Kids and Technology:  4 Ways to Find a Balance


I recently finished reading two books on technology use and parenting.  Technology is a hot-button topic right now, and how to best use it with our kids is a common focus of conversation among my friends.  I was eager to read more about the issue and see what the experts have to say on the matter.  Although I’m fairly tech-savvy, I learned some new information from both books, and both helped me to take a new perspective on technology use in our family.

 

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Once a month, I am going to try to review some parenting or other non-fiction books that I have recently read.  I regularly mix in reading parenting books or other “self-help” books with my pleasure reading, and have found that many of these have been very helpful.  My husband doesn’t usually enjoy reading this type of book, so I share what I learn with him and we discuss how we can implement new ideas into our parenting.

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 The Big Disconnect

The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age by Catherine Steiner-Adair, EdD was my first read.  She took the stance that technology is separating parents from their children and that is hurting many families in today’s world.  She presented the idea of a “sustainable” family, and that it is never too late to reconnect and to start valuing family life over life online.  She encourages parents to set limits for their children with technology, as they should be doing in other areas of their lives as well.  It was a good read, and definitely addresses this issue we are seeing more and more of people who are so attached to their phones that they aren’t attaching and forming healthy relationships with the people in their lives.

Screen-Smart Parenting

The second book I read relating to this topic was Screen-Smart Parenting: How to Find Balance and Benefit in Your Child’s Use of Social Media, Apps, and Digital Devices by Jodi Gold, MD.  She took a much more positive approach to technology in our lives.  She encourages each member of the household (parents and children) to keep a media diary for 3 days (including at least one weekday and one weekend day), and then use that information to really honestly assess how your family is using technology.  She states that the mantra we should keep coming back to when teaching our children about technology is that “technology is a tool.”  She explains that all of us need to find a balance with technology in our own lives, and as we work to find that balance, we will be modeling that on-going struggle for our children (and it won’t always be easy for us or for them).

Gold provides a framework for a “Family Digital Technology Agreement” in the back of her book, which is going to be our family’s next step.  I like how she provides different sample agreements for each age bracket (2nd-5th grades, 6th-8th grades, and 9th-12th grades), as technology use changes over time for kids.

Four take-aways for me from reading these books back to back:

1. Continue making family activities a priority.

We have always tried to make family time a priority, but now that goal is reaffirmed for me.  I plan to continue setting aside time for activities like the ones I’ve listed below, because they really are important.

  • eating dinner together as a family (with all of us whenever possible, no TV or devices allowed, except for special occasions like the Super Bowl)
  • playing family games (board games, Wii games, outside games…)
  • reading together as a family
  • continuing our weekly Friday Family Movie Night tradition
  • taking part in family outings/trips

2. Continue fostering relationships within our family.

We try to find times each week for one on one time with each of our boys.  Whether that is playing a game of knock-out basketball outside, reading aloud a book together, or a special outing, that time is special and helps to strengthen bonds within our family.

3. Model finding a balance with technology.

We should discuss the struggle of finding a balance with technology with our children and spouse.  We should try to work together to set family guidelines that will work for our own family.   We should hold each other accountable for sticking to our family guidelines and give each other grace even when we do not.  This is a tough thing, and we are the guinea pig generation, learning how best to teach our children about the pluses and minuses of technology.

4. Consider the content.

I tend to worry about how much time my children are spending on their devices.  I want to try to reframe that.  The content of what they might be working on is really the important thing.  Although I don’t want them spending all of their time in front of a screen, and want to continue to encourage outside time and creative play, it really does make a difference what they are doing on their devices.  If they are reading an eBook, learning to play chess or researching a topic they are interested in finding more about, that is entirely different from time spent on Candy Crush or Temple Run.  I need to remember to keep this in mind.

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I encourage you to check out these books from a local library (as I did), or purchase them through the links above.  Both would be excellent additions to your personal parenting resource library.  This is a topic that deserves our attention and thoughtful consideration.  It is not a one-size-fits-all problem to solve.  Different families will have different opinions on the amount of technology that they feel comfortable with, and that is OK.  But through reading books like these, we can make informed decisions about what is best for our family and take steps towards implementing a plan going forward, instead of just ignoring the issue and hoping it will go away, as some families seem to be doing.

Having a plan, in addition to remembering to spend quality time together as a family, will help us to still be able to have strong families in this digital age.  Let’s be intentional in our parenting decisions.

Happy reading!

References:

Gold, Jodi.  Screen-smart Parenting:  How to Find Balance and Benefit in Your Child’s Use of Social Media, Apps, and Digital Devices.  New York: Guilford, 2015. Print.

Steiner-Adair, Catherine, and Teresa Barker.  The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age.  New York: Harper, 2014. Print.