Developing a Healthy Relationship to Technology for Kids

4 min to read
Two online school students using technology

Are kids addicted to technology? Should kids use technology in school? What technological content is appropriate for kids?

These questions are important for parents and Learning Coaches to ask when deciding how much technology is appropriate in their children’s education and what content is suitable. Technology is largely unavoidable nowadays and, for many online learning students, technology is essential and beneficial to their education. Technology’s seemingly universal presence is precisely why kids need to develop a healthy relationship with it. Here’s how you can help them to do so.

Identify What is Healthy and Unhealthy in Regard to Technology for Kids

Part of determining if your child has an unhealthy relationship with technology is to look for any negative biological or mental-health behaviors including increased anxiety, poor body image, and a lack of focus. Other indicators may be poor academic performance, increased procrastination, and decreased motivation.

Research finds that the hours spent using technology do not necessarily create a good or bad relationship for students. Rather, the key is the content that is consumed. For example, one study finds that sixty-three percent of its participants (ages thirteen to eighteen) who have strict rules about the content that they can access—but do not have rules regarding the time spent on technology—exhibit positive physical and mental health. However, thirty-seven percent of the participants who reported having rules around time spent on technology—but few or no rules on the content consumed—showed poorer sleep habits and body image perceptions compared to the larger group of participants.

Parental controls can, at least to some extent, restrict students’ access to content that is not age appropriate or educationally productive. But what is productive screentime?

Productive vs. Unproductive Screentime

Technology for kids should provide them with productive screentime that encourages them to develop their problem-solving, critical-thinking, and technical skills. It can also help students to learn about new ideas, cultures, and ways of being.

There are two types of content consumption—passive and interactive. 

Passive Consumption

Passive consumption is when the student absorbs information through watching, listening, reading, or through mindless repetition. The student does not typically use extra brain power or creativity to understand or work with the material. Some examples are scrolling through social media, watching a video, or listening to a podcast.

Active Consumption

Active consumption requires mental or physical engagement with the material, and it encourages students to think about and engage with what they are looking at, reading, or listening to. Many consider active consumption to be the most productive type of screentime, because it causes the student to problem-solve and add their own thoughts to the material. Some examples of active consumption include learning a new skill from a video, questioning a character’s motivation as they listen to an audiobook, using interactive apps, and learning vocabulary by playing a word game.

How to Turn Passive Consumption into Active Consumption

Passive content consumption, such as watching documentaries or listening to audiobooks, can be productive and worthwhile technology activities for kids. Learning Coaches can enhance students’ learning from passive materials and morph the content from passive to active by asking students questions.

Asking questions promotes productive conversations about what children see or hear, encourages children to think critically about the material, and aids Learning Coaches in monitoring technology for kids in a non-threatening way. Some conversation-starting questions include:

  • Who created this content and why do you think they created it?
  • What are you learning from this?
  • What do you like about this?
  • What do you find boring or interesting about this content?
  • What would you change about the story you watched/listened to/read?
  • What lifestyle was represented or missing in this?
  • Do you have any questions?

These questions can also help Learning Coaches show students why some content may be educational and age appropriate and why other content may not be a helpful or productive use of technology for kids.

Encourage a Positive Relationship with Technology

Associate rewards with positive behaviors.

For example, if the child chooses to end unproductive screentime on their own or switch over to productive screentime, then they can be rewarded to reinforce the good behavior.

Create family rules that apply to everyone.

By following the same rules you set, it helps the situation to feel reasonable to the child rather than them feeling singled out and punished for their technology habits. 

Explain how technology for kids can be good and bad.

Give your reasons why you approve of one type of technology for kids but not a different type. Talking to children about your choices helps them to understand your logic and values and encourages them to think critically about the content they consume and to look for what they can learn from the material.

There is technology for kids that can be productive and educational, and its use can be enhanced by Learning Coaches asking students questions about the content and even using the technology alongside their students. 

While it is difficult to completely remove unproductive screentime, by practicing these healthy technology activities for kids during their formative years can help them develop a more discerning and less addicted relationship with technology in the future. 

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