Finding Opportunities for Communication with Tech-Obsessed Kids
Limiting the amount of time that tweens and teens spend using personal tech devices is often a major challenge. A digital diet can help to moderate tech use in favor of more opportunities for conversation and human interaction. These are key to children’s communication health and development. Here are some tips for putting your family on a digital diet:
- Create a family technology plan—together. An agreed upon set of rules around family members’ technology use (when, where, how much, for what, with whom, etc.) is a good way to keep everyone on track. By involving your kids in the process, you are more likely to achieve the results you want. Technology is often an integral part of teens’ social experience—so being respectful of this will help. Schedule regular check-ins to see how the plan is working and to determine whether you’re actually substituting tech time with more quality time together.
- Sign a pledge. Make your plan official by having family members sign a pledge. It helps hold everyone accountable. This is a model that has been used for years, especially when it comes to issues such as drinking and driving, texting and driving, etc. Here are some examples from Common Sense Media that you can use and modify. Focus on the positive replacements for technology, such as uninterrupted family dinners.
- Keep a log. How much time does everyone in your family spend online? Alternatively, how much time does the family spend talking and engaging in activities together? Just as a food diary can be eye opening, keeping a log of a typical tech week may help identify habits to change and goals to set in terms of family bonding and communication.
- Sponsor tech-free nights/events. Whether it’s a game night, a neighborhood block party, or another type of gathering, going tech-free on occasion can provide rich opportunities to build family and social relationships.
- Designate tech-free zones in the home. The kitchen, bedrooms, the family room . . . there may be one place in your home that you can keep devices out of, as a general rule. This helps with the temptation to constantly check your phone or jump at the sound of every incoming notification. It makes a difference to even have 30 minutes free from tech distractions.
- Talk over text, when possible. Texting offers tremendous convenience for parents to get in touch with their kids. But texting is not a replacement for verbal exchange. Tone, facial expressions, and other nonverbal signals are just some of the ways in which texting falls short (emojis don’t do the trick). Try to avoid texting your teen when both of you are at home, as a start.
- Take a vacation from your technology. Some parents have turned to tech-free vacations to connect more with their tweens and teens. Unplugging completely may not be realistic for everyone. However, there may be specific activities or times when you can leave the devices behind. Family communication can increase. Everyone will be “in the moment” instead of documenting the moment for Facebook or Instagram.
- Listen safely. Many tween and teens spend hours a day with the volume cranked up, using headphones or earbuds. Unfortunately, they are putting their hearing at serious risk. This damage is irreversible. The World Health Organization has labeled unsafe listening an international health threat—1.1 billion young people are at risk of harming their hearing from unsafe listening of personal tech devices or at noisy entertainment venues. This is a message that tweens and teens need to “hear” from their parents.
Remember that tweens and teens will be watching their parents’ habits closely. Practice what you preach when it comes to limiting tech use. Keep yourself on the same digital diet that you set for your children.