Time for some truth, folks. Being a parent is tough and that is doubly true now that everyone is working and schooling from home. Setting meaningful technology rules the entire family can agree to may seem like an insurmountable challenge. However, it’s possible to set rules everyone can follow.
If you feel like technology is taking over your family life keep reading as I discuss why technology rules are important. I’ll then dive into a few rules we’ve set around the house and why they are important.
Why Are Technology Rules Important?
Before we decide to make rules let’s discuss why we even need them. As parents we can fall into the trap of saying one thing and doing another. Kids go by what they see and the actions we take say more than any words we use. It might be frustrating, but kids will absolutely do as we do and not as we say. That’s really isn’t so bad as we can adjust our own behavior and discover we might have some bad habits lurking.
An issue I dealt with was phone time. I love Twitter. Give me the opportunity and I can and will scroll half the day away. When my kids see this they naturally think it’s acceptable. Not only is this a terrible waste of time, but it’s also not healthy. If I want my kids to practice healthy screen time habits I need to set a good example. I adjusted my behavior so I have less Twitter time and my kids have picked up that my actions now reflect my words.
Meaningful Technology Rules For Your Entire Family
Privilege != Right
Yes, technology is essential to many of today’s activities. I wouldn’t advise removing all tech in the house so that your kids can’t attend classes. However, outside of essentials, such as school and work, technology is a privilege. Tablets, gaming systems, TVs and such are not essential to life and are a right. It’s important to teach kids the difference.
An approach I like is likening technology use to going to a carnival or a friend’s house. The expectation should be that it won’t happen. If behavior, grades, and obligations exceed the parent’s expectations then the child has earned the reward. However, it isn’t an automatic given that permission will be granted and the parents can always revoke said permission without notice or reason. Yea, I know that sounds almost too lawyer-ish.
People > Technology
It’s amazing that this has to be said, but people are more important than technology. I feel that all of us, kids and adults, forget that a real human is on the other side of the screen. Too often we get absorbed in what we are doing and might say or do something that hurts someone in real life.
This could be as innocent as not hearing a parent or child asking a question because we want to see what happens next in Cobra Kai. This can also be much more damaging, such as when people use social media to verbally assault others. Neither is acceptable and parents must set an example that that style of behavior won’t be tolerated.
Fool Me Once, Fool Me Twice
I advocate for trust until I have a reason not to trust someone. No child needs to have TVs, games, laptops and other devices in their room. However, I understand that privacy is important. It’s nice to be able to talk with friends and make jokes. Where I draw the line is when behavior is dangerous and rules aren’t followed.
I’ve taken time to teach my kids about staying safe online. From using strong passwords to never giving out personal information. I’ll allow phones and laptops to be used in a bedroom, but that is done for the first sign of trouble. That includes staying up until all hours of the morning texting.
Tech in the bedroom is really a personal choice. Discuss your opinions with your partner and make a decision that is right for you and your family. Your child’s past behavior and your level of trust with them will really drive this decision.
You Break, You Buy
I once saw an excellent sign in an antique shop:
You break, you buy. I break, I cry
The idea was essentially that if you break it then you pay for whatever you broke. Kids sometimes looks to us and think we are the First Bank of Mom and Dad. I wish I was a bank because that would be awesome. Alas, like many of you I have to work for a living. Buying new devices because someone was careless isn’t fun. I also shouldn’t have to do it.
My philosophy has been that I’ll buy the first device, such as a phone. If the device breaks due to my child’s negligence they get to help pay for the replacement. If you’re old enough for a phone then you have to be old enough for the responsibility that comes with owning a device.
This has met with resistance since it, and I quote, “just isn’t fair”. I wholeheartedly agree! It isn’t fair that I work and buy something. The device is broken out of misuse and I have to foot the bill for another item. Requiring that your child share in the replacement cost can help reinforce the value of a dollar and lead to better device care in the future.
Real World First
The last in my list of meaningful technology rules is that the real world comes first. What I mean by this is that if our family has the opportunity to do something outdoors we will. Tech is entertaining, but we cannot become so absorbed that we forget to appreciate this huge world.
I have a few strategies for this rule. First is that when we go hiking as a family the parents carry phones, but not the kids. Then the parents only use the phones for an emergency or a group photo. We aren’t looking at online reviews or texting friends. We take in the good ‘ol outdoors and encourage our kids to learn to appreciate it as much as we do.
No phones during meal time is another hard rule. People fly about the day and barely have time to relax. Meal time is when we can connect and speak as a family and discuss the day. It’s important to me and serves as a chance to make sure everyone is as happy and healthy as they can be.
Setting meaningful technology rules can be a challenge. Enforcing them can be even more so since you might have to change some of your bad behaviors. However, it’s something I highly encourage my fellow dads to do. Humans invented technology and, for now at least, we control it. So teach your kids that tech is useful, but not the sole purpose of life. Proper rules and boundaries ensure a healthy mix of on and off time.