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HBA’S Parent Cafe: Parenting in a Digital World
Ryan Su

Article By Dr. Emmett Winters, PhD.
HBA’s Supplemental Programs and Educational Technology Director 

After a two-year hiatus, HBA’s Parent Cafe is back! The first of many Parent Cafes was recently held in November 2022. Parents were eager to get back on campus, fellowship with one another, and be informed on important topics. The first Parent Cafe focused on parenting in a digital world, which we all could use a little help with, even the most experienced parents. 

Children today are what the world would consider digital natives; they have not experienced life without the Internet. Because of the reality we live in, our children are exposed to a variety of content that most of us could have never imagined 15-20 years ago. The richest minds in the world had trouble accessing information, and now, a 5-year-old with an iPad can access all of history in the palm of their hand. Unfortunately, all of the benefits that come from screen time use can also be attached with damaging consequences.

We as parents sometimes forget how small and underdeveloped children's brains are in this big world. Though your teenage child might claim their brain is fully developed, human brains are not fully developed until the 25-year mark (Arain et al., 2013). More importantly, the part of the brain that is last to develop is the prefrontal cortex, the decision-making part of the brain (Arain et al., 2013). In addition, the multiple hours of screen time preoccupying a child’s brain is simultaneously telling their brain to prune away the unused critical developmental skills  (Ruder, 2019 & Screenstrong, n.d.). The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (2020) suggests “children (ages) 2-5, limit non-educational screen time to about 1 hour per weekday and 3 hours on the weekend days (and) for ages 6 and older, encourage healthy habits and limit activities that include screens”. Do not forget that content is equally important. Spending an hour on social media is much more different than watching a movie together with the family (Screenstrong, n.d.).

Unfortunately, too much screen time has many other negative side effects, including video game addiction, pornography addiction, cyberbullying, and the never-ending list of issues we as a society are just discovering. Of course, there are positive impacts of technology that children can utilize to further their development and education. This is where you, as a parent, come in. Since a child’s mind is still developing, they are not yet well equipped to limit their screen time, make a coherent decision to not talk to a stranger online, or protect themselves from other unknown dangers. Children need their mother and father to guide, teach, and prepare them for the big digital world that awaits them. 

So, parents, where do you start? First, identify your screen time usage. Then, research! You are already doing a great job just by reading this article. Most importantly, you will need to build and strengthen the relationship with your child. Make sure your child can seek and trust you when online issues arise, which they will. If you have not set goals, I highly suggest setting boundaries within your family and their screen time usage. The best way to encourage good screen time usage is to be a good screen time role model. Even for us parents, screen time can be an issue, but if we want our children not to use their phones at the dinner table, we should probably follow our own advice. While building a relationship with your child, begin practicing and equipping them with good decision-making skills. Your child will need to know what to do when online trouble arises. Next, begin finding a small group of parents with similar technology boundaries and values. If your child is the only student in the class with no cell phone, try to find another parent who will commit to the same rule. 

Above all else, do not overreact and start praying. It is easy for us as parents to get caught up in the moment, but it is important to assess the situation with a clear head and then talk with your child. Prayer needs to be woven throughout your entire parenting journey. Continually pray for protection, wisdom, and discernment, knowing you cannot control all situations but trust in God and His control. Proverbs 4:23 - Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. 

 

Citations

Arain, M., Hague, M., Joha,l L., Mathur, P., Nel, W., Rais, A., Sandhu, R., & Sharma, S. (2019). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3621648/#:~:text=The%20development%20and%20maturation%20of%20the%20prefrontal%20cortex%20occurs%20primarily,helps%20accomplish%20executive%20brain%20functions.

Crouch, A. (2017). The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday steps for putting technology in its proper place. Baker Publishing Group. 

Ruder D.B. (2019). https://hms.harvard.edu/news/screen-time-brain

Screenstrong. (n.d.) How Screens & Electronics Impact Kid's Brains.

https://screenstrong.org/kidsbrainsandscreens/