At this time of year, it’s a safe bet holiday wish lists will include technology, electronic or digital devices for most everyone from toddlers to grandparents.

After all, look at everything today’s smart gadgets do for us: They guard our homes, exercise our bodies and minds, provide entertainment, pay our bills, order our groceries, get us to our destination–and the list continues.

No question about it: These devices are fun, informative, integrated and engaging.

But some experts caution those compelling games, apps, videos and programs that play on tablets, TVs, laptops and cell phones also have the potential to become addictive. New evidence is emerging about screen time’s effect on a young person’s developing brain. Studies from respected sources, such as Psychological Science and Pew Research, show that heavy tech users have a higher risk for depression and anxiety, and frequent social media use can rewire children’s brains to seek immediate gratification.

Physicians, behavioral experts, educators, child advocates and even tech developers are voicing concerns about too much screen time. Some Silicon Valley tech executives have gone so far as to ban technology use by their own children.

We all understand technology is here to stay and those neat gadgets and tools enhance our lives in numerous ways. I know I would be lost, literally, without my GPS and appointment reminder.

Effectively harnessing the influence of technology and balancing its use with hands-on, real-world and personal interactions are keys to turning a potential negative into a proven positive.

For example, technology in the classroom is an effective tool when combined with interactive exercises developed by creative, innovative teachers. And playing a video game at home can be relaxing and fun as long as it’s balanced with personal interactions, such as playing softball with friends and board games with the family.

We believe it’s important for families to understand about the dangers of unbridled technology use so they can promote healthy and safe habits for their children.

We want our students to know about the latest scientific evidence and the potential negative impact of poor tech habits so they are equipped to make good choices in using devices.

Making wise choices and developing healthy habits are parts of an array of social-emotional behaviors that are proven to help students succeed in school and later in college, on the job and in life. Young people who apply healthy and mature social-emotional behaviors to tech management are more likely to use good judgment and exercise self-discipline in the content they share, the sites they visit and the time they spend on devices scrolling, texting, gaming, posting and learning.

Most children function better within a structured environment and can understand a parent’s responsibility to monitor screen time usage and social media to ensure the child’s well-being. Parents who want to take the opportunity to open a discussion about healthy screen habits when giving a tech gift can find tools and tips at The website is related to an award-winning film, “Screenagers: Growing Up in the Digital Age,” created by physician and filmmaker Dr. Delaney Ruston.

Practical ideas from Dr. Ruston include having weekly short, calm conversations with your family about technology and establishing times when tech is out of sight to help children focus and develop self-control. A weekly blog, Tech Talk Tuesday, available on the website, offers good discussion starters.

Don’t be surprised to find that following a structure that minimizes multi-tasking and devotes focused time to homework and personal interactions will free up time for unhindered enjoyment of favorite tech gadgets.

The Education Foundation of Sarasota County team wishes you and yours a joyful holiday season.