiding. This means having a clear direction of where you want to go but also some flexibility in how you get there. Lay down some guideposts about technology and the reasons behind them. You could say something like “I know you love playing on the iPad but if you spend too much time on that you will lose your balance for other important things such as sleep, exercise, homework, and playing with your friends. So let’s come up with a goal for how much time you spend on the iPad every week.” Let your child provide input and show them that you are willing to hear their point of view. Making essential agreements about at-home technology use together is important for teaching your child about ownership and responsibility. Children are more motivated to follow rules that they helped create, rather than rules that have been solely imposed onto them. Of course, children may try to push for more time, but once they’re clear that you will stick with your guidelines and “no means no,” they’ll stop. Taking back control over technology can take time—maybe a week or two depending on your children and especially on how well you’re able to stick to the proposed plan. Remind your child that the guidelines were established together and that they represent both of your thoughts and goals. Lastly but most importantly, kids learn from more what we do rather than what we say. Be a good role model for technology. Do not use your cell phone or check your email at the dinner table and especially not when driving! Show them that you can enjoy and benefit from technology while still using it responsibly.

Shimi Kang, M.D., is an award-winning, Harvard-trained psychiatrist and author of The Dolphin Way.

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