Parents worldwide struggle with how much screen time to allow children. To hit this ever-moving target, I have found questions to ponder more helpful than rules to follow. Here is a list of ones I hope will be useful for your family to discuss together.
10 Questions to Guide Your Family's Technology Usage
#10 How are we leveraging technology?
Technology is a force multiplier. Whatever you strive to do, you can do it faster, better and cheaper with technology. By evaluating your use of technology through the lens of leverage, your family can become more purposeful about its use. If a technology is not generating leverage, question whether you should be using it.
#9 What's our use of technology?
Not all screen time is created equal. Most people treat all screen time as the same when its uses are actually quite varied:
CREATIONAL is when you
1) create something you are envisioning or
2) cultivate skills to enable your vision
FUNCTIONAL is where you typically spend the most time when you
1) connect with friends,
2) communicate with the world or
3) carry out research or tasks
RECREATIONAL is probably the most controversial and includes when you
1) consume media, apps, games, etc...
2) (de)compress -- it is basically consumption with a relaxation goal
Creational is the best way to prepare your kids for the future. Brainstorm how to do more of it!
#8 How am I fostering the use of creational technology?
Culture is more powerful than specific interventions. 15 minutes of night-time reading to your child doesn't compare to a house full of books, discussion of new books and authors, fluency using literary terminology, book clubs and regular family reading times.
Similarly, don't just buy technology for children to use. Immerse them and your family in the broader technology culture. Analyze trends and the impact technology is having on the world. Discuss ideas from thought leaders, meet like-minded folk, and create things using technology as a regular part of life.
#7 Is our technology use building or hurting relationships?
Teach kids that their network is their safety net and their ladder. While Facebook and Instagram occasionally get a bad rap, recognize that relationships and networks are critical to future success. When using social media, encourage them to think beyond themselves: "How is what I'm doing likely to create enjoyment or suffering for those around me?" They should pay special attention to how they might be triggering or encouraging cyberbullying.
#6 Are we collaborating on our use of and approach to technology?
Your character is who you are when no one is looking. Households with strict controls of technology in their home have a couple of challenges:
1. Teenagers have the will and resourcefulness to evade parental authority. I have heard of teens putting second "stand-in" phones outside their rooms at night or logging onto a neighbor's wifi.
2. Children enjoy life more with fully developed self-regulation skills. How are they going to learn to manage their technology if mom and dad are always doing it for them? Collaborate with them on general principles. If the kids feel like they need a rule, then have them come up with it. The cliché "people support what they help build" is both true and self-regulation building.
#5 Are we cultivating mindfulness about the use of technology?
Accept what's natural. Work towards what's desirable. Combine mindfulness of their current emotions and needs with self-awareness of their desired values and goals. With these anchoring points, talk about current choices they face and how each option relates to the person they aspire to be.
Minimize stigmatization of your child's feelings and needs. Of course, validating emotions and feelings doesn't mean permissiveness, but anonymous websites such as whisper and ask.fm thrive upon students who feel judged.
#4 When is privacy appropriate?
Sunshine is the best disinfectant. While everyone respects the privacy of a child's journal, we also agree a child cocooned in their room doing something illegal is unacceptable. Your family will have to delineate for itself the space between these two extremes. In general, however, increase privacy as children get older.
A sound bite my son approves is to "Be mindful that if you're hiding your screen, it's likely you're doing something that's inconsistent with who you're trying to be."
Germs die when exposed to sunlight, so do inappropriate activities.
#3. Is our use of technology a privilege, entitlement or responsibility?
All privileges come with responsibilities. This guideline gives your family a mutual framework for evaluating a child's use of technology. While there is some technology to which they are entitled for schoolwork, most technology use is a privilege. If the responsibilities for a given privilege are too onerous, parents can take away the privilege or as I like to say "help you simplify your life."
# 2: Are we modeling a growth mindset towards technology?
You can do it! Many parents wonder "How do I teach children to be technical when I am not technical?" -- like illiterate parents wanting their children to be literate. The good news is that technical literacy is becoming more and more democratized. Check out code.org or Codecademy for programming, DIY.org for making, Stanford's D.School to learn design thinking, the list goes on.
#1. Are we modeling technology usage?
Be the person you want you children to be ... at least until they go to bed.
Are you present when you are with your children, or are you checking email all the time? How much recreational technology are you using? Model the usage you want to see in your children as well as the ratios between creational, functional and recreational technology that you want for your children.
One final thought... as we cross these primal rubicons of technology usage together, hand-in-hand, guided by nothing more than reason, intuition and good intentions, let's support each other as fellow sojourners on the edge of civilization and cut ourselves some slack!
Let me know in the comments below if you would like further elaboration on any question or if you have a good one you use in your household. Here is a slideshow version as well.
You can follow him on Twitter here.Follow Dion Lim on Twitter: www.twitter.com/DionLim