Screens R Us: Using Technology to Strengthen Family BondsParents
Screens are Part of Life
There are screens everywhere today. Cars, highways, airports, restaurants, supermarkets, gas pumps, our workplaces, living rooms, and bedrooms. Perhaps the most contentious screen these days is the smartphone. This pocket-sized technological swiss army knife morphs into phone, map, fitness coach, alarm, television, game console, bank teller, schedule assistant, and the list goes on. While the smartphone brings its share of positive attributes, it also has its drawbacks. It constantly draws on our free time with distractions and notifications. For some, the phone can be as addictive as a casino slot machine with players fixated on the next winning hit.
The debate over screens began long before smartphones. Going back to the fifties when televisions first entered our living rooms, there have been questions asked and concerns raised over the relationship between screens and people. Today that conversation continues. How do we safeguard our families in the age of modern screens? How do families find balance between healthy living and interacting in the digital world? Used wisely and handled with care, devices can facilitate healthier living and even strengthen family bonds.
Boost Family Bonding
Screens can amplify existing relationships. That may be just what the doctor ordered for you to better connect to your teen. Neuroscience research is teaching us that teen brains are uniquely “wired” to learn from experiences better than younger children or adults. Teen brain connections become more efficient throughout adolescence through a process known as ‘pruning.’ In other words, teen brains take in lots of new information and discard unnecessary information. The more exciting the experience, the better. So, to boost your family relationships, try ratcheting up the intensity of your family activities:
1) Team up with your teen for a workout challenge.
Record the competition through fitness apps or your phone’s camera, and laugh over it at dinner. The goal is not about winning or losing, but about fostering a healthy space, helping your body, and modeling positive behavior. Encouraging times and places where you and your teen can workout together or support each other promotes positive lifestyle choices. (Bonus: It can help create healthy life long habits!)
2) Not into exercise? Turn TV time into a fun-filled family event.
Watch big events unfold together. Consider family movie nights or enjoying a weekly series. For my family, watching the Super Bowl together is great family time fun (Go Eagles!). For ideas on age-appropriate shows and movies, check out Common Sense Media.
3) Find teachable moments in the media.
My family went to see the movie, Black Panther together. We used the film to ignite meaningful conversations. We amped up the experience by purchasing two Black Panther new edition comic books for our sons to read in the car. We discussed them. We went to see Roxane Gay, one of the comic book authors and consultant to Black Panther, speak at Princeton University. We invited other families to join so our sons could share in the fun with fellow peers. This one screen experience led to a college visit and great conversations about identity, culture, and the Haitian revolution.
Support Meaningful Connections
Screens are here to stay. We also know that loving parents are a family’s greatest protective force. There is a false tension suggesting it is screens versus people. The real question is how do we as parents continue to create experiences that are filled with love and positive guidance, with and without screens? Parents who work to answer that will not be distracted by screens. Instead, they can use screens to support meaningful connections with family and friends.