Parenting in the Digital Age: How To Teach Our Kids Healthy Tech Habits
Why it’s so important for parents to model responsible digital behavior
Parenting in the digital age means spending a good deal of time battling with our kids over screen use. We set time limits, vet apps, monitor locations, try to enforce screen-free zones, and generally stress out over how much time our children devote to their beloved devices.
And yet, while we expend so much energy trying to ensure that our children have a healthy online/offline balance, most of us don’t apply that same vigor to monitoring our own time online. As it turns out, our children notice this paradox, and eventually – no matter how much we preach – our actions speak louder than our words.
Like everything else in parenting, our kids pick up on our behaviors and ultimately end up mimicking many of them. So taking time to think about the habits we model around our phone and computer use is worthwhile.
Here are 5 ways in which parents can modify their own practices to help their kids develop healthy tech habits for themselves:
Focus on the people we’re with
One of the most troubling side effects of mobile technology is how it affects our ability to be present and focused on the people who are sitting right in front of us. We are all guilty of picking up the phone in response to a text or notification even when we are in the middle of a real-life hangout. This is particularly problematic when it comes to our kids.
No kid wants to feel like they are competing with a phone for our attention and yet when we keep our phones on us at all times, we end up picking them up more frequently – even in the middle of spending quality time with our family.
A great fix for this – have a location in your house where you can store your phone (a basket, charging dock, drawer) when you’re not using it. Anytime you’re engaging with the kids through play or conversation, put the phone away and turn down the volume so you can be fully present with your child. In this way, you are modeling respectful and healthy social interactions.
In a world in which we are constantly being bombarded by external stimuli and pulled in different directions by our technology, the family meal can become a refuge.
Make screen-free meals a rule
Many studies show the detrimental effect of eating in front of a screen. When we eat in front of a device (tv, phone, tablet, computer), we eat less mindfully, leading to overeating and a lack of enjoyment around food. But when it comes to leading by example, the family meal is the one to focus on.
Family meals have always been a time for everyone to come together from their disparate activities to pause, commune, and connect. In a world in which we are constantly being bombarded by external stimuli and pulled in different directions by our technology, the family meal can become a refuge.
Making screen-free family meals a priority shows our children that meals with family or friends are a place where they can take a break from the rest of the world and connect with the people in their immediate environment – a habit that will serve their mental and physical health as they grow.
Keep the phones outside the bedroom at night
While you may know that allowing your child to keep their phone or tablet in their room overnight is a ‘no no’, chances are you don’t apply the same rules for yourself. Many different studies have linked sleeping with a phone to trouble falling asleep as well as interruptions during the night. The blue light emitted from our phones disrupts the production of melatonin, a hormone that controls our sleep/wake cycles. In addition, overstimulation from content and the fear of missing important information if we don’t continually check, wreak havoc on our sleep.
Unfortunately, tweens and teens are at particular risk when it comes to phone induced sleep disruptions. Few things are more important for our children’s healthy development than sleep.
Taking our phones out of the bedroom at night is one way in which our modeling can have immediate health benefits for our kids. One way to help your kids get into a good bedtime routine with their screens is to practice a nightly ritual of putting the whole family’s phones away at the same time in the same place. And to be extra sure that no one is trying to sneak in extra phone time during the night, parents can also set up recurring Freedom sessions to block access to the internet at a certain time each night.
Let’s show our kids the value of closing the laptop or putting down the phone and reconnecting with our bodies on a regular basis.
Make time to move
Let’s face it, humans were not meant to be sitting on our bums in front of devices all day. Yet, since 1950 there has been an 83% increase in sedentary jobs, says the American Heart Association. As you can imagine this is not doing us any favors in the health department. It is crucial then, that we model the practices of standing up, moving around, stretching, taking walks, or other exercises throughout the day.
Too many hours spent staring at a screen without moving has a very real impact on our physical and emotional health and those impacts are even greater for kids’ developing bodies. So let’s show our kids the value of closing the laptop or putting down the phone and reconnecting with our bodies on a regular basis.
Stay mindful of where your attention goes
One of the biggest challenges we face in the digital age is the battle for our attention. Ads, notifications, the lure of mindless distraction all add up to hours of giving our attention away to things we just don’t care about.
Luckily there are ways to help ourselves stay mindful of these alluring diversions. Most phones come with the ability to set time limits on apps and offer up a “screentime” report so that we can see where our focus is going. For kids whose frontal lobe is not fully developed, it is especially difficult to stay on task. A few ways we can model best practices here are by:
- Using distraction blocking apps like Freedom and browser extensions like Pause, Limit, Insight, and Focus, which give users greater control over time management and insight into their habits.
- Turning off notifications for non-essential apps like news, social media, and shopping apps
- Mindfully creating time limits for our biggest time-waster apps – eg. 30 minutes of social media per day instead of endless hours of mindless scrolling
No child wants to feel like they are competing with a phone for our attention.
The goal is to show kids the importance of taking back control of our attention – after all, it is one of our most precious commodities.
Never forget our children are watching us. We are our kids’ first (and most important) role models. The great news is that by modeling the healthy behavior we’d like them to adopt, we better our own relationship to technology – win-win!
Hear Julia Storm on the Freedom Matters Podcast:
Freedom can help your family use tech more mindfully.
Read our Freedom for Families Set-Up Guide to get started!
Julia Storm is a Los Angeles-based Digital Media Wellness Educator, writer, speaker, and founder of ReConnect, where she provides parents with a whole family approach to preparing kids for life in the Digital Age.