3 simple parenting rules for tech and kids.
Healthier screen time habits for kids.
November 14, 2023
3 parenting rules for tech and kids.
Our kids are growing up surrounded by tech, but how do you know when too much is too much?
Parenting used to be simpler, but in today’s fast changing, digital driven world, making the right choices for our kids isn’t always obvious. As parents we no longer only have the duty to guide our children through the challenges of a real world, but a virtual one also. In the 21st century, we are all digital citizens, and it’s more important than ever to help our kids become successful digital citizens as well, by teaching them how to develop healthy, and positive tech habits.
Whether you are the proud parent of a 2 year old iPad expert, or of a teenager venturing out into the world of social media, these are URSOR’s 3 rules to help you make technology work for you and your family. We hope this helps!
Rule #1 - Aim for balance, not extremes
Connected technology isn’t going anywhere, and it’s getting faster and more accessible at an increasingly faster pace. This is a good thing, because alongside faster and more available information, accessed through a wider and wider choice of devices, the opportunities for kids of all ages to learn new skills and discover the world, are everywhere. Furthermore, learning about the world through a digital filter is only going to better prepare them for an economy and a workforce that will be predominantly digital.
In the same breath however, the amount of content available to children is limitless, at URSOR we always say that there are more bytes on the web than there are stars in the universe, and just like the universe, some places can be dangerous. It’s only natural for parents to worry about their little astronauts running into a scary black hole of inappropriate content, as well as worrying about the impact that too much screen time can have on the healthy development of their child.
As with many predicaments in life, the key is “balance”. Adam Alter, the social psychologist and Author of “Irresistible: The rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked.” put it best when he said "The most important step is to establish a balanced or sustainable relationship with tech.".
Perhaps a way to look at it is through the lens of a healthy diet. Information is food for your brain, and technology is the plate your brain eats off of. It’s about consuming healthy and quality foods + appropriate portion control. Dr.Alter further explains that "Older kids understand the concept of balance intuitively -- they know that it’s important to eat healthy foods alongside candy and dessert, and the same is true of the 'empty calories' that come from spending too much time passively gazing at screens. There's time for screens, but not at the expense of time for physical activity and connecting with real people in real time."
Striking balance of course is easier said than done. The technology we use were not designed to keep us balanced, they were designed to keep us hooked through a system that was very well explained in the Netflix documentary “The Social Dilemma”, as well as Nir Eyals seminal book “Hooked: How to build habit forming products”, but here are tips to keep in mind as you work towards that all important balance.
You’ll know balance when you feel it
The first thing to keep in mind is that there is no optimal balance. It’s different to every family and every child, but you will likely know what balance is by the way it “feels”. It is important however to keep tabs on screen time, so you can at least quantify the sort of screen time your kids are getting. Some screen time is passive, some is active. Educational and engaging apps are preferable of course, but what is important is visibility and awareness of the sort of media your kids consume. You can’t regulate what you don’t know.
Watch for warning signs of unhealthy tech use
Jon Lasser, the co-author of “Tech Generation: Raising Balanced Kids in a Hyper-Connected World” wrote that parents should always keep an eye out for the following signs:
- Kids complaining of being bored or unhappy when access to technology isn’t available.
- Harsh reactions and tantrums when screen time limits are set and imposed.
- Screentime is disrupting school work, face-to-face communication as well as sleep.
Keep revisiting the topic frequently
Because technology is something we use everyday, the limits and standards we set can easily slip. Technoference, which is a term used to describe the interference of technology in our lives, and in this case that of our children, is something that needs to be constantly revisited. Additionally, as your children grow and develop, yours and their definition of healthy technology will change.
Evaluate good and bad screen time
Not all screen time is bad of course, but you should ensure you monitor and assess the sort of content your kids are engaging with regularly. For starters make sure they are accessing age appropriate content, you can do so by using URSOR, a safe browser for kids that lets you curate your kids browser content, or one of the other options we wrote about in this article. Be sure to distinguish between passive screen time, like Youtube binge watching, and engaging screen-time like math games or coding challenges. Anything that is stimulating, as opposed to purely entertaining is preferable.
