Consider a “Digital Diet” for Your Family

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As tablets, smartphones and other personal technology devices play an increasingly dominant role in all of our lives, finding a good balance seems to be a tricky endeavor in many American households. Both parents and teens log more than five hours a day on their devices (outside of work and school), often during family dinners and while spending leisure time together. Many people also use these devices for hours each day with earbuds or headphones.

Finding balance is critical for many reasons, including children’s communication health. Dedicated time for verbal exchange— listening, talking, reading and interacting face-to-face —is essential for young children’s speech and language development. It is critical that time spent alone with devices (even on educational apps!) does not take away from time for interaction with parents. This “talk time” is also a precursor for reading, academic and social success. The benefits extend to older children as well, whose brains are still developing throughout the teen years, as well as family relationships.

Too much time on digital devices doesn’t just negatively impact communication health and academic success, it also has an effect on physical health. There has been a tremendous increase in hearing loss among children recently. Noise-induced hearing loss is a preventable problem, but once it occurs, it is irreversible. Earbud and headphone misuse can be especially problematic.

May is Better Hearing & Speech Month, a great time for technology-dependent families to introduce some better habits. (The exception being for children who require assistive devices to communicate.) A recent survey from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) showed that once parents and teens learn more about the potential negative effects of tech overuse, they are willing to change their habits. Being mindful of balance is also key as we approach summer, when increased leisure time often means even more tech time for kids. Here are some “digital diet” tips from ASHA:

  1. Create a family technology plan—together. An agreed-upon set of rules is a good way to keep everyone on track. Schedule regular check-ins to determine whether you’re actually substituting tech time with more quality time together. Surprisingly, most teens whose parents set rules agree that the rules are fair—and parents report they work.
  1. Designate tech-free zones in the home. The kitchen, bedrooms, the family room…there may be one place in your home that you can keep devices out of, as a general rule. This helps with the temptation to constantly check your phone or jump at the sound of every incoming notification. It makes a difference to even have 30 minutes free from tech distractions.
  1. Talk instead of text, when possible. Texting offers tremendous convenience for parents to get in touch with their kids. But texting is not a replacement for verbal exchange. Tone, facial expressions and other nonverbal signals are just some of the ways in which texting falls short (and no, emojis don’t do the trick). Try to avoid texting your child when both of you are at home, as a start.
  1. Resist overreliance on technology to pacify boredom. Technology is an easy way to keep even the youngest children entertained. However, the best opportunities for conversation, learning and bonding are often found in situations that may be viewed as boring, such as while running errands or on a long car trip.
  1. Always practice safe listening, especially when using earbuds or headphones. Teach kids to keep the volume down (a good guide is half volume) and to take listening breaks. These are messages kids need to “hear” from their parents.

Remember, if you ever have concerns about your child’s hearing or speech/language skills, consult a certified audiologist or speech-language pathologist.


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Jaynee A. Handelsman, PhD, CCC-A is a pediatric audiologist and the 2016 ASHA president.

 

Celebrating Connected Educators Month with Some Common Sense for Families About Digital Citizenship

At Common Sense, we often hear from parents who want to get their school or community involved in a discussion of how media, tech, and the digital world are impacting kids. But many parents don’t know where to begin. Well, now you can help parents get started!

ConnectingFamiliesConnecting Families is a new three-part program that offers everything you need to get families in your school or community involved in raising great digital citizens.

Today’s media and technology present many challenges as well as opportunities — from text messaging and using social media to online gaming — and call for new ways to raise conscientious digital citizens. Connecting Families offers everything you need to facilitate meaningful community dialogue and thoughtful conversations between parents and kids.

Our focus group testing in Boston, New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles allowed us to design the program to meet the needs of parents and teens. Our resources include a step-by-step hosting guide, conversation topics, and printable resources to share — all carefully researched and crafted by Common Sense educational technology experts.

Here’s how you can implement Connecting Families:

Host a teen panel. Teen panels are an excellent way to kick off the school year because they put the voices and experiences of teens in your community at the center of the conversation. Our step-by-step guides cover every detail from the teen panel selection process to managing question-and-answer sessions during the event. You also get a field-tested list of best questions to ask the panel in order to foster a vibrant conversation.

Discuss a series of conversation cases. The program’s conversation cases are designed to help parent discussion groups have authentic and productive conversations on a range of issues including sexting, cyberbullying, photo sharing, digital drama, privacy, sexual imagery, multitasking, social media, and much more. Each conversation case provides relevant, real-life stories along with key vocabulary and targeted discussion questions. You also get our Family Tip Sheets and Digital Dilemmas handouts, which you can use to bring the conversations home to kids. The Facilitator’s Guide includes our favorite adult-appropriate icebreakers, pointers for managing group conversations, and step-by-step directions on how to make the actual event a big success.

Share our family toolbox. This toolbox is packed with resources that you can share throughout the year. You’ll find a digital glossary of topical vocabulary, age-appropriate family media agreements to help you set guidelines around technology use, and how-to videos on a range of media and tech subjects.

We hope you’ll find Connecting Families a must-have resource for your school and community. Please let us know how it’s working for you, and share any insights that may help your school connect with families and strengthen the vital home-to-school connection.


 Darri Stephens is the director of digital learning at Common Sense Education. You can also read the blog on Common Sense Media.