There’s no getting around it—our children are connected to technology and digital devices in ways we never were. They will never wonder about something and not be able to look it up instantly. They will never be truly alone because they have the world, and their friends’ worlds at their fingertips.
Technology provides plenty of wonderful opportunities for exploration, but it’s also creating challenges, including kids’ inability to look up long enough to notice what’s going on around them. I’m personally working to raise kids who benefit from the digital world, but also realize there is a world beyond their screens. These are a few of the things my wife and I try to think about and incorporate into our family’s everyday routines.
Practice what you preach
I want my kids to practice good habits when it comes to being ‘plugged in,’ but I understand that learning those good habits starts with me. A cell phone on the table at dinner while I wait for that important business email, or reaching for my phone while in the car are behaviors my kids notice, and I know my actions will set the stage for what they believe is acceptable.
I’d like my kids to respect (and enjoy) family time, and to talk with us at the dinner table, so my wife and I make sure cell phones don’t enter the room. We also have a rule that the car is a phone-free zone when we take longer car trips—and we stick to it ourselves so there’s no complaining from the kids that the rule only applies to them.
Understand when the tech is appropriate
Kids today could grow up never actually having a real face to face conversation with another person. Between texting and group chats, email and face time, they could easily go weeks, even months, without picking up the phone and talking to someone.
I have conversations with my teenage daughter about what situations texting is suitable for, and what isn’t. It’s important to me that she feel confident talking to adults and talking on the phone because there will be more and more situations as she matures where it’s essential she have these skills—everything from a job interview to dealing with the insurance company. I make time each day to sit down and have a real conversation with both my kids, and encourage them to do the same.
Just because something appears online doesn’t mean it’s true, valid, or worthy of attention. When I get a text message from my daughter that would have been better delivered through a phone call or conversation, I make sure make sure she knows and understand there was a better way to communicate. For instance, if she texts me that she wants to go to a party, I let her know we need to talk about it in person so we can discuss safety and alcohol before we say yes or no.
Just because something appears online doesn’t mean it’s true, valid, or worthy of attention. I’m learning as I go with my daughter, teaching her to turn off things that are inappropriate, and starting to teach this to my young son. I’m trying to raise kids who question what they see—both the truth in it and the value or the message it preaches. My wife and I try to view the digital world together with our kids as much as possible, especially with my son, so we can help guide them along its path and help them understand the pitfalls, misinformation, and questionable content they may find along the way.
The only way kids will understand that there is a world beyond the reach of their arms is if they experience it. When they are online for school projects, online talking to friends, and online playing games, it becomes a very real job to get them outside and away from screens.
We take our children to places where technology literally doesn’t work, like the countryside for a hike where there’s spotty connectivity at best. Though these spots may be hard to find, they do exist! When we go on family outings, phones get left behind. My daughter grumbled about this at first, and your kids may too if it’s new to them, but once it becomes the norm, they’ll accept it, and may even enjoy your company!
Technology provides plenty of wonderful opportunities for exploration, but it’s also creating challenges. We also look for activities and outings that don’t allow the kids to be on their phones, even if they want to. We go biking or skiing; play laser tag or go swimming. We make time to volunteer, helping to be an active member of our community. There’s still a whole world to explore that doesn’t involve technology and I believe that if I help my kids experience it now with the family, they will learn to appreciate and seek it out later.
While having technology in our home is very beneficial, it’s important to me that my kids grow up with a balanced perspective of when, where, and how technology is appropriate and useful, and when it’s time to look up and enjoy a gadget-free world. It’s an invaluable skill that will carry my kids through the many challenges of adolescence and into their adult lives.