Posted from the April 2016, edition of The Cardinal.

Technology has made tremendous leaps forward in the last decade. As a result, our children and teens have grown accustomed to using powerful electronic devices for education, social activity and entertainment. We are just beginning to understand the risks as well as the rewards of our digital world.

Students can and do benefit from using technology as a tool in the classroom, and opportunities are available to them that were unheard-of in times past. The risk is that, as young persons spend more and more time absorbed in their devices, they may lose (or fail to develop) the “real-world” skills they will need throughout their lives.

To create and maintain a healthy balance in your family’s life, you should observe how each member of the family uses electronics. If students use their school iPads primarily for academic purposes, then they are using the devices appropriately. On the other hand, if they mostly use their iPads for gaming or other nonconstructive activities, an adjustment may be necessary. Pay special attention if your students try to hide their electronic use from you or spend more time on their devices than away from them.

Limiting children’s “screentime” (free time consumed by the use of electronics) to one or two hours per day has many real benefits. Without electronic distractions, students spend more time in verbal conversation, engage more readily in physical activity and even experience improvements in their sleep patterns.

To ease the transition from constant to limited use of electronics, find other activities to occupy your students. Sports, family board games, arts and crafts projects, books and other non-digital activities are excellent ways to keep your students engaged mentally and socially. Encourage your students’ interests in areas that cultivate their intelligence, awareness and creativity.

Parents and guardians must also be mindful of their own use of electronics. Students learn from our example. Setting limits for your own “screentime” shows them that the boundaries are not a punishment, but rather an opportunity for meaningful interaction. You and your students will enjoy the benefits of electronic downtime individually and as a truly “connected” family.