We use technology for a number of reasons, many of which have benefits for kids and adults alike. FaceTiming out-of-town relatives or playing games together, for example, are excellent ways to connect with family and friends — but it is possible to have too much of a good thing.
It’s sometimes obvious when kids have spent too much time online, thanks to temper tantrums or outright refusal to turn off devices, but other signs are less noticeable. Are your kids shying away from playdates and extracurricular activities? Do they seem less interested in everyday interactions and conversations?
Determining tech boundaries is a reality that just about every parent will have to face. But despite what you might think, it doesn’t require strict rules or helicopter parenting. Approaching technology use as a family will ensure kids’ cooperation, and reserve space for some much-needed screen-free time. Consider embarking on a family digital detox.
Setting tech boundaries as a family
Completely removing devices from your family home isn’t realistic, but creating a plan — one that recognizes individual tech needs and wants — is something everyone can get behind, especially when you do it together.
Try a mix of online activities
Many devices offer itemized tracking, so parents and kids can see how much time was spent surfing the internet, playing a game, learning on an app, or watching YouTube. Use this information to determine where the bulk of everyone’s online time is being spent and create limits that ensure a healthy balance of education- and entertainment-based screen time (e.g. 30 minutes for games or chatting with friends, one hour for school work, and 15 minutes for watching videos).
Determine clear tech-free times
Another way to curb tech time is to take it off the table completely during blackout periods. Make a device-free dinner rule and use that time to share stories and reconnect with each other. Setting a device-free time that’s immediately followed by another scheduled activity (such as Tuesday night swim classes) can also help to eliminate the just-five-more-minutes debate.
Set physical boundaries, too
Since late-night scrolling can affect sleep for both children and adults, it’s recommended that we all keep devices out of the bedroom. Try encouraging everyone in the family to put their phones away at the same time. Create a docking area in a shared space (like the kitchen) and decide on a household curfew that requires tech be put away at least 30 minutes before the earliest bedtime.
Explain why your tech usage differs
Not every parent will want to commit to the time limits recommended above — and that’s okay! There are other ways to set a good example for kids. To start, try explaining why you need a cell phone or tablet, what it will be used for, and how often you’ll be on it, so children can get a sense of what’s appropriate and what’s not. Keeping track of your own usage (and being honest about it with your kids) will make them feel as if they have a say in the rules, and that’ll go a long way in making other restrictions seem fair.
Planning for tech-free activities
Now that you’ve completed your family digital detox, there’s so much screen-free time - what’s a family to do?
Getting outside (rain or shine) is an obvious and healthy alternative — and it is recommended that kids older than four get at least one hour of physical activity every day. Walking the dog, riding bikes to the park, or collecting leaves in the neighborhood are just a few ways to keep kids both occupied and happy. Stuck inside for the day? Try a new craft or write cards to family members who live far away.
More important than the specific activities you choose, however, is actually having a plan in place. After the tech has been turned off, it won’t take long for kids to complain about being bored or having nothing to do, and curtailing this requires a bit of foresight — like developing a family activity list. Hanging this in a common area, such as the living room or playroom, means there’s always somewhere people can turn to for ideas. And brainstorming new ideas can be half the fun.
On the other hand, there are several studies and journals that speak to the benefits of boredom. It’s been shown to improve creativity, so instead of jumping in with an activity every time someone says, “I’m bored,” adults can encourage kids to use this free time for daydreaming and exercising their imagination.
Though rules and limits should be put in place, it’s important to remember that there’s no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to screen time. Find a combination of techniques and tactics that work best for your family, while allowing you to spend valuable time together both on- and offline.
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