A few weeks ago, a friend I greatly admire had a Facebook rant about kids and tech, and how the use of all the new devices is turning kids into rude, anti-social, screen-starers. Ok, so those are my words, but the theme is the same.
I can remember walking into a restaurant before I had kids (so, you know, when I knew everything about parenting) and seeing two young boys, around my owns sons’ ages now, heads down staring at video games while their parents chatted over their heads. They were all waiting for a table in a crowded place for breakfast, so at first I could see why just keeping the boys occupied might be a desire. However, they were out for a family meal, and the wait was really only about 10 minutes, and they were both old enough to sit still and carry on a conversation, so I quickly changed my tune and made a vow never to let my future children bring screens into a restaurant. Little did I know in that moment that I was setting the footprint for our Tech House Rules.
Let me start out by saying I love technology. I mean, really love it. We have every screen imaginable in our house and we use them all, liberally. My oldest has a smart phone. The younger two have tablets. We have laptops that they all have access to, and while we are Nintendo devotees, so only have one gaming system (WiiU), each kid also has the newest versions of the handheld DS as well. I only tell you this to demonstrate that we are very pro-technology and social media and television and all the other media evils of the world. We are not people who think small screens are the downfall of our civilization. We do think, however, that technology and the skills required to use it well, should be subjects our children are taught, not left to figure out on their own.
So, we have rules. Rules that we often get pushback on, especially when our rules are more strict than the kids’ friends’ rules. There is nothing worse than sticking out as different when you’re a tween, so anytime we enforce something that makes our kids uncomfortably different, they tell us so. And then we know we’re doing something right.
Our goal is not to hide from what is new. Our goal is not to shield our children from what is new. Our goal is to raise kids with manners and morals in a world that has grown exponentially due to the openness of technology and social media. I could go on and on about the social part, but today we’ll just focus on what we do to keep our tech-loving kids from being screen-staring anti-socials.
Tech House Rules
1. Nothing charged in your bedroom: Truth bomb-we mostly enforce this with The Girl and her phone because what the boys have fall under a different rule that they haven’t broken yet, so this remains mostly for the phone and Chromebook that take permanent residence in her bed for most of her waking hours. At 9:00pm she must bring all of it out to the living room (where we likely sit in front of our own screens) and plug it in. She can keep her reading tablet in her room as she reads before bed, but if she’s ever caught using it for anything else, she loses everything. Yes, everything. If you’re not responsible enough to follow the rules, you’re not responsible enough to have technology. Harsh? She thinks so, especially during sleep-overs when everyone else has their phones on. We don’t care. Like in college, where nothing good happens after 1:00am, nothing good happens on smart phones after 9:00pm when you are under 18, and even then I’d recommend putting the phone (with the camera and texting and the apps) away as you’ll likely save yourself certain headaches in the morning.
2. Social Media Is Not the Same as Being Social: There are places in our lives screens (be they for gaming or instagramming) are not allowed. These places are:
- The car, on trips less than 2 hours and the front seat always. (If I’m driving your butt to a far-away soccer game, you’re talking to me, not texting your friends.)
- The dinner/breakfast/lunch table. Again, when we are gathered, we talk to one another-even dad and mom. Even if it’s just you at the table, keep your tech off the table. Focus on your meal.
- The first 15-20 minutes of any family gathering. Address your grandparents. Look your uncles in the eye. Hug your aunts and fill them in on your life. When the grownups stop interacting with you, you are free to escape downstairs and flick on a screen. (As the youngest of a very large family, I will never force my kids to spend all their time with the grownups. It’s boring at best, unhealthy at worst.)
- Playdates & Sleepovers: Let me clarify, there are always some screens when friends are over. The boys often invite people over to play games and these are usually played as teams or together as one unit, so I won’t ask them to stop doing that. However, I enforce breaks and outside time so that playdates don’t just revert back to the parallel play of toddlerhood, with no one talking and everyone sitting near each other doing their own thing. As for sleepovers, I haven’t gone so far as to make the kids that aren’t my own give up their phones at 9:00pm because I know some people can be sensitive about that. Instead, I just “check-in” mercilessly and ask about actually talking to each other or saving the game apps for when they’re home alone the next night wishing they were at a sleepover, usually my “charm” makes them inevitably put their phones away if for no other reason then to keep me from coming back into the room.
There are other rules as far as what games, when they can play and what access mom and dad have to accounts and such. I’ll save those for another post as those have different supports and implications. For now, let’s just try to keep our kids from growing up without social skills, including the ones they’ll need to manage a growing world of technology.
* I have the extreme fortune of being part of the LearnOn Blogger team for Common Sense Media. Since my kids were old enough to find a power button, I have relied on Common Sense Media to help me navigate the unknown waters of raising kids with ever-changing technology and social media rules. I use them for everything from movie and game reviews to lesson plans for the middle school kids (and adults) I work with. If you are a parent, or ever have kids in your presence, do yourself a favor and bookmark Common Sense Media right now.
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