Set screen time limits
Screen Time quality is certainly more important than screen time quantity, but giving your kids time without technology is not only good for them, it is also good for the whole family. Something we do in our household for example, is not allowing screen time for 1 hour after they wake-up, and 1 hour before they go to bed to ensure a better sleep and re-boot routine. No screen time during family meals or outings is also a good one. It’s not easy to maintain a no screen schedule, especially in a busy household, but a little bit of control is better than none. Do what you can. Improve step by step.
Rule #2 - Be a role model
Let us be honest. Everything we discussed so far in this article doesn’t apply to kids only, it applies to us adults as well. Sleep hygiene, part of which is the practice of switching off from technology before and after sleep, isn’t just good for our kids, it is good for us adults too. If we spend our time in the home binge watching TV, constantly messaging on our phones or surfing the web aimlessly, our kids are not only likely to copy us, but to also compete against us. Technoference goes both ways, it isn’t just about technology interfering with your child’s relationship with you, but of yours with them.
Thankfully some devices and services are starting to develop features that help us manage technoference. You can set screen time limits on Android for example, while iOS will give you statistics on time spent on each App. Things are getting better, but remember, practicing restraint, and demonstrating mindful usage of technology to your children will be by far the most important thing you can do to help them, as well as yourself.
Set clear boundaries for work time and family time
Picking key times for staying unplugged will make you happier and closer to your kids, and if like many of us adults your “screen time” is now synonymous with “work time” perhaps you should ensure you set clear boundaries that not only you, but your colleagues should respect. Below are some suggestions for times you should designate as screen-free family times:
- School pick-ups and drop-offs. Use this transitional moment for quality conversation and engagement.
- The first 1 hour+ after coming home from work. Use this time to reconnect with family.
- Mealtimes, both at home and dining out. Sit around a table and lock your devices away.
- Outings such as trips to the zoo, or to the park. Anytime in which focus should be on the family.
Learn when you really need to be plugged in
This is an underrated skill. We often feel like having a phone on us at all times is necessary. What if there’s an emergency, or an urgent message to respond to? What if there’s an email that requires our immediate response? The truth is that we live in a hyper-accelerated reality, but most messages can and should wait. When you’re with your family, they should be your priority, so treat your phone and screen accordingly.
Use Media the same way you want your child to
It’s not our job to lecture parents about oversharing on social media, or using tech at inappropriate moments, such as texting while driving, but beware that the way you use technology, and the sort of content you share, is likely going to be the way your children will share content and use their devices too. When it comes to kids, a “practice what you preach” attitude will get you way further than a “do as I say, not as I do” one. There are times you should be present, and times you should be on call. Show them the difference, and lead by example.
Rule #3 - Make tech a family discussion
Most families have discussions about important topics, and make important decisions together, especially on subject matters that will affect family members on a day-to-day basis, for example on holiday destinations or house routines. Making decisions on technology use should be no different. Whatever you plan, do it together and align expectations.
Set some clear family rules
According to Dr.Lasser, children should not just be handed limits for screen time, but should also be given the space to learn about how to self-regulate and recognise when technology is interfering with the rest of their lives. If you involve them in setting limits which they can agree to, they are most likely to observe them and less likely to fight them when imposed. A super handy tool for this is the family media use plan you can find at the American Academy of Pediatrics’ website.
Be part of your child’s screen time
Curbing screen time isn’t always easy, but a little hack you can use as a parent is to get involved in their screen time, and watching videos alongside of them, or playing on an app together offers several benefits:
- You can assess the type of content your child is consuming, and show them how you interact with it.
- You’ll bond through the shared experience of navigating technology together.
- If your child is ahead of you in her tech expertise, they get a confidence boost by teaching you something.
- Equally, it’s good for you to know what they know, and keep up with their progress.
Adapt rules for each child
No two children are the same, and often what works for one of your children will not necessarily work for your other ones. Different ages and personalities need different approaches. An 11 year old might be old enough to avoid and reject inappropriate content, but your 7 year old may not be. Age groups don’t offer hard guidelines either, as a child’s attitude towards technology is more likely to be affected by their peers and by yourself as a parent, than their “age”. Think about technology as a roadmap you guide your children through, and take it back to our first rule. You will know what feels right.
Technology is moving super fast. It’s hard to keep up, but your ultimate goal is not to police and intervene in all of your kids' online dealings, your ultimate goal is to equip them with the tools and common sense required to regulate themselves. The tools at your disposal as a parent are many, but in the end, nothing beats talking to your children, educating them, and developing a close relationship with them. Be safe!