A recent study by Common Sense Media surveyed the attitudes, concerns, and behaviors of parents’ media use. Many parents express concern about their children’s use of media, in how it affects their sleep, effects of social media, too much time online, etc. Parents, it turns out, spend a fair bit of time on their own devices, averaging 9+ hours a day! Most (82%) of those hours are spent on personal screen time such as watching TV, video games, browsing online, or on social media networks; the rest filled in with screen time at work. Despite the high screen time themselves, 78% of parents believe they are setting a good example to their children of balancing technology. The good news is that parents are engaged, aware of the benefits and pitfalls of technology, and striving to set a good example. The bad news is there seems to be a disconnect between perception and reality.
If you are spending more than a quarter of your day plugged into a device, how can you expect your children to limit their screen time to 30 minutes a time? If dad can answer work emails at the dinner table, why do children get in trouble for responding to a text message? Children and teenagers can sniff out hypocrisy in a second. True change for your kids’ relationship with technology will need to come as an entire family shift - parents included. In our connected world, it can be a hard change for everyone!
The first step in pursuing balance in your relationship with technology is to have an honest assessment. Two great options are to take the Digital Wellness Quiz and to track your media usage throughout the day with this Media Tracker Log. Do these assessments for each member of the family.
With an a more accurate understanding of the role of technology, families can craft contracts around digital use. These contracts and agreements will need to grow with the child and with advances in technology. A 5 year old and a 18 year old will have different expectations in each of their contracts.
The book The Digital Invasion has great information on the effects of technology as well as some example contracts for children of different ages. Effective contracts may include age appropriate agreements around privacy, online safety, downloading apps, time, shopping, pornography, cyber bullying, and social media.
In addition to creating family contracts around digital use, it can be helpful to create family rhythms to take a break from devices. Many teenagers suffer sleep deprivation because they are up late on their phones, their sleep interrupted by notifications and texts. Perhaps all family members turn their phones into the parents after 9pm or leave their phones in the living room. Dinner or family time may have an explicit no devices time. All members can leave their phones face down on the table or out of sight; the first person to reach for it must do an extra chore or make a treat for the family. Many families benefit from a full, regular 24 hour fast from devices. This technology sabbath creates opportunities to get outside, connect face to face, play games, rest, or foster other hobbies.
If you find you are struggling with your own technology use or managing the use of your family, feel free to reach out for help. A balanced life of digital and face to face connection is possible!