3 Steps to Create Values-Driven Boundaries for Tech-Use in the Family Home
by Kate Saffle
A month ago
The heart of the simplicity parenting model is to slow down modern life as much as possible and create space for quality family time and for childhood to unfold naturally. It is a peaceful alternative to the busy, over scheduled and cluttered family life that many of us didn’t realize we signed up for. Whether we are working parents or stay at home, whether we have plenty of help or are parenting without extended family or community, there are ways to simplify our homes and family life. This month in the series we’re exploring how to protect childhood, and in today’s article, the role of technology in crafting a slow, child-led home. Let’s first look at how technology impacts childhood and then 3 simple steps to set values-based boundaries for technology in your home.
Technology in Childhood
Our children are born already possessing one of the most powerful computers they will ever own: their brain. From day one, the brain rapidly grows and develops as it processes stimuli from the environment, quality interactions with family and friends, and purposeful play and challenges. As parents, we play an invaluable role in selecting the experiences and exposures in which we raise our children. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screen time for children under the age of 18 months, except for occasional video chatting with family and friends, and only one hour of educational screen time for children ages 18 months to 5 years of age. (AAP, 2019) A study conducted from 2011-2018 examined the impact of screen time on two and three year olds; children with higher levels of screen time as toddlers experienced worse developmental outcomes at age five than those with less or no screen time. (JAMA Pediatrics, 2019) However, the average American toddler spends more than two hours per day on screens and children ages 8-18 average over 8-11 hours a day on technology.
Beyond the number of hours spent on technology, we also must consider what ideas our children are exposed to. Are they consuming media that is violent, sexual, or too mature? Is it adding value to their days or filling their brains with mindless entertainment? Just as we wouldn’t allow our children to walk off with a stranger, we also shouldn’t allow the young child to sit alone with a device. The internet is a valuable and powerful tool; we must carefully monitor our children’s use of it.
An important note is that technology use isn’t inherently bad, but rather that it tends to replace the other important tasks of childhood, such as outdoor time, quality interactions with family, and creative, imaginative play. It also excites the brain in unnatural ways, overstimulating their nervous system and activating the flight or fight defense mechanism in their body. Children lack the ability to resolve the adrenaline spike, which can negatively impact their behavior and moods (Oppenheimer, Heaven on Earth, pg 22-24) However, it is near impossible to be entirely tech-free in today’s day and age, so instead, let’s explore 3 concrete ways to create your own family approach to technology in the home.
Imagine Your Ideal
Pretend as though you’re starting with a clean slate for technology use in your home. What boundaries would you set? What is your ideal amount of screen time for your children? Early on in this simplicity parenting series, we explored our values and desired outcomes for our children. Our values should also extend to the way we allow our children to use and interact with technology. For example, if one of your family values is quality time together, but the majority of your limited time is spent in front of a television, are you truly living out that value? Look for ways to bring all areas of your life, including technology, into alignment with your values.
Model Healthy Technology Use
Before we can ask our children to cut back or stop using technology, we must examine our own relationship with it. If we are constantly on our phones, distracted from our children and disengaged from family life happening around us, then how can we expect any different from our kiddos? As you explore healthy technology limits for the family, imagine how these will also apply to you. We are our children’s greatest teacher, and we hold the power to demonstrate healthy technology use. As we shift our own relationship with screens, we are then in a position to set limits with our children’s usage.
Set Clear Expectations for Technology in the Home
One of the reasons why it can be so difficult to enforce screen time and keep technology limited is that we aren’t always clear on our expectations. Children need clear boundaries for screen time, so consider the following:
When can they use it? (time of day and day of the week.)
How much can they consume? (total amount of time spent.)
Where can they use it? (where in the home can they use technology and be supervised?)
What are they allowed to watch and play? (create a list of accepted programs, shows, and games)
Why are they being allowed to use it? (for education, entertainment, communication, distraction, etc.)
Depending on the age of your children, some of these changes may be easier to enforce than others. I want to encourage you to remember that you are the guardian of the childhood experience and that sometimes means swimming upstream culturally. Even though your child might want their own iPad like every other child they know, if it doesn’t fit within your family’s values, then set the expectation. Ultimately, you have the freedom to raise your children simply and to protect the innocence of their childhood.
“Heaven on Earth: a Handbook for Parents of Young Children”, Sharifa Oppenheimer
What’s your biggest struggle with technology in your home?