Tech is a huge feature in our lives. Every day we use phones, computers, televisions, or video games to work, play, and de-stress. And digital devices aren’t just for adults anymore. With kids using tablets and laptops for everything from school to socializing, tech can become pervasive.
So, what happens when screen use takes over a family dynamic? The good news is this: A healthy tech balance is possible. Electronic devices don’t need to take over your family, even if they’re used every day. You can still create healthy boundaries and good habits by instilling some household values surrounding technology. Below are some best practices to help ensure a life of responsible tech use.
1. Embrace Tech Limits
Moderating tech use doesn’t just mean limiting the amount of time that kids spend on screens. It also means monitoring the content they might be exposed to. The world of the internet can be scary and overwhelming for parents and kids alike.
But traversing the digital landscape doesn’t have to be like trying to navigate the Wild West. Luckily, some of the best features of modern-day tech include the ability to moderate its use. This can be done by using parental controls or adopting limited tech.
Parental controls are typically the primary go-to when adults try to set boundaries on children’s tech use. These controls can be used to block certain types of web content and apps and/or restrict device use to certain days and times. In many cases, this is how families tend to handle tech moderation. However, there are more organic ways to ensure a safe tech environment for your kids.
While parental controls are helpful, kids can be crafty — and tech-savvy. They may evade parental controls using their own skills, or they may simply be too young for more grown-up tech. And by making kids feel they’re constantly being monitored, parental controls can even create mistrust between parents and children.
Fortunately, there are scaled-back devices families can embrace instead. For instance, safe phones for kids or web-free tablets are creative ways to limit tech use. Maybe your kids are old enough to outwit iPhone settings but too young for full internet access. In that case, limited tech could be a better choice.
2. Establish a Tech Use Schedule
In order to craft meaningful tech boundaries, you’ll need to discern how your family is using tech now. To learn more about your personal screen needs, start by making a schedule. With either a whiteboard or a chalkboard, chart out current tech use by each family member.
Every family is different, and everyone needs screens for different reasons. Parents might be using screens to work, while kids are using them for school. Maybe kids are on Zoom for private tutoring or on their tablets playing instructional games. Because everyone has different needs, that can result in the overuse of tech family-wide.
Selecting a different color for every member of the family, fill in your schedules. Clear boundaries for screen time require clear examples of screen needs. Are there frequent meetings or classes that require video? Is there scheduled fun screen time? Is there any screen-free time? All these questions should be clearly answered by your completed schedule.
Once you know how you’re filling those hours of tech use, you can decide where to cut back. Maybe the kids’ video game time gets reduced from an hour to 30 minutes. Maybe your half-hour spent scrolling through social media gets replaced by quality time with a novel.
Now you need to enforce these new limits. For parents, there are notifications on smartphones or computers to remind them about hourly tech consumption. And for kids, there are watchful parents.
3. Designate Screen-Free Rooms
The tip might be one of the most extreme, but it’s also one of the most beneficial: screen-free rooms. The benefits of screen-free rooms range from improved relationships to a better night’s sleep.
Eliminating tech from bedrooms is especially beneficial, and science backs up this claim. Studies show that allowing technology in children’s bedrooms can cause sleep deprivation. Some experts suggest that this could be because of the blue light emitted by electronic screens. Others argue that it’s simply because devices make you lose track of time and stay up later. Whatever the reason, a tech-free bedroom can provide healthy boundaries for individuals of all ages.
Dining rooms are another good candidate for the screen-free treatment. Family meals without smart phones and televisions can promote better family time.
When tech gets left at the door, there are more opportunities for connection. Young children are more likely to feel their parents’ full attention when family dinners go tech-free. Older children will have opportunities to share their daily lives. Though it may be an adjustment, leaving digital devices in another room can help bring families together.
Removing all tech from certain rooms may take some getting accustomed to. Kids who are used to using smartphones and tablets in their bedrooms may feel resistant. As a compromise, you might ban device use on school nights only. You could also allow tech nights as a reward for good behavior.
4. Reframe Tech Uses
To strike a healthy balance, families need to rethink their feelings about tech. That may involve differentiating between — and rethinking — how technology is used for work and play. Creating a clear separation can prevent misuse of tech in either sphere.
Digital devices are used every day for activities that aren’t “fun” per se, like work or school. Where the trouble lies is when people use tech as a diversion when they should be focusing on work or school tasks. People might get on social media during a Zoom meeting or play a game on their phone during an online class. As a result, they may fail to gain information they need, and they certainly aren’t contributing to the joint enterprise!
Rather than allowing digital devices to become an invitation to sloth, draw a clear line between productive and recreational uses of technology. And when it comes to digital leisure, turn tech use into a family activity.
Spice up your tech time by playing an active game, like Dance Dance Revolution or Wii Sports. Over 90% of U.S. teenagers aren’t getting the exercise they need, and parents can help reverse that trend using tech. Whether children are younger or older, there are physical games that can cater to their needs. And adults will benefit just as much from adding exercise into their routines.
Technology isn’t going anywhere, but that doesn’t mean it gets to turn your family into a bunch of disconnected screen zombies. By following these tips, you can ensure that you can strike the best tech balance for you and your kids.