“Is My Brain Really Getting Mushy?” Technology’s Influence on Our Kids

By Toni Van Orman and Fiona Leikness

“Stop asking!” If you have children, I am sure this is something you have exclaimed over and over when they asked you one too many times why they couldn’t keep playing on the tablet, keep watching movies, or keep playing games. I am sure you can even picture the tantrums that happened when you told them their time was up. Well, if you have, you are not alone. One Australian survey that spoke with 1000 parents found that roughly 58% of parents reported having “seen their children have a tantrum of some degree when they insisted on limiting their use of technology.” If you have not experienced any of this behavior, count yourself as one of the lucky few. 

Tantrum-throwing and whining used to be a common, tiring occurrence in my home. At one point I decided I was done, and questioned if this battle was worth fighting. A parent can only take so much. Right? Honestly, the idea of giving into my children’s thirst for technology was tempting. It would be so easy. In fact, it didn’t take much to imagine the peace and quiet that I could soon be experiencing if I just gave in. However, I wasn’t quite ready to give up. I decided I needed to look at the data. I began by doing a little research. You wouldn’t believe what I found!  

Food for Thought

The overuse of technology is something that has become so prevalent in our current culture that even some of our kids are concerned that they are spending too much time on technology. With such ease of access to the internet through smartphones, laptops, and tablets, it would be hard to imagine how kids wouldn’t become dependent on technology. One study, conducted by David Smahel, Michelle F. Wright, and Martina Cernikova, took the time to interview a large pool of children from several countries. The goal of the study was to find out what negative effects the use of technology has on your average kid- not just kids deemed “addicted” to technology. Many of the kids interviewed reported eyestrain and headaches from even just one hour spent in front of a computer. Other kids reported feeling tired from spending similar amounts of time on the computer, which was noted to be possibly linked with a child’s performance in school.

This same study also noted that kids who encountered harmful, violent, and/or graphic content online reported having nightmares and difficulty sleeping as a result of these nightmares. Many of the kids mentioned how these images would stick in their minds long after they had clicked away from the image or video. I couldn’t help but wonder if my own kids had had similar experiences.

Going further, another study published in Journal of Youth and Adolescence found that engaging in online activities before and during bedtime could interfere with childrens’ and teens’ sleep quality and duration. It was also noted that this reduced quality of sleep could lead to negative emotional responses in children and teens. 

This data helped me decide that this battle with technology was absolutely worth fighting. With these studies to help me better understand that my concerns were warranted, I was more committed than ever to deal with the whining and tantrums. The message was clear.

Our Kids Need Help!

At this point, I decided it was time to get a little creative; I wanted to be able to share with my kids why I cared about limiting their technology use in a way that they could understand. I felt that it was important that they understood why I insisted on these boundaries with technology. My goal was to help educate them as much as it was to protect them.

After some contemplation, I came up with a solution that would not only help my children understand what it is that I learned from the studies, but would also act as a wonderful, ongoing reminder.

That week, I brought home a small tomato plant. With my kids gathered up, I set the plant down next to another empty pot full of soil. I showed them how all plants, like this tomato plant, benefitted from regular watering. I then watered the little tomato plant. I then pulled up the empty pot full of soil and explained that, even though water can be good for a plant, too much can make the plant sick. I then drowned the empty pot with water until the soil was drenched, mushy mud. 

“Our brains are the same way,” I explained. If we’re careful, we can use technology to help us learn and grow, but use too much, and we could end up doing more harm than good. From then on, we placed the little tomato plant in a place where we could watch it and care for it. Each time one of my kids would water the plant, they were reminded of how too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. Now, whenever my children ask, “Mom, why can’t I have more time on the tablet?” I reply, “Because your brains are getting mushy!” Do they still complain? Absolutely. But the complaining and whining is much less than before. Just the other day, my youngest son brought me the tablet and said, “Mom, my brain needs a break. It is getting mushy.” 

Since then, I have found other ways to be proactive about my children’s technology use. Here are four ideas that have worked for my family: 

  1. Set family internet and technology guidelines together with your kids. By setting guidelines as a family, parents are able to teach kids about how they can navigate the internet safely. 
  2. Use parental controls to manage what your kids have access to and to set time limits on devices. Using the parental controls on your Wi-Fi router is a great way to manage all the devices in your home. 
  3. Stay informed about new technology, games, and apps. If you want to protect and educate your children, you have to be informed. Two of my favorite resources include Common Sense Media and Educate and Empower Kids
  4. Create a list of things your kids can do instead of spending time on technology. This has been a great reference for me when my kids tell me how bored they are.

If you are feeling overwhelmed by the prospect of setting greater limitations on your kids’ tablets, phones, or computers, don’t give up hope. Get creative! Help your children understand why they should care just as much as you do about how technology can affect them. Take the time to educate your children in a way that they can understand, and continue to be proactive about protecting your children.  

For more information, be sure to check out Conversations with My Kids: 30 Essential Family Discussions for the Digital Age, available on Amazon! Still want more? Then be sure to read Noah’s New Phone: A Story About Using Technology for Good, also available on Amazon.

Toni Van Orman is a student at BYU-Idaho and will graduate with a degree in Marriage and Family Studies in December 2020.  She has been married to her husband, Jared, for over 15 years, and they have four children. As a military spouse living far from family, Toni has learned the important role that families play in the lives of all individuals. Toni is always looking for ways to help military families stay strong and connected. 

Fiona Leikness is an editor for Educate and Empower Kids and student at BYU-I. She is currently studying English with an emphasis on creative writing and editing.

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