Our kids grow up in a digital world. They don't remember a time without the internet or watching their favourite character on Youtube. Parents on the other hand do. We battle between "back in the day when there were no screens" and our own obsession with technology and digital social interaction. As parents we want our children to have a healthy and positive relationship with technology, however are you leading by example?
If kids could make the rules on how parent's should use technology, what would they say?
A recent research study conducted by the University of Washington got me thinking about my own use of technology and the impact thereof on my family life and children. What would my kids rules be for me regarding my use of tech?
The research surveyed both parents and children, asking questions regarding rules of technology use for each. The results showed many overlapping rules, in two main categories - activity (when tech is used) and content (what information is consumed) constraints.
Parents were mostly concerned about online safety, restricting the amount of tech use and the ability to audit or monitor their children's use of technology. Children on the other hand were mostly concerned about oversharing online and considerate use of tech (for example not when driving). However both groups reflected on "being present" as an important rule for adults and children.
According to the study, "Be Present" is refraining from using technology in a particular social context. For example, no devices during family dinners or putting away your phone when your child is sharing important news.
Everyone has finished eating, bar one child insisting on eating one pea at a time. Your phone goes off, and you want to check the message (it's really boring watching a child eat like a snail) but the RULE!
Here's a good one - you're having a fantastic family discussion which brings up a question only Google can answer. Do you reach for your phone? The rules states no phones at mealtimes.
What Happens in my Home?
The above happens all the time in our family. And yes, we have a suggestion to put our devices away for mealtimes, sometimes a device can improve our family time. Technology is meant to help us, and if we make it the enemy in family life, we are not helping our children to form healthy habits for their future.
The research revealed nearly 20% of children didn't want their parents to share information about them online, without their explicit permission. The average age of children were 13.3 years.
We have a teen and young (under 7 year) children in our family and have different "sharing rules" for each child. As per request from our teen, we never share anything without asking. However we do share content about our younger children - mainly for the benefit of our family all over the globe. However it is really worth thinking about what you share online.
Certainly I don't think my now 7 year old would be too pleased if, when he gets his own social media accounts, he finds he already has a full history of his life online courtesy of his parents. Yes sure, your child is super cute, but think of the impact on them of sharing THAT photo.
The children from the study wanted parents to use technology in moderation and balance it with other activities.
What Happens in my Home?
I found myself constantly checking my phone when a notification came in. Last year I decided to switch off all non-important notifications. It's helped create better habits and usage. I no longer reach for the phone for every bleep and I try allocate units of time during the day for checking social media. It also helps me be present with my kids. My phone is not interrupting my family life.
The research discovered kids were keen for parents to also follow the rules they set for children.
Admittedly it is VERY hard not to have your phone next to your bedside, especially as I use mine as my to-do list and managing the family calendar.
I'm convinced starting a new tech rule in your family has two main ingredients - start when the kids are young (they won't think it is a punishment then) and model the rules as parents.
My young kids know, when we say it is bedtime, there are some routine things we do - bath, brush teeth and read a bedtime story. They don't make a fuss, it's the routine. Similarly, charging a phone outside a bedroom can just be part of the routine.
Families will have different bedtime routines, and they will also change as kids become older. For example recently my youngest started reading books on EPIC app, which means the iPad comes up to our bedroom some evenings for bedtime story time.
Tech is not going away, at all. Yes, we can build better habits and make healthier choices. As mentioned previously, parents today are unique from any other generation when it comes to digital parenting. It is a bit of trial and error. What rules would your kids set for your tech use? Ask them.
Source: Family Technology Rules University of Washington
Research: Not at the Dinner Table. For more information, contact Hiniker at firstname.lastname@example.org, Schoenebeck at email@example.com or Kientz at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The research was funded by the National Science Foundation.