American families share real-life strategies for managing tech use at home

girls on computer
CC BY 2.0 TJ DeGroat

And they're surprisingly strict!

That kids should not spend prolonged periods of time on handheld devices is now common knowledge, regardless of whether or not we like those findings. Studies are accumulating that show the negative effects of smartphones, tablets, and computers on children’s academic performance, emotional development, sleep patterns, and family relationships. These devices, however, remain an integral part of modern life, which means that a balance must be struck between managing their use and operating normally within society.

So what’s a family supposed to do?

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the creation of a Family Media Use Plan, but the very fact that a plan is entirely subjective and meant to reflect a family’s needs and wishes makes it confusing, foreign territory to navigate.

Bruce Feiler, author of The Secrets of Happy Families and parent of adolescents, wrote an interesting article for the New York Times called “When tech is a problem child.” In it he explores real-life strategies being implemented by American families for navigating the tricky world of tech use and parenting. He writes:

“For the last six weeks, I’ve circulated (on social media!) 20 questions covering topics like homework, passwords, bedtime and punishments. I received responses from more than 60 families, and though the survey was unscientific, the answers have already changed how we manage tech at my house.”

Interestingly, the responses Feiler describes show that parents are cracking down and laying down firm rules. It seems the message that too much tech is a bad thing is getting through.

For example, the consensus seems to be that parents should wait as long as possible to give their kid a phone. Some even say to wait till 16, since the time frame for the worst bullying tends to be between ages 9 and 15. Other families allow only one social media platform, i.e. Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook, but not all at once.

Most parents do not allow technology in bedrooms; phones must be charged in a public place, like the kitchen, or handed over a half hour before bedtime. Many parents conduct random audits on their kid’s phone, insisting that they have access to all passwords until the age of majority. They resort to innovative ways to restrict use, including turning off the WiFi every night at a set hour or having poor reception.

Many parents insist that technology not be allowed to disturb family time, whether that means no devices at the table, mandated family time for games and other activities, or ‘public humiliation’:

“If a device is picked up during family time, we get to open texts, and my husband and I do dramatic text reading.”

Punishments exist in various forms. Phones can end up in “jail” if rules are disregarded. Some kids are expected to do multi-week tech detoxes in the summer, or pay the surplus charges on their phone bill. Other kids are entirely responsible for their own phone costs, which means they need to be old enough to afford it.

Not only do these helpful responses reassure concerned parents that everyone is dealing with the same issues, but they provide practical solutions and downright good ideas that are easy to implement.

If this is something that you have navigated as a parent, then which solutions have been more effective for your family?

Tags: Cell Phones | Kids | Technology

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