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Taming Technology

The start of a new year is a time when many people make resolutions. Often, within a month or two those resolutions are sheepishly neglected. Now that you and your family are back in a routine after the busy holiday season, it’s a great time to reset everyone’s tech time.

Just because you may need your child to work the remote or your tween rolls their eyes when you ask them about Facebook and you remember that Facebook is sooo yesterday, you shouldn’t throw in the towel, put in your ear buds and settle for feeling uneasy about the latest app your child may or may not be using.

Managing your family’s technology use is important for several reasons. Your child’s brain development is impacted (click here to read more); social media savvy is part of twenty-first century social skills; and figuring out how to keep your family active and healthy while they’re plugged-in is a challenge that won’t be going away (click here for ideas on encouraging your family to develop life-long health habits).

How then do parents guide their children’s use of electronics when it is common to see smart phones and tablets in the hands of many children and it can be challenging for many high school students to manage without access to a computer?

Take the time to review guidelines for children’s media use (like those of the American Academy of Pediatrics here) and to map out for yourself how your family members, including yourself, need to use technology.

It may make sense to try to log everyone’s use – sometimes just facing the facts (how much time is spent looking down at a smart phone, how many text messages are sent and received in a day or how many hours are spent in a sedentary way in front of a screen) is enough of a wake-up call to change behaviors and routines.

Take time to think about your family’s values and goals. Think about what habits you want to cultivate in your children. Use a family meeting as a time to engage, as a family, in thinking about what is gained by having a cell phone “corral” where everyone in the family parks their devices during dinner; about the life-long benefits of being physically active every day; talk about the importance of a good night’s sleep, and that putting away devices an hour before turning out the lights contributes to a restful night.

Getting your family’s online time or video gaming under control may seem daunting, but it is like setting any other limit. You need to think about your family’s values, set and enforce the limits and boundaries that fit into those values, and model appropriate behavior. You can use a tool like The Family Media Plan to customize your family’s guidelines on screen time.

Don’t skip the step of learning about how your child uses social media and games. Become your child’s mentor in navigating the complicated life of a “digital native.” (Check out The Mentorship Manifesto to learn more.)

  • Sit down, pick up a controller and play. Don’t just lecture your tween on their phone becoming a body part.
  • Get past their hostility and ask them what they like about Snap-chat (or whatever App has taken its place) and what they don’t like. For them “social media” really is social, it is how they engage with their peers, so the emotional issues of adolescence are part of their electronic lives.
  • Explore what makes them happy and what is hurtful and upsetting. Start a conversation about what they are feeling and how their actions can change that.
  • Help them to understand that the reason their friend may not have responded to the dozen text messages your child sent may have nothing to do with how much they are liked,
  • Encourage them to think twice before sending a sarcastic reply to a friend or forward an inappropriate photograph and to consider how their words might be misunderstood.
  • Don’t forget to help them fix it when a message they sent blows up in their face; help them understand however fleeting the message may seem in cyber-space, the hurt caused by words can last a lifetime.
  • No matter how uncomfortable talking with your teen about “sexting” may make you both feel; it is an important conversation to have.

There are dangers out there. Teach yourself and your family to own your cyber-identities. Take steps together to protect your information. The half-life of photos online is radioactive; it doesn’t go away and can haunt someone forever. Model good habits by asking your child permission to post their photograph on your Facebook page (click here for a great article explaining why).

The next step: put down the tablet now; log-off the computer; or turn the alerts on your phone and put it away. You can follow up on the links in this article later. As one media expert puts it: Stop Texting, Enjoy Life. Now.

Embedded Links in this article:

Impact on children’s brain development:

Keeping your family active:

American Academy of Pediatrics parents’ resources, including guidelines for children’s media use:


Family Media Plan:

The Mentorship Manifesto proposed by Devorah Heitner

Why I Started Asking Permission Before Sharing My Kids’ Photos on Facebook by Heidi Stevens:

It’s a big step from the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations for children’s media use, issued in October 2016 to figuring out how to manage technology in your own home. The AAP’s guidelines are a good starting point:

  • For children younger than 18 months, avoid use of screen media other than video chatting. Parents of children 18 to 24 months of age who want to introduce digital media should choose high quality programming, and watch it with their children to help them understand what they’re seeing.
  • For children ages 2 to 5 years, limit screen use to 1 hour per day of high-quality programs. Parents should co-view media with children to help them understand what they are seeing and apply it to the world around them.
  • For children ages 6 and older, place consistent limits on the time spent using media, and the types of media, and make sure media does not take the place of adequate sleep, physical activity and other behaviors essential to health.
  • Designate media-free times together, such as dinner or driving, as well as media-free locations at home, such as bedrooms.
  • Have ongoing communication about online citizenship and safety, including treating others with respect online and offline.

But how to translate these into what works for your family; getting your family’s online time or video gaming under control may seem daunting, but it is like setting any other limit. You need to think about your family’s values, set and enforce the limits and boundaries that fit into those values, and model appropriate behavior. You can use a tool like The Family Media Plan to customize your family’s guidelines on screen time.

Become a more alert digital user. Talk about buying digital devices before you make a purchase of a new technology. Engage your children in a conversation about the benefits and downsides of introducing the latest electronic device – whether it’s a smart thermostat or an Amazon Echo. When appropriate, the limits to using the device should be part of the conversation.

Keep electronics in common areas of your home. Don’t put a television or computer in your child’s bedroom. Create a digital corral for everyone in the family to keep their devices; everyone’s cell phones go there at dinnertime and at night. Getting our digital lives under control means that everyone in the family follows the same rules. It doesn’t do any good if your child’s smart phone is put away when you go out for pizza, if you’re answering work emails.

Make a plan to change your family’s use gradually: introduce the goal at a family meeting and brainstorm together what boundaries to set and how to follow them. Don’t just tell your child to put away the tablet and “do something.” Have alternatives, like board games or craft supplies, readily available. Help your child find something else to do. Accept that you may have to deal with a bit more whining or listening to your child say “I’m bored.”

Develop your own tech-savvy and understanding of the intersection of technology and human values. Think of yourself as your child’s technology mentor more than their digital monitor. When your tween comes downstairs feeling sad and says that they don’t have any friends and explains that their friend didn’t immediately respond to all the text messages they sent out, it’s a teachable moment about empathy. Ask your child if they always respond instantly upon receiving a text. Aren’t there times when they’re busy doing something else or don’t have their phone with them. Children and teens are just learning how to communicate and how to calibrate their responses. Teach them to ask themselves: “Are you sure you really want to send this?” when they’re angry or upset. Help them figure out how to fix it if something they have sent hurt someone else. Remember that you, as a parent, can get lost in the fog of your own digital use, making you inaccessible to your child. Repeat the mantra for yourself as well as your child: “Stop texting, enjoy life.”

There are a number of helpful resources, from the Family Media Plan mentioned above, to helpful books, blogs and online resources. Check them out!