Parents and kids today are experiencing chronic emotional overwhelm at the hands of information overload. Worried about what’s best for our children, many parents have a love-hate relationship with modern technology.
We feel this essential tension between “Technology is so important; I don’t want my child left behind” and “Technology is invading our lives; I don’t want my child addicted to all these digital devices.”
So much of this seems beyond our control. We can’t keep up with the rapidly and ever-changing digital landscape – new devices, programs, apps, social media platforms. We can’t remember half of our own passwords, yet we’re supposed to keep track of our children’s passwords and monitor their usage and make sure they don’t get into any trouble.
The trouble is, they are always two steps ahead of us in knowing where to go, and how to get there, online. We don’t even know what we don’t know! It can be so confusing – and exhausting.
So what can we control? What can we do? Don’t despair – there is a way through this craziness.
Here are 5 ways to develop healthy digital habits in our children and ourselves.
- Set Clear Intentions. Let’s be intentional about our goals for our children, and then intentionally live a lifestyle that supports those goals. We all want our children to be healthy and happy. And that usually means finding meaningful, loving connections in our relationships with family, friends, and community. So, let’s pause to consider, how is this digital device, this digital activity, contributing to my child’s health and happiness right now – or not.
We’re not talking totally forbidden fruit, here. We’re talking about having a mindful relationship with technology – one that helps us live with more ease, not dis-ease. Be honest with yourself about this, and with your children. Let your kids know you care enough to be thoughtful about how you use technology in your family.
- Make Conscious Choices. With conscious use, digital technology can return to its rightful place as a useful tool, not an insidious task-master. Make purposeful choices about when your child can turn on a device, what they can see and do there, and when they need to turn it off. Turn off “Notifications” and “AutoPlay” wherever possible – to prevent the device from contacting and controlling you, instead of the other way around.
When using a device, teach your child how to “Pause, Reflect, and Respond” – rather than impulsively reacting and mindlessly multi-tasking. Literally teach them how to pause and breathe, before clicking or sending.
- Maintain a Balanced Digital Diet. There’s nothing wrong with a cupcake. Unless you eat 12 of them every day. There’s nothing wrong with a video game or youtube video or a friendly snapchat – unless your child is consuming dozens of them, hours of them, daily. Sadly, this is often the case.
Be clear about setting limits on total screen time for your kids every day: 1-2 hours is ideal, 3-4 may be realistic, 5 or more is toxic. But we can’t just set limits.
We must be able to monitor and enforce them. Otherwise, you’re not only allowing your kids to develop unhealthy habits – you’re teaching them that you don’t mean what you say. So be realistic. Set standards for “Time and Place” – when and where they’re allowed to be on devices, when and where they’re not. Also set standards for the quality of use – what they’re allowed to view or do, and what they’re not.
- Actively Participate in Your Child’s Life – Both Online and Off. If we’re going to intelligently enforce appropriate digital activities, that means we need to engage with our kids on these devices. Get in there and check it out! Don’t just talk to your kids about this; we need to talk and play with our kids in the digital world. Show interest, caring, and concern. Look, listen, and let them teach you things online. Then you can better share your values and teach them how to make healthy, safer choices online.
And be sure to provide alternative activities for when your kids are not on their devices. Some combination of both online and offline time, of both structured and unstructured activities, of family time and friend time and quiet solo time, of work time and play time – all are important to round out a healthy social diet for our children. Be sure to set some Time and Place for each of these components in your child’s day, or week, in whatever way works best for your family.
- Enforce Digital Curfews. One of the most important things you can do, especially for tweens and teens, is make sure you enforce clear digital curfews. You wouldn’t let your middle-schooler stay out with friends until after midnight on a school night, would you? Yet if the digital devices are in the bedroom at night with your child, odds are that is happening WAY more than you imagine. Trust me, I talk to kids all day long for a living. You’d be amazed, and not too happy, at what’s going on behind closed doors. Plus, this is not helping the epidemic of sleep disorders in kids today, either.
Do yourself and them a favor – make sure all devices (phones, tablets, computers) are charging overnight in YOUR bedroom (or kitchen, etc.), not theirs. Set “Visiting Hours” for digital devices in your home. Have “Digital-Free Zones” and times. Do this when your children are young and maintain it all the way until the day they leave your home.
Practicing these healthy digital habits will go a long way towards helping us all restore sanity to humanity – one child at a time.
Peter Montminy, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist, mindfulness teacher, loving husband and dad. He invites you to join in an ongoing conversation that seeks to restore sanity to humanity – one child at a time. Join us at www.AMindfulVillage.com.