11/13/2013 03:39 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Putting Technology in Its Place

My teens are obsessed with their smartphones -- help!

How much TV is too much TV? I worry it's ruining my toddler's growing brain, but it's such a great way for me to get a break.

I love feeling connected to my friends and family through social media, but I'm worried that it takes away time with my children.

These are just a few of the comments, questions and concerns I hear from parents, and I understand why. We live in an amazing time with so much connectivity available right at our fingertips. Our electronic gadgets are fun tools that bring a lot of ease and efficiency into our modern lives. But technology needs to be navigated so that it's in its rightful place -- in service to the real and rich experiences of living our best lives, and not in a way that draws us away from nature, human interaction or the fleeting moments of family life.

So what is a parent to do? How can families navigate this relatively new, technology-enriched world of computers, smart phones, tablets and more?

Let's face it. Technology isn't going anywhere, and it's only going to become more robust in our ever-changing world over time. In the context of human history, it is a profoundly new addition to the human experience -- we did not evolve as a species with this sort of technology. For all but 50 years, humans existed without interactive, illuminated screens. This is all very new, and we don't yet fully understand the long-term effects of screens and technology.

I work with many parents who would like to be handed a set of guidelines that says "This is enough screen time, and this is too much." However, there are no set rules. You, as a parent, need to decide what is right for you and your growing children. You get to set and maintain your own boundaries.

How do you do that? First, it's a matter of gaining clarity of your own use of technology. Ask yourself:

- On a typical day, what are my habits around screens and technology?
- How does technology serve me?
- How does technology limit me?
- How do I know when it's been too much? Do I feel it in my body? Does my mood change?

Next, ask yourself these questions about your children:

- How does technology fit into their lives now?
- How does each child react when he or she has had too much?
- What is the underlying desire for the technology they crave? Is it the screen they want, or are they just into the games and stories presented on them? And if it's the latter, are there other ways for them to access those games and stories with board games or audio books?

Once you've answered some of these questions, you can create guidelines and start experimenting with ones that are aligned with your family's values. You get to communicate those values not only through what you say, but most importantly, through what you do.

Here are five examples of guidelines you might set and play around with as a family:

1. No screen time for anyone (including parents) between dinner and bedtime Monday through Thursday;
2. One screen-free day each week or month;
3. A movie night where you sit down as a family to watch something together;
4. No more than an hour of screen time each day for each child; and
5. Have a weekly family discussion of what you are doing on your gadgets.

These are just a few of the ways you can put technology in its proper place. Remember, it's not about what is "right or wrong," it's about finding ways to make technology serve as a tool for living a healthy, happy life for you and your family.