Cindy Porcaro's two sons, now 21 and 19, couldn't have
cared less about gadgets. Her older son didn't have a phone until
he graduated from high school, and her younger son, Paul, didn't
ask for one until his junior year.
With her daughter, Olivia, who will be 13 in April, it's a
completely different story.
"Olivia has been hounding me for a phone since fifth
grade, and she got one when she turned 11," says
Porcaro, who lives in Downers Grove. "I gave in, but it was the
probably the worst thing I ever did."
At first, Porcaro thought the phone was great. Now
Olivia's always using it. "If she's not at school, she gets up in
the morning and flips the TV on. She has her iPod in one hand and
her phone in the other, and at the end of the day, I'll say, `are
you still on that thing?'"
You've probably already witnessed children's fascination
with all things tech. But the ubiquitous nature of cellphones and
iPods mean that today's kids aren't just connected-they're
A recent survey found that two-thirds of teenagers text
every day, half visit social networking sites every day and one in
10 send or receive tweets at least once a day. And younger kids are
getting-and staying-connected in increasing numbers.
While parents may worry about their kids spending too much
time staring at small screens, adults are just as likely to be
unable to ignore their own tech devices, even for short periods of
"Technology has made us so connected that we're now exhibiting
signs of anxiety-based disorders (when forced to
disconnect)," says Dr. Larry Rosen, professor of the
psychology department at California State University, Dominguez
Hills, and author of iDisorder: Understanding Our Obsession
with Technology and Overcoming its Hold on Us. "Two-thirds
of teens and young adults says they check their text messages and
social media every 15 minutes or less. And when they are unable to,
close to three-quarters of them feel moderately to highly
Picture a typical meeting of adults-chances are that
nearly everyone has their phones out on the table or in their
pocket or purse. That fear of missing something-whether it's an
important call from the babysitter or simply the latest
Tweet-drives the need to be connected.
And today's kids suffer from the same fear, what Rosen
calls "FOMO," for "fear of missing out."
"What's going on in kids' brains is that they're
constantly releasing chemicals that we have learned to interpret as
anxiety-and the anxiety is about missing out on something,"
But while both kids and adults may feel anxious about
unplugging, constant connectivity is a bigger problem for the
"When kids are constantly connected, it takes time away from
other important skill development like social and interpersonal
skills," says technology and parenting expert Sharon Cindrich,
author of A Smart Girl's Guide to the Internet. "And
too much of anything is not a good thing. Hyper-connectivity is
definitely an ongoing issue and one that parents find hard to
If your kids seem unable to disconnect even for short
periods of time, it may be time to step in.
"Being connected is not a good thing if it's causing a
sense of anxiety and the need to check (their devices)
constantly," says Rosen. "The solution is two prongs.
First, you cannot let your kids be on technology all the
When Rosen speaks to parent groups, he gives them a 1:5
ratio. When your kids are young, for every minute of technology,
your child should spend five minutes doing something
non-technology-related, whether it's playing with
"old-fashioned" toys, reading with mom or dad, or
As kids get older, for every hour spent on technology,
they should spend 12 minutes doing something non-technological to
calm and reset their brains, says Rosen.
Second, you can help train your kids' brains not to get
anxious by forcing them to go offline for short periods of
In classrooms, Rosen suggests that kids be allowed to
bring their phones as long as they set them on silent and flip them
over. Then, every 15 minutes, students are given one minute for a
"tech break" to connect. "You start with 15 minutes of
focus and a one-minute tech break, and you gradually expand that to
a half-hour of focus," he says. "You want to help kids
learn how to focus-and then extend that focus."
Another strategy is to initiate non-technology time at
home with your kids.
"Parents have to be more involved than they were, and get
a little creative as far as coming up with non-connected
things," says Cindrich. "Just don't make it `let's
unplug,' which sounds like a negative. Instead focus on the new
thing you're going to do together."
As she often does in her monthly Plugged-In Parent column,
Cindrich suggests creating family rules for technology.
And if you set rules, follow through with them. That means
Kelly James-Enger is a former lawyer, a mom of two and a freelance writer.
See more of Kelly's stories here.
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