What every parent ought to know about Digital Overload

digital overload

The impact of rapidly advancing digital technologies on our families and children is something that is beginning to be analysed and questioned more and more as technology creeps into greater areas of our lives and time.

There is no doubt that, modern technology, specifically in the form of computers, tablets and smart phones has provided us with greater freedom than in any other time in history. These devices have quite literally allowed us to have information, communication and entertainment at our fingertips.

One the one hand, the advantages of this phenomenon is obvious. Who wouldn’t want instant access to information, products and entertainment 24 hours a day? Who wouldn’t want multiple avenues for global communication available at any time?

But there are always two sides to every coin and for the most part, the rapid and incremental introduction of digital technologies into our lives has meant that up until recently their impacts have largely gone unnoticed and unquestioned. However, many people and families are unknowingly experiencing the effects of Digital Overload and it is certainly becoming an increasing topic of discussion and concern in both my household and coaching practice.

So, what is Digital Overload?

Technological or Digital Overload refers to the stress induced by exposure to more digital media or technology than we can efficiently processes in a given time frame and the often unobserved impacts of that on us, our children and our families.

How is Digital Media impacting my family?

In whatever form it takes, digital technology requires us to take in a high degree of competing sensory stimulation and information, which has both direct and indirect consequences on many of our internal systems and processes.

When we engage with digital media the following systems are impacted:

  • Neurological System (brain function)
  • Cognitive System (thinking and processing)
  • Memory Systems (short and long term storage)
  • Nervous System
  • Energy System

Which in turn impact our

  • Emotional Processes
  • Behavioural Processes
  • Relational Processes

While there are some generalisations that can be made, the true amount of stimulation and/or stress these systems and processes experience depends on many factors that are unique to the individual.

What are the signs and symptoms of Digital Overload?

  • Lethargy / Tiredness / Lack of Energy / Feeling frazzled
  • Forgetfulness / Difficulty converting information into long term memory
  • Feeling Overwhelmed / Stressed
  • Emotional sensitivity or reactivity
  • Low frustration tolerance
  • Impatience
  • Reactive behaviour
  • Inability to concentrate / focus / easily distracted
  • Obsession with technology / Little interest in anything unrelated to technology
  • Feelings of disconnection from important people

How much is too much when it comes to your family and children?

If anyone or everyone in your family is experiencing a number of the signs and symptoms above or if technology is an ongoing source of conflict between members of your family, then it’s time to do some investigating and see what is going on.

Digital Media Guidelines for Children

In their most recent Policy Statement, the American Academy of Pediatrics made the following recommendations regarding children’s media exposure

  • Limit the amount of total entertainment screen time to between 1-2 hours per day
  • Discourage screen media exposure for children under 2 years of age

Other valuable recommendations regarding technology include

  • Keeping children’s bedrooms essentially media free
  • Monitoring what media children are using and accessing
  • Co-viewing TV, movies and videos with children and teenagers
  • Establishing reasonable but firm rules around media use and develop a family home use plan for all media.

Why are these only Guidelines?

The recommendations above provide great guidelines and objectives to aim for in a general sense. However, my experience as both a mother and kids coach has led me to recommend digital exposure guidelines based more specifically on each child’s Digital Technology Threshold.

What is a Digital Technology Threshold?

A child’s Digital Technology Threshold is the point at which digital technology exposure (both for work & entertainment) results in signs and symptoms of Digital Overload. This can vary widely from child to child, with some children demonstrating signs of Digital Overload after 30 minutes and others coping well with the full two hour maximum daily recommendation (AAP, as cited above).

What’s more, an individual child’s Digital Technology Threshold can also vary somewhat from day to day, depending on other factors, such as having a particularly busy day or restless sleep.

Discovering your child’s Digital Technology Threshold

The best way to identify your child’s unique Digital Technology Threshold is to begin using a Parents Journal to track:

  • Your child’s daily media consumption, including TV, computers, tablets, smart phones, gaming consoles etc. and recording the amount and type
  • The occurrence of the various signs and symptoms of Digital Overload
  • Anything else that you feel is important or significant each day

By tracking these factors over a number of weeks, you will develop a greater awareness of the impact digital technology has on your family members and lifestyle. And have the information you need to more objectively identify patterns, establish your child’s Digital Technology Threshold and set personalised guidelines for media consumption that works well for your family.

Finding and establishing the right balance is important because whether you love it, hate it or can’t live without it, digital media is here to stay in ever evolving forms and we must learn to proactively manage and put it to positive use in our lives!

If you have any specific questions or comments about anything addressed above or about implementing positive changes in your family’s media diet, please feel free to drop me a line at jen@thekidscoach.co.nz

I look forward to hearing from you! ;0) Jen

Jennifer Pollard

Jennifer Pollard (aka The Kids Coach) is an energetic and dedicated coach and the mother of two beautifully boisterous boys. Her unique, engaging and fun approach to helping children and families develop the mindsets, skill sets and tools they need to thrive has established her reputation as a sought-after coach, speaker and author.

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