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The Impact of the Digital Age

As part of a jam-packed WSD Healthy Minds Week, WSD hosted Dr. Simon Trepel for a special parent session entitled The Impact of the Digital Age on Children and Adolescents.

The session, which was held on May 2 at Grant Park High School, drew a large audience to discuss this rapidly evolving topic.

For parents and youth alike, smartphones and other screen-devices are everywhere, and are used for work, school and social activities. They have had a huge impact on how human beings communicate and interact.

"We have this technology in our pockets that allows us to communicate with anyone, anywhere, anytime, but rarely with the people immediately around us," Dr. Trepel said. "There are less face to face interactions. Kids are changing how they communicate."

While technology is used daily for work and school, it doesn't necessarily serve to enhance productivity.

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For children, whose brains are still in development, there are additional risks and impacts to consider.

"One of the reasons that kids are different from adults is that their frontal lobes are still developing," Dr. Trepel said. "They have a hyperactive reward system. If they like something, they love it. If they don't like something, they hate it. They have an extreme and dramatic relationship with the world around them."

These traits all impact students' interaction with screen devices.

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While testing boundaries and establishing independence are all parts of growing up, parents should always be part of an ongoing discussion with their children when it comes to screen devices and social media.

Dr. Trepel discussed 10 ways to improve screen use amongst youth and adolescents.

Take a media history

  • Talk to your child about their typical daily schedule, devices and sites they use, and the types of interactions they are making.
  • Choose media that is worth their time; consider a healthy media diet.

Warning signs to look for:

  • Changes in schoolwork or behavior; changes in sleeping patterns; change in social or family involvement, such as isolation and withdrawal.
  •  Change in time spent online, phone, computer game device or console game.
  • Signs of depression, anxiety.
  • "I'm afraid of what my child or teen would do if I took away their device."
  • Ceasing access triggers a psychological or psychiatric crisis.
  • Child had underlying mental health problem made worse by screen use.

Parents need to be involved

  • Recognize parental behavior has a powerful influence on a child's behavior. Parents need to assess their own relationship with technology and amount of screen use. Parents' screen use significantly influences how teens use them.
  • Educate each other on how much phone use is healthy and doesn't cause problems. Agree on a media plan even if parenting styles differ.
  • Try to use devices for rewards instead of punishment, as it is more effective.
  • Play, work, read and surf alongside your child or teen.
  • Parental monitoring should be active.
  • Forgot spyware; monitor instead of spy, be seen but not heard.
  • Demand all passwords.
  • Know your child or teens social media sites and follow them.

 Be proactive

  • Prepare your child or teen for confusing and uncomfortable situations, sites asking for personal or financial info, cyberbullying or exclusion, and adult themed content.
  • Review situations where your child should ask for help.
  • Discuss dangers of texting and driving.

 Actively offer alternatives to screens

  • Become involved in your child's non-screen life.
  • Offer more attractive alternatives: do activities your kids like to do; take them places they like to go; make it easy to see, host or visit friends in real life; doing any activities inside or outside without holding phone.
  • Let your child get involved in your life too: have your kids help plan next family vacation; ask your kids for advice; discuss a problem you're facing and how they would solve it.
  • Provide opportunities: reading comics, magazines or books; board games, arts and crafts; listen to music or play an instrument; dance or play with their toys; exercise together; help them learn a sport; enroll in organized sports; invite them to join your activities.

Create protected time

  • Turn off notifications in general and remove social media apps from phone.
  • Turn off devices at certain times of the day, such as meals, studying or driving.
  • Schedule device use to specific times, such as 15 minutes, rather than open-ended use.
  • Practise good sleep habits: stop using devices an hour before bedtime; charge your phone in a different room than where you sleep.

Scaling down

  • Create smartphone/internet free hours/days during the week. Example: cut off wifi to home after 9 PM.
  • Treat screentime like dessert. Something you can have once in a while, but shouldn't be a part of your every day.
  • Consider switching to a light, app-free phone.
  • Consider going tech free, such as a seven-day no screen challenge for the entire family.

Things to consider if taking away phone

  • How often was the youth using their phone and for what purpose? Do they have other ways to contact friends, help with stress, school, work, games or projects?
  • Be clear about length of punishment and why.
  • Go through entire phone. Look at sites, texts and pictures and remember this is different than reading their diary or journal.
  • Provide a plan for how the child can occupy themselves if phone is taken away.

 Addressing sexting

  • Keep an open attitude, without judgment.
  • Have an ongoing conversation as opposed to a single lecture.
  • Topic areas to discuss: healthy dating relationships; peer pressures; digital security; sexuality; citizenship.
  • Be proactive rather than protective and reactive.
  • Taking phone away or preaching abstinence are usually not effective.

Treatment for problem gaming

  • Wean gaming down over weeks to 1-2 hours daily, more on weekend if transitions are good.
  • Schedule other activities, structure playtime, use earned game time and other incentives.
  • Expect resistance, slow gradual changes, regression around weekends or holidays, sneaky or angry behavior.
  • Teach the gamer how to live a balanced life, even though games are readily available.
  • Individual or family therapy may be helpful.

Online resources

  • Commonsensemedia.com
  • Stresshacks.ca

 

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