I’m writing to share some thoughts and information that I’ve gathered on managing technology within your family. I’m a mom of three children (7, 9, and 11), and like many of you, I spent the past summer battling screen usage with my three kids. It’s my most hated fight. I’m also a family therapist in the Washington DC and nearby Bethesda areas, and I work with many families as they try to do the same. Both of these roles recently inspired me to listen to a webinar created by Dr. Joyce Chang, “Good Night Alexa: Use of Technology with Families.”
In this blog, I will share some of her thoughts and my suggestions for continuing to wage a good war against the invasion of screen time on our children’s lives. In her webinar Dr. Chang mostly focused on the communication aspect of technology. She talked about the difference between positive uses and negative uses of technology including ipads, computers, tablets, television, iphones, etc. Two important positive uses were noted—intentional, thoughtful use and when technology is used for a specific purpose. One primary negative use was marked–mindless use. I liked the simplicity of these three rules of thumb–avoid the trap of mindless use, and allow use when it has a specific purpose and a thoughtful intention.
I’d like to add one more rule of thumb to consider—it is relationship enhancing or relationship detracting? Dr. Chang discussed a recent study that notes the rising phenomenon of partners feeling alone even while together due to the over-use of technology. I think this negative pattern occurs among family members too. Examples include–family dinners dominated by ipad and cell phone use; quality family time partitioned up by each member’s individual streaming desires; and kids constantly being “plugged in” rather than socializing with their friends.
In the first few days of summer, I pulled rank and created a screen time playbook (if you will…see attached) that tasked my kids with completing certain healthy behaviors/activities in order to earn their screen time and or additional allowance. While it was a great list, it was fairly hard to monitor especially without buy-in from other adults in the household. The kids were excited about, yet it didn’t last.
I’ve thought about how I might amend this process for coming summers and the upcoming school year and here are a few tips to consider.
- Consider your child’s age and developmental needs–Children under 2 should have very little if any screen time because they are in need of constant stimulation, attention and playtime from adults in order to grow specific sensory, language, gross motor and relational skills. If you use any screens, do it with a purpose and with positive intention toward a developmental need.
- Co-View, Co-Play, Co-Use with School Aged Children and Adolescents—I hate video games!!! Therefore, we don’t play many. But I do allow my kids to play with their babysitters and dad from time to time so that we are current on what they are doing at friends houses and what games they are interested in.
- Model Good Screen Use–Look at how you use your phone and ipad. Do you walk and text? Do you check your phone at the dinner table? Do you scroll Facebook in bed? If you want your kids to follow, you have to lead. Leave your devices in another room away from family dinnertime–Check facebook or email before you get into bed. Curl up on the couch rather than bed to watch your favorite show, and ideally do it with someone as a bonding time rather than a zoning out time.
- Take a Tech Timeout:TTT–Give yourself an hour, a day, a vacation where you don’t rely on your devices. Also use your devices to give yourself a break from constant technology related stimulation–set Do Not Disturb periods, adjust your notifications for particular apps, silence your phone when you can.
- Use your devices to build relationships—Facetime family members who are far away, Be playful with emoji’s, send something flirty to your husband/wife, etc.
- Complete and update regularly your family media plan at www.healthchildren.org
- Write and revise your family cell phone/media plan when you give your child their first phone/device [link here to sample plan]
- Learn about parental controls and try to keep current on how to monitor age appropriateness of games, movies etc. www.commonsensemedia.com
- Don’t be a digital minimalist–It won’t work and will only create a division between you and your kids. Technology is the NOW! Learn to appreciate it and work with it rather than fight it through too much control.
- Decide if you are a no tech vs low tech family— are screens disrupting your family routines and relationships? If so you could consider a 30 day blackout if technology to detox from screens. If not, you could opt for a grey-out, where you limit all screens to 30 minutes to 1hr 30 minutes max daily. Stacy Jagger wrote an interesting approach for families in crisis to use to deal with extreme overuse of technology. In her book 30 Day Blackout, she stated, “The process of boredom is key.. it makes time for creativity and connection.”
- Lastly, use these rules of thumb for yourself as a parent as well. Use technology when it serves a function for you as a parent and is for a thoughtful intention. Leverage your permission and then you let your children use technology and use it when it works best for you!