Alex, Brendan and Tobi Fevola. Picture: supplied
Alex, Brendan and Tobi Fevola. Picture: supplied

Kids need human contact, not consoles this Christmas

Parents love their kids and want them to be happy, which is why they will do all they can to ensure that what is under the Christmas tree is exactly what their child asked for.

All this effort is to ensure that come Christmas morning they get that special beaming smile as their kids tear open wrapping paper.

This is where our Christmas story should end: happy parents and excited children sharing a moment of joy.

Of course, as we so often see in the modern age, things are never as simple as they used to be with gifts under our trees now proliferated with technology.

Smartphones, tablets, gaming consoles, video games, smart watches - kids love tech gifts. Even toddlers won't miss out with many being given their first screens, dressed up as learning aides.

If having the latest tech keeps kids happy at Christmas, then what's wrong with that? The answer is plenty!

Technology might keep your child entertained, yet it often comes with a cost, including increased isolation and altered mood and behaviour.

It is no accident that Bill Gates did not let his children have smartphones until they were 14. Steve Jobs also said when the iPad was launched that he would not let his kids near the device.

These are smart guys, who made a fortune out of tech, yet when it came to allow their children access, they decided it was better to keep a safe distance for the sake of their kids' development.

I wonder what it was that Gates and Jobs knew that we do not?

Technology might keep your children entertained, but it often comes with the cost of isolation, mood and behaviour change. Picture: supplied
Technology might keep your children entertained, but it often comes with the cost of isolation, mood and behaviour change. Picture: supplied

Perhaps these tech gurus had cottoned on to something that science is only starting to get a handle of today - too much screen time has a negative impact on the brain development of our children.

This is something that should impact the spending habits of parents at Christmas, given tweens and teens now spend six and nine hours a day respectively on screens outside of school hours.

This subjects a vulnerable group to heavy advertising, peer pressure and exposure to communication with strangers. For some it will be their first interaction with addiction, as they struggle to put their technology down.

Every piece of technology should come with a warning of its dangers and every device that enters the home accompanied with a 'Family Code of Use' - rules that parents set around tech use.

As the World Health Organisation has warned, gaming addiction is real, as is addiction to social media. This is why the man who designed the 'Like' button, Justin Rosenstein said: "It is not uncommon for humans to develop things with the best of intentions and for them to have unintentional, negative consequences."

In my work, I see what others may not; a mother who is frightened for her 13 year old who has 'intimate' relationships with people she met in chat rooms and a father whose voice quavers telling me how he cannot get his son to leave his room all weekend because he is gaming.

The saying 'buyer beware' should be heeded when it comes to tech. Parents, friends and relatives need to be aware of the danger that lurks behind seemingly innocent fun.

All games for consoles, PCs and apps necessitate careful checks and adult supervision around use, otherwise unexpected transactions may appear on your credit card statement as an unwelcome surprise.

Brendan Fevola was left shocked after a $4000 ‘in game’ expense appeared on his credit card. Picture: Instagram
Brendan Fevola was left shocked after a $4000 ‘in game’ expense appeared on his credit card. Picture: Instagram

This was something that former AFL footballer and media personality Brendan Fevola discovered when one of his children clocked up $4000 worth of 'in game' purchases on his credit card.

Trying to keep up with the potential dangers in cyberspace your child may face is akin to nailing jelly to a tree - it is a never-ending battle.

You are up against companies who devote millions and millions of dollars to make their products engaging, enticing and potentially addictive by capturing the attention and holding it by clever persuasive techniques, all with 'AI' technology that learns behaviour better than any human can predict.

So, this Christmas why not look to engage your children's minds rather than numb them with tech, through giving instead presents that involve interaction and communication. It will be a gift for not only your child, but the whole family.

That is not to say we want unhappy kids, far from it, instead look for gifts that encourage the creative passions of your children that also use their imagination and ingenuity through art or building something amazing.

Board games can help bring a family together, as can a family experience gift that takes your child somewhere they have always wanted to go, with the added bonus of the entire family able to share the adventure.

Let's not forget the outdoors. Aussie kids spend too much time living life through a screen, so gifts that encourage outdoor play can be the perfect present.

This Christmas let's aim for a new tradition, one away from distracting devices, allowing us to enjoy the special moments of Christmas together as a family.

Jill Sweatman is a Neuroscience Communicator and Learning Specialist.