MICHELLE FIRESTONE, Chronicle Staff Writer
MANSFIELD — In today’s world, digital technology can sometimes feel like it has taken over our lives.
Wednesday evening, Aaron Weintraub, a behavior specialist at Holiday Hill Day Camp & Recreation Center in Mansfield, told a group of Mansfield Middle School parents that, while digital devices can be used for educational purposes, use of the devices can also lead to social isolation. He encouraged parents to restrict their child’s use of social media and digital devices and use meal times to “reconnect.” “Establish some rules based on your values,” Weintraub said during a workshop at the middle school.
The workshop was presented by Peace At Home Parenting Solutions, a Storrs-based program that aims to teach good parenting techniques.
Weintraub said parents should consider whether “work time” is separate from “play time” when reviewing their child’s “screen time.” He defined “screen time” as time spent on smart phones, tablets, computers, televisions and video game systems. Weintraub said parents should be “following the rules” they set for their children as much as possible. “I turn my screen off a half-hour before bed because I know it’s going to affect my ability to fall asleep,” he said.
Shannon Sion, the mother of a seventh-grader and a fifth-grader at MMS, said she used to try to get her children to stop watching television. Now, she wants them to watch it, but do so together. “The irony of it to me is not lost,” she said. Sion said she thinks she has stricter rules and stricter time limits for digital device usage than other parents. However, she said she understands her oldest child needs to use digital devices sometimes for school. Sion said, sometimes, her children “call her out” for her social media usage, which she uses to check a recipe or her calendar, for example. She said she tries to limit her social media time when she is with her children. “I’m using it as a resource,” Sion said. “I’m not using it for TV or movies.”
Weintraub said, historically, parents have always worried about new technology. He said before digital media, parents worried about their child’s use of radio and then television. “When I was growing up, I was limited to an hour of TV,” Weintraub said. “I only saw ‘The Golden Girls’ and ‘The Cosby Show.’”
Roxana Mocanu, the mother of a seventh-grader at MMS, said if she asks one of her children to put down their book, they are more likely to do that than shut off their screens. “They feel they are missing out and you wouldn’t get that same fear with a book,” she said.
Weintraub said “screen time” can lead to “disregulated or addictive behavior.” “Some initial studies are showing that it can have negative effects on brain development,” he said. Ultimately, Weintraub said parents shouldn’t blame themselves for their children’s use of digital devices. “These programs are addictive by design,” he said. Weintraub said there aren’t a “lot of great solutions” to monitor content on iPhones, but more are available for Android phones. Weintraub said one alternative to using digital devices is having children play with non-electronic toys. “Discovering older toys can be fun,” he said.