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Challenge: Kids and Technology

Limiting Toddler Tech: Lead by Example and Put the Phone Down

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I had my technology wake-up call about a month ago when I purchased a new smartphone. Phones before this were inconsequential. I always purchased the dinosaur of cellphones, the one I knew would be able to take a beating as it slipped out of my hands or fell into the open palms of my toddler. This worked for me until it became clear that my Stone Age flip phone meant I could no longer communicate well with those nearest and dearest. Thus – the smartphone.

That smartphone would come with a price tag. No, not the hundreds of dollars that would come out of my pocket just to pay for the device. This one is far more dear than money. With the cash out of my wallet and a new phone to show for it, I found that my ability to keep in touch with people virtually was quite excellent. In person, though, it was terrible.

It didn’t take long before the fears of technology addiction began to forge their own reality. I found myself looking at the screen over and over again, checking social media, looking for likes, searching for ideas on what to make for dinner and what to wear, yada yada yada. If a question came across my mind, I just looked it up. If I needed to get somewhere, I asked my phone where to go next. It’s really quite an incredible thing, this. Technology is really quite incredible.

However, for all technology gives me, the one person who suffers most because of my screen addiction stands about 3 feet high and calls me mom.

She has – actually – been the one to point it out. The day branded into my mind forever is the one where she put her hands on my face, moved it from the screen to the level of her eyes, and said, “Mom. Look at me!” Those four words from her carried more meaning and power than her young mind had probably intended. Her point was clear: She needed my attention, and I had ignored her.

That moment with her came and went, and I can’t get it back. Now she’s another day older.

This isn’t to sound overly dramatic or anything, but it’s these little choices that our kids remember. That’s not how I want her to remember me: with my face plastered to a screen. I don’t want that for her, either.

So I’ve decided it’s time to do something about it.

Why Excessive Screen Time Is Bad for You – and Your Kids

It may not take a genius to figure out that too much of a good thing is not really all that good. However, the thing with addiction is that you just don’t really care whether or not it’s good for you; you just need it.

Addiction can have some major drawbacks to your health and wellness, including:

  • Depression
  • Lack of sleep
  • Anxiety
  • Low self-esteem

These are all things I don’t want my kids to experience, especially my young toddler whose mind is impressionable and still working out that 85 percent of total brain formation by the time she’s 3.

How to Train Yourself Away From Technology

I have found that training myself to be a good example with technology isn’t as easy as I had hoped. Sure, the steps are simple enough, but it’s hard to break a habit. Here’s what can help:

  • Central Docking Stations: I’m always looking for a phone charger, it seems, so having a docking station in a central location is helpful. More importantly, having a place for the technology to go helps get the phones and iPads out of our hands for a while. We’ve set up times where we give our smarts a break, and all devices go to that space to charge while we have tech-free fun.
  • Central Use Areas: Again, keeping things central is important, as it gives accountability. Try and keep any use of phones or other screens out of kids’ rooms. Keeping an eye on their technology use – as well as yours – is essential to meeting your goals.
  • Make a Plan: It may be easiest to train yourself and your little ones away from technology with a clear and defined plan. Write down your goals – maybe with a paper and pen? – and create a timeline to work toward them. Quitting cold turkey may work for some, but maybe your family needs to chew technology gum in incremental doses until you quit your bad habits.
  • Know How Else to Fill Your Time: You’ll need to replace that half-hour program of “Peppa Pig” with something else, so know now how to fill your time. Otherwise, you and your kids will wind up right back where you were.

What to Do Instead

I said above that it’s important to know how else to fill your time, but if it’s important for an adult, it’s equally important for toddlers.

  • Go Outside: Remember that not all playtime needs to be structured. It’s important for kids to have a little free time to think and do for themselves. What better place to do this than at the playground? Playgrounds give your child the ability to run free in a place designed for them to do so. If at a public park, it teaches them lessons on sharing, waiting your turn and how to interact socially.While your toddler is running loose, be sure to maintain proper supervision and take safety precautions so you can make sure playtime remains fun.
  • Work Out: While you’re teaching your little one about limiting technology, you can also teach them what it means to have a healthy lifestyle, which includes working out. Enroll in a mommy and me yoga class or go for a run together around the yard or with a jogging stroller.
  • Create Some Art: Art has the ability to teach valuable fine motor skills and problem-solving tactics. Whether you choose to color, brave finger paints or break out the stickers, you’re doing your toddler a favor with an activity that goes beyond Crayola wax.

Choosing to limit technology for your toddler – and for you – is an investment in their future, which is something worth so much more than another like on your page. Give them the gift of life outside of the screen, which will sustain and entertain them for years to come.

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