Nurturing Children in the Age of the Internet

Authored By: 

Blake Lutz, Caitlin Browne, & Dane Miller

 The internet.

The phenomenon responsible for the development of social media, video games, and video streaming. These three sedentary activities are continuously consuming more and more of children’s time. But what effects does this have on children? As sports performance coaches with a decade’s worth of experience coaching kids, we can use our experiences and findings from recent studies to speculate.

Findings:

1. Children and young adults are defining themselves by an external online profile.

Children and young adults are defining themselves by an external online profile. A UCLA study scanned the brains of teenagers on social media, and showed that the areas of the brain associated with reward circuitry is stimulated when teens viewed their own images with a large number of “likes”. When teens viewed someone else’s photo with a high number of likes, they were more willing to like it themselves. It seems that teenagers are influenced by their peers even when their peers are complete strangers. We need to encourage children and teens to navigate their environment in real time and space. Because “likes” on social media are ambiguous, only the number matters. But in real life, the quality of our relationships is much more valuable.

2. Video game addiction has the same dependency rating as cocaine.

Video game addiction is well documented in scholarly literature. This study discusses the utility of treating video game addiction with the same antidepressants used to treat drug addiction. If games like StarCraft have a dependency rating, that is similar to cocaine, then why are we letting our children play these games! Parents have come to rely on games as a virtual babysitter, and kids are developing extremely unhealthy habits with long term consequences.

3. Youtube is changing the way children consume television by making it accessible at their fingertips.

Youtube has rapidly expanded since its introduction in 2005. Before Youtube, parents could easily observe their children watching too much television. Now, children have access to millions of videos that can be viewed at anytime via smartphone or tablet. More problems arise because of the lack of restrictions on content. The videos your child is consuming on Youtube could have been posted by anyone. Inappropriate and uneducated content can have a damaging effect on your child’s underdeveloped brain.


Recommendations:

  1. Limit sedentary time.

Set timers for game play and social media and choose to participate in these activities within set boundaries. It is similar to restricting sugar in a child’s diet. Everyone knows that cupcakes are not healthy, so we don’t let children eat them for breakfast, lunch and dinner, but we do allow sweets in moderation. The same restraint should be used with sedentary activity. Limiting internet media time, will enhance your child’s ability to entertain him or herself by completing activities that are not as instantly gratifying. The ability to entertain oneself is a skill that makes children less susceptible to the high dependency levels many sedentary activities posses. Also, directing a child toward a more active behavior is teaching children and young adults to choose a variety of ways to spend their time. Variety instills balance, an essential ingredient to a healthy lifestyle.

  1. Involve your child in some form of regular exercise to promote a healthier lifestyle.

According to this article, exercise encourages a child’s brain to work at optimum capacity by causing nerve cells to multiply, strengthening their interconnections and protecting them from damage. Exercise also increases the release of endorphins within a child's brain. Endorphins are responsible for causing the feeling of euphoria, or happiness. Activities like weightlifting or sprints are responsible for high levels of endorphin release. This is significant because it proves that exercise benefits both the physical and mental health of children. 

Kids who exercise also have stronger muscles and bones, they are less likely to become overweight or develop type 2 diabetes, they have lower blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels, and a better outlook on life. Kids who experience regular exercise are more productive and perform better in school. Instead of valuing their self-worth based on the number of likes they receive, kids who exercise will value themselves based on how good or strong they physically are. This improves a child's mind-body connection, and is essential to their mental and physical health.

  1. Model appropriate consumption of digital media.

Keep cellphones away from the table and encourage meal time discussion. Avoid asking a child to retrieve your cell phone, because the child can interpret this request as, “the phone takes priority over the child.” Turn cell phones off at doctors visits, movie theaters, and other places where the device can be a disturbance. Finally, choose to interact with the people in your environment. Don’t allow the device to be a psychological separation from two (or more) people in the same physical space.

  1. Teach children to be producers of content.

Anyone can be a consumer of digital content, but it takes a concerted effort to create content for others to consume. Allow a child or young adult to take the lead on the types of content they produce. Children need, and seek out, adult attention and approval. Why not harness their requests of, “Watch this!!” by capturing activities on video and producing digital content for social media.

Parents must keep in mind that there is danger involved in having your child’s name and face publicly available on social profiles. But allowing for that discussion, of appropriateness of content and potential danger, can be a teaching tool for children and adolescents.

Conclusion

The internet is changing the way children experience the world. Change requires adaptation. It is up to parents to nurture their children to balance their time spent on the internet in a way that affords a healthy lifestyle. Kids with healthy lifestyle will likely use the internet to benefit themselves rather than simply succumbing to only consuming the internet. We can help kick off your child's understanding of a healthy life. Garage Strength will be hosting a Fit Camp for children ages 5 - 12 from August 7 - 10th. We will be working with campers to teach them the value of living a healthy lifestyle.

Sign up here.

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