When my son Niko was 11 I had my first tween experience with kids and electronics. I allowed him to get an Instagram account using his iTouch. This was his first exposure to the social media world and we learned two lessons immediately.
First, when following celebrities or sports teams, the comments under a post can be horrific (think sexual content). Second, humor can easily be misinterpreted, which can open oneself up to bullying or making others feel bad. There’s a social media etiquette that isn’t intuitive, especially for a now 12-year old boy.
The positive to introducing Niko to social media at this age was that I was able to guide him and talk about social media, including how it can affect his self-esteem. There’s a lot of comparison about the number of likes your pictures receive and how many “friends” you have. And, there’s a “Fear Of Missing Out” (FOMO). We work through these together as they arise, and Niko’s usage on Instagram is structured around a customized agreement that we both signed to set boundaries around his Instagram use (and I have his account on my phone so I can view it at any time).
More concerning to me is Niko’s video game playing. Following in the footsteps of his dad, Niko has begun tinkering with first-person shooter video games (Star Wars Battle Front and Halo). This makes my skin crawl. According to the American Psychological Association, 85% or more of video games on the market contain some form of violence. While recent studies have revealed no differences in levels of aggression between gamers and non-gamers, I don’t see any purpose for (or support) violence in any form. Yet I see my son’s extreme interest in these games (which I personally don’t understand) and I want to take a balanced, researched-based approach to curtailing them. In other words, I know a well-explained reasoning for my beliefs and concerns will go much farther long-term than a curt “no.”
I’m not worried about aggression in my son, but about his brain development and the fact that the number of people seeking clinical help for video game addiction is rising. Common Sense Media found half of all young people feel they are addicted to their devices. Are young, developing human brains supposed to handle this sort of fast-paced stimulation? In her documentary Screenagers Dr. Delaney Ruston explores social media and video games and the effect it’s having on kids’ brains. She says, “…MRI scans of the brain of kids who play a lot of video games, 20 hours or more of video games a week. And when they compare them to people who are addicted to, say, drugs or alcohol, their brains scans are similar. So, something is really happening on a physiological level. It’s not just psychological.”
Currently, my rule is no shooting anything living, limiting Halo to 15-minutes per day, and limiting all electronics to 2-hours per day during the summer. I have a list of non-electronic activities to do, and I’m reinforcing the beauty of boredom.
It’s all a balancing act, and here’s what I plan to do about my kids and electronics:
- Tech Talk Tuesdays: Short, calm conversation starters (emails sent to you every Tuesday!)
- Watch Screenagers together (appropriate for kids 10 and older). In Austin, the next free showing is on October 23 at McCallum High School at 7pm.
- Create a screen time agreement
- Teach my kids self-control
- Research parenting apps for monitoring and blocking content.
- Being cognizant of my own device usage and setting a good example.
- Employ the “Wait Until 8th” pledge for buying a smartphone for my son.
Navigating and setting boundaries around electronics and social media absolutely tests my consistency and will power. Yet I know it’s well worth my time and energy. Ensuring my son is present in the real world, that he fosters true connections, finds worth internally and explores healthy activities is my top priority.