My morning begins by waking up from an alarm on my iPhone. After a quick check of notifications (and yes, probably a peek at social media), I consult my weather app to choose my clothes. Sometimes I open my music app to play upbeat songs through our smart speakers as we get ready for the day. The sun has barely risen, yet I’ve clicked, swiped, and scrolled through more media than previous generations would have encountered in a week.
Although technology has become an integral part of life now, navigating this space with my children can be tricky. To them, technology is so ingrained in life that my stories of “back in the day” seem made up or exaggerated. While adults may know of the inherent dangers of media and how to proceed cautiously, it can be hard to help our children experience media in a healthy way. And it can be challenging to protect our relationships with our children through the distractions technology throws our way. Try these tips to help balance the use in your own home:
4 Tips for Healthy Tech Boundaries
1) Set a Good Example
Undoubtedly, you use your phone or computer for work, but try to separate work time from family time. Your approach to media becomes a model for your child to live by. Make sure your example speaks as loudly as your words. Find a permanent place at home to be a storage space for your device, which frees you up for a period of time. Be cognizant about how and when you answer your phone when you are with other people. For example, when talking to a friend or your spouse, do you accept phone calls or answer texts? Is meal time a time to have the phone out or next to you? Decide what example you would like your children to follow and set the lead yourself. It’s a powerful image for the people you’re with to see you reject a call in order to listen to them thoroughly. For an even greater impact, try powering off your phone to give your child uninterrupted quality time, free from vibrations, dings, and notifications.
2) Sit Next to Your Child
Every parent has used the phone or tablet to keep a child entertained while waiting for a doctor or sitting in a restaurant. Try not to just use the device as a babysitter for your child. Take time to sit next to them and explore apps together. You can learn many things about your child as they play games and explore apps. Enter their world of entertainment and find out what they find enjoyable and why. Even the process of thinking about what is fun and why can be an enlightening conversation for children and adults. Try playing your child’s favorite game with them—it may be more challenging than you think!
3) Stay Organized Digitally
Set up your computer, tablet, or phone for playtime and learning time. Sometimes this can be tough for kids to understand, but setting clear expectations and boundaries beforehand can help with the process. Talk with your child about how technology can be used for fun times and for learning, and how the two purposes often intersect. Organizing apps together can be helpful, also. For example, are you using apps to practice math facts with your child? Organize the apps together and talk about when and how you want your child to use them. When your child is using a device, have times for free choice and times where specific applications are used to accomplish a learning goal. Also, use technology to learn together. Many apps are more advantageous for kids when an adult who knows their level of learning is able to provide structure and support to the concepts in the app.
4) Observe a Rest Day
Consider setting aside a larger period of time to abstain from media as a family. Sundays are often a good time for this, and you and your family can pursue other restful activities. Explore an art project together, play a family game, get outdoors, take a long walk, or sleep. Whatever you do, try to do it without the influence of media, as a family. Talk about the feelings associated when abstaining from media as a family. Use these conversations to instill your values about technology in your family life.
Media has an influence on your child; stand by their side and enter their world. Guide them with humility, because you are still learning, too, and your children will be thankful for the time you’ve invested.
An earlier version of this blog post was originally published as an article in The Old Schoolhouse magazine.