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START: Balance is the key when raising your kids

• May 13, 2016 at 3:00 PM

It seems like there is an app for everything these days — from checking your bank statements to being able to just “Google it,” technology is a big value add to most people's lives, children included.

Educational and non-educational games, social media and access to information has provided a way for kids of all ages to learn and connect with others. Working in the technology field, I look to technology first for creative ways to solve problems, entertain myself and communicate — because that is where I am most comfortable.

Some recent noticings and conversations have made me ask, “Where is the balance?”

I was sitting at my 7-year-old son’s basketball game, and as I looked up and down the row of parents, it struck me how many of them were browsing their phone while the game was going on. I even found myself checking in on Facebook while my son took his turn sitting out, only to look up to see him watching me.

What message am I sending? It is OK not to cheer on the other kids? It is OK to disconnect during an activity when you are not directly involved?

It made me think: If adults struggle with disconnecting with tech and reconnecting with non-digital life, and kids look to their parents for social and behavioral cues, should we be surprised when our kids are so connected to tech?

As a parent, I get a lot done when the screens are providing some entertainment or engagement for the kids. Kids following me around saying “I’m bored” is not music to my ears. In my opinion, kids need to be bored during their day. It is a time for them to figure out and engage in what they like to do. It gives time for them to organize their thoughts, calm their imagination and experiment with activities to which they may not normally gravitate.

Kids may need help finding an activity when they are “bored.” Perhaps you have a “Boredom Box” at home full of ideas to get your kids thinking.

I can remember trying the idea of one hour of TV per day with my oldest when he was in middle school. He literally laid in the middle of the floor for two days without a clue as to what to do.

Balance is the key when raising kids. I am the “tech guy,” and yes, I am saying that there needs to be times where screens are off. There needs to be intentional talk about when it is appropriate to be on a device. There are times when kids need to struggle with boredom, and parents need to help the kids through it.

Take a step back and look at your tech habits and the tech habits of your family. Is there balance?

— By Doug Start, Tribune community columnist. Start is the instructional technology director for Grand Haven Area Public Schools.

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