Is Your Child Using Devices Too Much? Apply the Delight Principle

Many of us parents worry about the potential negative effects of technology – particularly mobile technology – on our children. But we have precious little science out there that can help us figure out the costs and benefits, risks and returns. Heck, we’ve had television sets in our homes for over 80 years and we still don’t know a lot about its effects on kids.

mother child

But putting our kids in front of technology is sometimes hard to resist. Your kid is having a tantrum on the grocery line? Bring up a movie on the iPad. Children whining at the restaurant? Hand them your iPhone and see their little smiling faces and glazed-over eyes light up from the warm glow of the screen.

However, these solutions are often tinged with parental guilt and a nagging feeling that maybe we shouldn’t be doing this quite so much. To figure out how much is too much, I apply what I call the delight principle – and it’s perhaps not what it sounds like. It’s not experiencing the (yes) exquisite delight of  that whining/crying/fussing/annoying behavior stopping as quickly as if you pressed the mute button. Rather, it’s the idea that if we’re putting devices in our children’s hands so much that we’re losing opportunities to delight in them and enjoy their wonderful little selves, then we might want to reevaluate.

In a nutshell, devices can be used in a “disconnecting” way that, over time, can reduce a child’s experience of that  loving twinkle in your eye, that unconditional positive regard that is the cornerstone of a happy childhood.

This notion – show your child that you delight in them – is obvious in many ways.  But I think that in the cacophony of all the “expert” parenting advice out there – from free range parenting to attachment parenting – this simple instinct that every parent has is easy to lose track of. When children are NOT being delightful (often!), devices are not necessarily a parent’s best friend. Here are a few ways that delight can be blocked when devices are used to disconnect during frustrating situations:

1. Remember to twinkle: Children need to see themselves literally reflected in our eyes in the form of that loving twinkle. It’s not that we need to praise them (and indeed there is good research coming out now about the downside of praise) but rather we need to take joy in their accomplishments, mirror their journey of self-discovery, and be our children’s promoters (as distinct from praisers). Putting devices in front of our kids “too much” has the effect of directly, physically blocking that twinkle. We need to trust our guts as parents on how much twinkle we want to block and make a mindful choice.

2. Share your child’s world: Take time to see the world from your child’s perspective. Every parent knows that it’s a magical place. Explore the world together, discuss ideas, point out things that are interesting or puzzling or wonderful. Listen to what they have to say about it, and if they don’t have much to say, just be with their experience of it and share your experience. Using a device to share in your child’s world seems like one of the best possible uses of a device. So, when we bring out a device, we can choose to use it to connect with our children or to tune them out.

3. Help your child find their own inner delightful child: Just in case you were starting to think I am a proponent of “just twinkle and let the hard stuff go” – not the case. By #3 here, I mean I think we shouldn’t be afraid to talk to our child about being civilized and polite – yes, delightful – human beings. I think that children who are explicitly taught and socialized to be polite, compassionate, and empathic will on average be delightful children and will grow up to be delightful adults. And the converse is also true. I think too much device time reduces opportunities to guide our children towards being delightful. Moreover,  we have to believe that a child is delightful for this to even work. With too much device time I think it’s harder to know how delightful our children truly can be.

There are definitely times when I choose to use a device to press that mute button and just take a break. But when this starts to become a family habit (are they on the device every time you go out to dinner, precluding opportunities to actually talk with one another? Are they spending so much time watching tv that you don’t know how their day at school was? ), it might make sense to do a delight check and make sure the technology choices we’re making for our children sit right with us.

 

 

 

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17 Comments

  1. what a delightful article!!! i’ll definitely be sharing it with others!

    Reply
  2. Excellent post! Cate

    Reply
  3. Wow. This is a subject close to my heart/mind right now. I’ve written a few posts on it myself. I’m going to have fun perusing your blog! Good post!

    Reply
  4. A brilliant article here! I personally don’t have children just yet but one thing I really don’t like is the throwing iPads in front of children when they’re throwing a tantrum – the touch generation! I can’t guarantee how I’ll be as a parent because I’m from a technical background where “apps” make up a good 90% of my day! but this is a really great post :)

    Reply
  5. nouyz

     /  July 15, 2014

    Reblogged this on nzMansion and commented:
    Hmmm…. what about your kid? I should begin to retrieve all the gadget my son’s has… Since I cannot really spend enough time to make it right…

    Reply
    • Thanks for the reblog. Just yesterday my son was on a gadget during a long doctor office wait. Sigh….sometimes, we just do the best we can!

      Reply
  6. Reblogged this on TeknicalGrit and commented:
    On what may have been the tail’s end of another late night in my home office I was left pondering. Should I do some studying? Or should I sleep? Which is the perpetual cycle of a non-traditional college student.

    Frustrated with not having a solution, I resolved to exploring WordPress for like minded members of the blogosphere. I found this gem of a post that showed up on Psyche’s Circuitry.

    I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

    Reply
  7. As a father of two beautiful little ones, I can fully appreciate both sides of the issue you’re presenting in this post. I thought this was a real gem of a post. Thanks for putting it together. Definitely a reblog :-)

    Reply
  8. Thanks for the reblog!

    Reply
  1. Is Your Child Using Devices Too Much? Apply the Delight Principle | TimeGlass
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  3. Beyond Intelligence | Stop Worrying! Six Reasons to Get Over The Amount of Time Your Teenager Spends on Screens

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