Here at Nerdy Dads we talk a lot about technology and kids. Many articles focus on how to introduce children to technology and ensure they practice safe online behaviors. It’s also important for us to speak directly to fellow dads. Just like we want our kids to be responsible with tech, so they also want us to follow our own advice. Parenting in the digital age can be tough. To help us all stay on track I’ve put together a quick guide on how to prevent technology from getting In the way of parenting.
Why It’s Important To Take Control of Your Tech Usage
Kids, especially young children, learn by looking at the world around them. Yes, we can tell them all sorts of facts and ensure they know about safe tech usage. However, children will imitate those they see as authority figures (e.g. parents). If we set bad examples our children will follow our lead. This is dangerous as technology addiction is a real thing. Any addiction has negative consequences and tech is no different. From reduced empathy to increased bullying and a lack of emotional skills tech addiction cannot be written off as less than other bad habits, such as substance abuse.
Many parents take steps to keep their kids safe and healthy. From setting screen time limits to using parental controls for apps and games many parents attempt to set and enforce meaningful technology rules for the household.
The issues arise when our actions and words don’t match. We tell our kids not to stare at a Twitter feed for hours. Then they ask us a question later in the day only to find us absorbed in our favorite sub-Reddit or answering work emails. Being resourceful the child might turn to an always-on source of information: the internet.
Kids feel neglected, parents miss out on parenting opportunities, and we are all the worse off.
How Technology Hooks Us
No parent I’ve encountered set out to consciously place a device above their children. Almost everyone I know would say their children are their top priority. Again, however I come back to my favorite saying:
Actions speak louder than words
Technology has a few holds on us. Understanding our own particular area of weakness is the only way to improve. Some of my areas for improvement are as follows.
That email notification goes off and it’s a knee-jerk reaction that I must check my phone. It’s a struggle to find that right work-life balance when it seems like everyone else is always online. I won’t claim this is easy to remedy and it takes some part self-control and discipline and a supportive work environment.
An Escape Method
Life gets stressful. This shouldn’t be news to any reader here. However, we can’t use technology as an escape pod. It’s nice to stay connected to the outside world since life changes drastically once you’re a parent. We must remember that parenting is it’s own adventure. Sure your childless friends seem to be having a great time on Instagram, but let’s not spend hours looking through their photos and focus on making our own memories.
Let’s also remember that Big Tech and social media want our attention. That is how they monetize the services they offer. We must be extra careful not to fall into their trap of keeping our attention for hours on end. Setting a timer to pull you out of scrolling is one method I’ve used before. The buzzer goes off and the phone goes back in the pocket.
Prevent Technology From Getting In The Way Of Parenting
One of the worst outcomes of tech addiction is that we mistakenly send the message to our kids that we are disconnected. This may result in children acting out to seek our attention. Parents snap back at the bad behavior and viscous cycle ensues. We also lose out on amazing conversation opportunities. When the phone is out conversation halts. We’ve all seen those people in restaurants where everyone has their phone out and the only spoken word is to the waiter.
To prevent technology from getting in the way of parenting we need to set and enforce some rules for ourselves.
So here is the Nerdy Dads tech rules for other dads.
I get that many of us are working from home and not all of us have an extra room for an office. So set boundaries on when you can use tech and when you can’t. A great start would be committing to not using any technology at the table. When it’s time to eat phones are put on silent and the TV is turned off. Use the time to reconnect and ask about everyone’s day.
To change any bad habit, technology related or otherwise, we have to ask the tough questions. It won’t be fun, but it is necessary if we want meaningful change. Reflect on how often you check your phone. If the behavior is excessive then you now know where you can improve. Maybe you spend all your family time recording your kids then adding filters for Instagram. It’s nice to share your kid’s adventures, but remember to put down the phone and be a part of the adventure.
We’ve written before about using parenting apps to track your kids location and online behavior. I’d also recommend using a parent tracking app. Various apps exist that will track your time and show where you spend too much time. This gives you actionable data on where you can improve. Install an app for you and your spouse then see where you can both get better. You don’t have to wait until January 1 to start work on a good habit.
Know What Causes You Stress
You’ve heard of stress eating, right? We get stressed and that ice cream/donuts/buffet provide us comfort. Devices can be a similar activity we turn to when stressed. However, tech might actually make us more stressed. Think about what happens when you read an inflammatory article or receive a bad work email. You’re in a bad mood and that impacts the entire family. Identify what causes you stress and how to better manage your reaction. Maybe rather than turning to your phone to relax you go for a walk or play with your kids for a few minutes.
Get Your Kids Involved
Becoming a parent doesn’t mean everything you enjoyed must stop. Rather, it’s an opportunity to share your passions with your kids. Love gaming? Me too! That’s why I invite my kids to play with me on age appropriate games. Include your kids in gaming or any of your hobbies and you both then having something bond over and enjoy.
I work in technology and I love it. Ever since I saw my first computer I’ve never wanted to do anything else for work. The one thing I love more though is my family. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m guilty of endless scrolling and checking work emails at dinner. Still human after all. However, I still set boundaries and rely on my family to keep me in check if I start to stray. It’s important that I prevent technology from getting in the way of parenting since I am one of only two parents my kids will ever have. We can all do better and we should. Life is too short to spend hunched over a tiny screen.