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9 Important Technology Rules for Children

Set healthy boundaries around technology for your family.

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We’ve all met a child or teenager that is glued to their smartphone screen and seemingly incapable of connecting with another “real” human. The unhealthy relationship children have with technology is a mounting epidemic with uncharted consequences. These nine steps below will help keep your family balanced amidst this technology-addicted world.

1) Talk to your family about tech pros and cons.

While your children will likely be resistant to a conversation that suggests limiting their tech usage, you are best served bringing it up within the context of your tech usage as a family.

Explain to them that as grateful as you are for all the ways technology helps improve your lives, you want to look closely at your tech usage to be sure there is a healthy balance of things.

As a family, brainstorm a list of pros and cons. All the ways technology helps improve your lives—like providing information, connecting you with friends, and providing services of convenience. And all the ways it can threaten your quality of life—like distracting from homework, making you tired, taking time away from family and friends.

Note: going forward, make it a point of performing the same tech assessments, and subsequent (applicable) limitations, on all members of your family. After all, the vast majority of us would be better off spending less time with technology. Plus, this way your son or daughter won't feel singled out.

2) Assess your son or daughter's tech usage.

Even if you already believe your son or daughter is too dependent on technology, consider the fact that they’re probably using it even more than you know. Spend a week paying attention to how your son or daughter is using technology, including computers, smartphones, video games, and television. Keep a journal to make notes of what they’re using and for how long.

Think beyond the boundaries of your own home. Reach out to their childcare provider, teachers, and parents of their friends. Ask them what technology they are exposed to when they’re with your child, and for how long. And if your son or daughter currently is allowed technology in their bedroom, don't forget to include in your calculation of a guesstimate of how much time they’re on tech devices in the privacy of their room.

Note: it is helpful if you can perform this tech usage assessment on all members of your family so that your son or daughter doesn't feel as though are being singled out.

3) Limit tech time.

Once you have a good idea of just how much time your son or daughter is spending with tech devices, talk to them about limiting the amount of time they will be allowed to use technology going forward. The more control you can give them over their new tech schedule, the more they will welcome the change. For instance, if you want to cut down their overall technology use by 10 hours a week, let them choose the how much time they would like to eliminate from tech device. That said, make sure there is an even distribution of things. For instance, the last thing you want is for them to eliminate time on their computer and smartphone just so they can spend all their tech time playing video games.

4) Keep tech out of the bedroom.

If you haven't already, prohibit the use of technology in their bedroom. This means no TV, no computer, and no smartphone. They won't be happy about this, but explain to them that this will give them an opportunity to use their bedroom as it's intended—to rest and recharge.

5) Monitor their tech activity.

Play their video games. Watch their television programs. Visit the websites they frequent. Read their texts, emails, and posts to their social media pages. This need not be done in secret. Let your son or daughter know that the privilege of using the tech devices you provide them with is your right to monitor their activities. The more accustomed they already are to their tech independence, the harder they'll fight you on this. Don't give in. It is your right, as a parent, to do this. And there are plenty of computer monitoring programs and apps to help you do just that.

6) Hold off on a cell phone.

The sooner you allow your son or daughter a constant tech companion, the sooner you introduce the possibility of technology dependence. Try and protect your son or daughter from the tether of tech addiction as long as you possibly can, at least until they start middle school.

7) Say no to new tech toys.

Parents invariably feel the pressure to give their kids the latest and greatest of everything, particularly the newest tech devices. Resist at all cost! Your child does not need a new smartphone every time a new version comes out. (None of us do.) An upgrade is perfectly fine now and then—in a smartphone, computer, or television, for that matter—but wait until the waning performance of the existing device actually warrants a new purchase. In this manner, you can teach your son or daughter how to appreciate what they have, how to wait patiently for what they want, and how to be a responsible consumer who doesn't perpetuate society's increasingly "throw-away" mentality.

8) Set up consequences for violations of tech rules.

Your son or daughter is going to make mistakes, like sneaking extra tech time or using inappropriate language in texts, emails, or social media posts. So before you initiate tech limitations, set up a clear set of consequences should these rules be violated. The most effective consequences are those in which you confiscate the device for a specified period of time.

9) Revisit the rules now and then.

Finding just the right amount of tech usage requires a learning curve. You may find your initial rules don't do enough, or maybe they do too much. Plus, as your son or daughter grows and changes, so do their habits, interests, and needs. For this reason, it's a good idea to revisit your tech rules now and then; maybe once a month for the first six months, then every three months thereafter. And if you happen to forget, congratulations, as what you're doing is probably working.

Authored by Dr. Gregory Jantz, founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE and author of 28 books. Pioneering whole-person care nearly 30 years ago, Dr. Jantz has dedicated his life’s work to creating possibilities for others, and helping people change their lives for good. The Center • A Place of HOPE, located on the Puget Sound in Edmonds, Washington, creates individualized programs to treat behavioral and mental health issues, including eating disorders, addiction, depression, anxiety and others.

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