Being a dad was already hard enough, but the rise in digital technology has added a whole new dimension to parenting. Trying to navigate raising a child while juggling the influence of computers, smartphones, and gaming consoles is not an easy task for anyone.
All of these issues became even more dire with the onset of COVID-19: many parents are concerned that their children may be developing an unhealthy addiction to screen in the wake of lockdowns and school closures. If things weren’t difficult before, they certainly are now.
As a parent, the single most powerful thing you can do is lead by example — something that’s often easier said than done. If you’re hoping for your kids to adopt healthier tech habits, you need to do so yourself. Here’s where to start:
1. Watch the clock.
Healthy tech use is all about setting the right boundaries, and the best boundaries to start with are temporal ones. The easiest place to start is with a “no screen time” policy before and after certain times of day. Heavy device usage early in the morning can set a bad precedent for the rest of the day, and too much screen time late at night can seriously hinder your ability to sleep.
Beyond simple time-of-day rules, it’s also important to set caps on device usage over the course of a day. The number should change based on your child’s age and your household’s situation, but ensuring that no one is using their devices for a large number of hours in the day is a key first step towards developing healthier usage patterns overall. This doesn’t have to be something that you do alone: there are a number of great apps such as Freedom or In Moment that can help remind you when it’s time to set the devices down.
2. Store tech in one area.
If you’ve been working from home recently, your house probably looks quite a bit different than the way it has before: devices strewn about with little rhyme or reason as to what goes where. This isn’t just an organizational issue: it’s one that can lead to less healthy screen time as well. Not knowing what is where prevents you properly keeping track of how either you or your child is using your tech — leaving you in the dark along the way.
Kid-focused phone network Gabb Wireless recommends creating a central charging station for all electronics in your household, preferably somewhere easy for you to control access to. This allows you to quickly understand who’s using what and how often, helping you regulate both your own tech usage as well as your child’s.
3. Establish phone-free zones.
One of the keys to healthy tech usage in the long term is knowing when it’s time to simply shut devices off entirely. Every family has regular moments that would be better if not for the sound of notifications and the constant looking down to text. If you want to inspire better device habits in general, start by declaring some areas to be completely phone-free zones.
The most common phone-free zones in most households is the dinner table, and it’s easy to see why: doing away with devices while eating makes it easier to focus on the conversation your family is having, offering additional space to open up and connect. Bedrooms are also a popular choice for promoting healthier sleep, and Common Sense Media recommends the car as a good phone-free zone, potentially lowering distractions for the driver and setting a good example for everyone inside. Some household tech policies designed for kids may be difficult for you to follow as well, but phone-free zones are an effective policy for everyone.
4. Be present when it matters.
Ultimately, any parent’s goal with their children when it comes to tech should simply be for them to be able to utilize their devices in a safe, effective, and balanced way. Setting rules is a great way to limit screen time today, but what can you do to ensure that they’ll be employing their screen time effectively well into the future?
Screen time isn’t just a passive thing, it’s something you have to opt into in any given moment. When your family is having a valuable moment together, make the choice to opt out of your screen time. Show your children that being present in key moments is not optional for you, and they’ll understand that it won’t be optional for them either.
Every new generation of parents is learning to deal with tech in a different way, and this one faces a particularly unique set of challenges. Now more than ever, your kids need tech in order to learn and stay connected — which makes it so important that you put in the effort to show them what healthy tech usage looks like.
This content is brought to you by Hannah Madison.