MINNEAPOLIS – As kids get older, their holiday wish lists have fewer toys and more technology.
The average age a kid gets their first smartphone is now 10, and parents often don’t fully know the power of what they’re handing over.
With the gift of a phone or a video game system that allows online play comes responsibility.
“How do I teach my kid how to be responsible? And the truth is they can’t because their brain isn’t developed to be able to be responsible for something like this, so we have to do it for them,” said Tom Kersting, family therapist and the author of “Disconnected: How to Protect Your Kids from the Harmful Effects of Device Dependency.”
He says there is one hard and fast rule for kids and tech.
“Do not let your kid have that thing in their bedroom. Because right now, we have a sleep deprivation epidemic among teenagers because they’re up until 1, 2, 3 o’clock in the morning because the phones are in the bedroom with them,” said Kersting.
His other tips include limiting total screen time to two hours per day. He also recommends video games only on non-school days and no smartphone use in the car. He says you’ll often see middle and school passengers in cars buried in their phones.
“What that’s now doing is replacing, you know, important dialogue and communication between parent and child,” said Kersting.
That time in the car is often when your teen may open up to you, even if it’s just for a few minutes.
A survey of 1,600 teenagers admitted they use digital media – social media, gaming, online shopping, video chat, and texting – for more than 10 hours a day, on average.
Kersting says adults are often averaging more than their kids.
“If we’re gonna start telling our kids, ‘Alright listen, it’s break, I don’t want you on your phone, playing video games all the time.’ You know, we have to practice what we preach there. We have to model that behavior for them. Otherwise, we’re being hypocritical,” said Kersting.
While it may not be a popular solution, Kersting would choose a non-tech gift especially for kids who aren’t teens yet.
“I like the idea of getting gifts that are more green time oriented instead of screen time. Go get a sled, you know what I mean. Go get a snowman making kit. Kids
that are out there, you know, outside playing with one another instead of in front of a screen by themselves, all the research shows that it’s just substantially important for their mental wellness and their mental development,” said Kersting.
There are free tools to help limit the amount of time spent on all of today’s major video game systems.