Unhooking from tech is a bit of a theme this summer for Faith Today. Our July/Aug issue features a how-to article on just that topic. Now, our guest blogger offers 10 solid tips for loosening technology’s hold on your child during the warm, summer months.
By Gregory Jantz
It is summer vacation and your kids have a lot of free time at home. Keeping them occupied can be a daunting task, but it is important to not throw them in front of a TV. The unhealthy relationship children can develop with technology is a mounting epidemic with uncharted consequences.
Here are 10 ways to balance your children’s technology use:
- Talk to your family about tech pros and cons
While your children will likely be resistant to a conversation that suggests limiting their tech usage, you are best served bringing it up within the context of your tech usage as a family.
Explain to them that as grateful as you are for all the ways technology helps improve your lives, you want to look closely at your tech usage to be sure there is a healthy balance of activities.
As a family, brainstorm a list of pros and cons. Discuss all the ways technology helps improve your lives—like providing information, connecting you with friends, and providing services of convenience. Also talk about all the ways it can threaten your quality of life—like distracting from homework, making you tired, taking time away from family and friends.
- Encourage and support hobbies/sports
The more you get your kids involved and active, the less time they have to be bored. The less time they have to be bored, the less time they have to spend on their cell phone or playing video games. Sports teams/clubs offer your children many benefits in all aspects of their lives. One of the most important benefits is providing them with an opportunity to create real relationships —in person, and not through their cell phone screens.
- Schedule weekly outdoor activities
It is important to schedule time for your kids to be outdoors, whether this be planting a garden, or going on a hike in the park. Playing outside is important for your child’s development, both physically and mentally. It also gives them an appreciation for nature and stimulates their curiosity.
- Make a point to have tech-free family meals
There are tremendous benefits of having family meals—especially the opportunity to communicate with one another. It is a time to engage, reflect, learn, and connect. But this type of meaningful communication cannot happen when everyone has their phones out texting. Make it a point to remove the phones from the dinner table—friends and work can wait.
- Keep tech out of the bedroom
If you haven’t already, prohibit the use of technology in your kids’ bedrooms. This means no TV, no computer, and no smartphone. They won’t be happy about this, but explain to them that this will give them an opportunity to use their bedroom as it’s intended—to rest and recharge.
- Say no to new tech toys
Parents inevitably feel the pressure to give their kids the latest and greatest of everything, particularly the newest tech devices. Resist at all cost! Your child does not need a new smartphone every time a new version comes out.
An upgrade is perfectly fine now and then, but wait until the waning performance of the existing device actually warrants a new purchase. In this manner, you can teach your children how to appreciate what they have, how to wait patiently for what they want, and how to be a responsible consumer who doesn’t perpetuate society’s increasing “throw-away” mentality.
- Hold off on a cell phone
The sooner you allow your son or daughter a constant tech companion, the sooner you introduce the possibility of technology dependence. Try and protect your son or daughter from the tether of tech addiction as long as you possibly can, at least until they start middle school.
- Know which friends encourage unhealthy use
Make sure you are aware of your child’s friend’s technology usage. If you are sending your child to a friend’s house to play, does this mean they play video games the entire day? Communication with parents about their house rules is perfectly acceptable before sending your child to a friend’s home. If they are able to act and do whatever they’d like, you may find disciplining your child to be more challenging.
- Assess and monitor their tech activity
Play your kids’ video games. Watch their television programs. Visit the websites they frequently use. Read their texts, emails, and posts to their social media pages. This need not be done in secret. Let your son or daughter know it is a privilege to use the tech devices with which you provide, and it is your right to monitor their activities.
The more accustomed they become to tech “independence,” the harder they’ll fight you on this. Don’t give in. It is your right, as a parent, to do this. And there are plenty of computer monitoring programs and apps to help you do just that.
- Set up consequences for violations of tech rules
Your son or daughter is going to make mistakes, like sneaking extra tech time or using inappropriate language in texts, emails, or social media posts. So before you initiate tech limitations, set up a clear set of consequences should these rules be violated. The most effective consequences are those in which you confiscate the device for a specific about of time.
Gregory Jantz is founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE and author of 29 books, including his latest: Raising Boys by Design: What the Bible and Brain Science Reveal About What Your son Needs to Thrive.