In most of the workshops I conduct with parents of teenagers, I hear begging and pleading for help to "get the kids off those damn phones," and for parents with younger children, I hear "I'm tired of the screen battles."
Ours is an interesting generation because we grew up with maybe one or two screens in our homes. The Internet wasn't invented until I was in school getting my undergraduate degree! Some of us are using social media, smart phones, and tablets kicking and screaming whereas others have jumped with both feet into the personal computer era.
As these devices have been invented recently, there hasn't been much time to fully understand the long-term effects of their use and exactly what is the "best" amount of time to be on, or off screens. Many people are looking at a screen for most of the day! We also haven't had time to learn boundaries with technology—how to use them to our advantage without letting them hurt us.
Unfortunately, we do see that increased screen time is affecting our social skills, our ability to contribute to relationships, our sleep, and even our safety (cyber bullying/crashes). A young woman walked straight into us on the wrong side of the bike path with her earbuds in and face down toward her phone. My six-year-old son was on his bike, and I was on mine, wearing my fluorescent yellow safety jacket, with my three-year-old son behind me in a trailer. All three of us had to swerve hard to get out of her way. She didn't even look up when we passed her!
Here are 5 tips to use tech safely, responsibly and to reduce screen battles:
Write this schedule down and post it somewhere everyone can see it. Systems reduce yelling, confusion, and increase productivity. Have a family meeting to decide what the screen schedule will be so each person feels heard and understood. Establish when screen time is and if a child asks to use a screen outside of the scheduled time, you simply say, "Let's go look at the schedule."
A life insurance company called Foresters has brilliantly set up the "Tech Timeout challenge." Families can take a pledge to turn off their digital devices for an hour each day for one week. The focus of the program is how to connect with each other in a more meaningful way. I like this program because it is well known that people will stick to something if they are supported and make a public pledge.
The "Tech Timeout web site" offers suggestions of activities to do instead of being on screens, and their Facebook page provides helpful support to fulfill the pledge and a place where families taking pledge can share their stories.
Teens view their phones as part of their life-line. One sure way to feel the wrath of a teenager is to take away his or her phone—which is why I suggest not using this as a discipline strategy.
Talk with your teen about how hard it is to put the phone down, and share personal feelings if appropriate.
Get your teen into the habit of turning the phone off and acknowledging that the feeling of missing out happens. Some teens express panic when their phone is off—the feeling that they aren't connected can overpower them. This is a great opportunity to talk to your teen about how to calm down when our irrational mind hijacks our better judgment. Please do not belittle or shame your teens when they have a hard time turning their phones off.
Get family members used to "no phone zones" by modelling and explaining that mobile devices will be off or silenced during the following activities: driving—which is the law in many states and provinces, walking, biking (make sure they also don't have earbuds in), eating, and sleeping. Please note that a woman in Toronto was recently assaulted while walking with earbuds in her ears. When we use phones and/or headphones while on the go, we can miss cues that danger is lurking. Did you hear about the man with earbuds in his ears who was attacked by a cougar? Eek!
Know that your children are watching you—keep the phone away at red lights and while in the bathroom.
It is well established that having phones on during sleep-time is negatively affecting our health. If a cell phone must be on overnight, set it to vibrate and put it far away. If it is on a hard surface, the sound wakes most people up so you won't miss your emergency call.
I also suggest turning off the internet hub overnight to reduce the temptation of firing up a mobile device if sleeplessness happens. Collecting all the family's mobile devices in a basket before bed also helps (or put them all together at a charging station).
I know how hard it is to try and finish an email when a child suddenly runs over to you. Really, I do! When we continually brush our children off to attend to texts, emails, and social media, they can start to feel that they don't matter.
To avoid this, make sure to adhere to the family tech schedule and if you happen to be in the middle of something when a child needs you, use a "when/then" statement... "I hear that you need my help, but I just have to finish this. When I hit send on this message, then I am all yours."
*Also, be rested enough that you don't need screens to get a break from your child.
Watch this hilarious video from Tech Timeout with your kids to start the etiquette/safety conversation.
Still need more inspiration to take the Tech Timeout Pledge?
Lisa Thornbury has 11 Fun Offline Activities To Entertain Your Family.
YMC Gigamom, Eileen Fisher, who is addicted to tech, talks about what happened to her family when they unplugged.
Jennifer Kolari, family therapist, shares four simple strategies to help your family connect during your tech timeout.
And to help you reconnect with your family, we're giving away a $50 Family Game Set to ten lucky YMC Members, courtesy of Foresters. Enter today!
This is proudly sponsored by our friends at Foresters.
Foresters™ is the trade name and a trademark of The Independent Order of Foresters, 789 Don Mills Road, Toronto, Canada M3C 1T9; its subsidiaries are licensed to use this mark. Tech Timeout and the Tech Timeout logo are trademarks of The Independent Order of Foresters.