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Feed Your Children a Balanced “Diet” of Technology

Are your children consuming a healthy technology diet?

The operative word in raising healthy children in this often-times unhealthy digital world they are growing up in is balance. A nutritional analogy works well here. A balanced nutritional diet doesn’t mean 50 percent healthy food and 50 percent junk food. Rather, a balanced diet involves ensuring that your children get adequate nutrition from all of the major food groups while allowing them periodic treats.

The same holds true for your children’s diet of technology. You first need to make sure that your children get the proper “nutrition” they need in their lives, meaning offering them a psychological, emotional, intellectual, social, physical, and spiritual “diet” that will fuel their vigorous development, in addition to fostering healthy self-identity, values, thinking, relationships, and life.

Once this “nourishment” is in place and your children are growing strong mentally and physically, you can then introduce other “foods,” namely, technology, that may or may not be healthy. Many aspects of technology, whether searching the Internet for information or maintaining relationships through social media, can be healthy for your children in their own right. Plus, they need to learn these skills to successfully navigate the digital world in which they will live. At the same time, there is a lot of technology “junk food” out there as well, such as violent video games, twitter, and merchandise-related web sites. Also, too much of even a good thing, in other words, using technology past the point that it “nourishes” your children, will obviously do them harm. Your children should be allowed to enjoy media that you deem appropriate and not particularly unhealthy in reasonable portions based on your values and interests.

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To raise children who are physically and mentally healthy, you must do several things. First, lack of information and misinformation are two of the most significant obstacles to your making the best “dietary” decisions about technology for your children. You have to learn which aspects of technology have nutritional value and which are the equivalent of candy, snacks, and soda. You must educate yourself about how technology influences your children’s physical and mental health, both positively and negatively. Given the ready access of information through the Internet, there are no excuses for being ill-informed.

Second, just as you hopefully set limits on how much candy and other sweets they eat, you need to set appropriate limits on both the content and quantity of technology your children “ingest.” In all of my blog posts on this topic, I share with you both the latest research and my own perspectives on how “nutritious” might be defined to help you judge what reasonable limits are for your children.

You must then add to this decision-making calculus by considering your own family’s values, interests, and habits. In this step of the process, you need to weigh those values, interests, and habits against what the research and experts say about the nutritional value of technology. If these two parts of the equation conflict, you may decide to make some changes to the diet of technology that your family has. What you deem healthy use of technology will be the result of your completing this equation and your solution to this equation will hopefully provide you with a clear picture of what is healthy and what is not for your children.

Third, recognizing that your children will be exposed to technology, just as they are to junk food, no matter what limits you set for them, you must educate your children about its influence. When they’re confronted with the many forms of technology, they will be able to set their own reasonable limits and only partake in technology that they judge to be healthy.

Fourth, because actions speak louder than words when it comes to parenting, perhaps the best way to encourage a balanced diet of technology and foster physical and mental health in your children is to have a healthy diet of technology yourself. It is a familiar sight these days to see many parents who are watching too much television, playing too many video games, and using their smartphone too much, akin to eating too many sweets. If your technology diet balanced, your children are more likely to have a healthy diet of technology as well. 

Jim Taylor, Ph.D., teaches at the University of San Francisco.

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