If your family is like mine, disagreements about screen time and technology are more than just common; sometimes it feels like they are the source of every fight. Once in a while I imagine simply getting rid of all screens in the house – problem solved! Yes and no. At the end of the day, even though ipads, gaming systems, computers and phones can be problematic, the “problem” is not so much the technology itself, but ours and our children’s relationship with it. Rather than banishing it altogether, the goal is to foster a healthy ability to be responsible around technology. This responsibility includes being positive and safe with others when using technology as well as being able to put it aside without a fight.
With that said, here are 6 tools you can use that can help to create a positive environment around technology in your house.
1. Family Media Agreement
Having a FMA means that you have had a conversation with your child about what it is to be responsible with technology. You have talked about your expectations around technology, and your child has told you theirs. This is also a time to agree on the consequences should the agreement be broken. Here’s an example of a Family Media Agreement from Common Sense Media.
2. Rescue Time
This is an app that runs in the background of your computer or device. It tracks the time spent on different applications and gives you an actual picture of how time is spent on a screen, and you can include it in the Family Media Agreement. Each month or so, the real value for Rescue Time in developing responsibility in young people is then in the conversation you can have with them about that time. They will probably be as surprised as you. Having a discussion around distractions and legitimate use, and helping them come up with a plan when they see the data can build your shared understanding.
In addition to providing a good example of a family media agreement, CSM is a great tool for parents. It is a one stop shop if you are wondering if the movie you are about to watch on Netflix is appropriate for your nine-year-old as well as reviews on apps, TV shows, books and guides for parents divided by age. As they say, they “Rate, educate, and advocate for kids, families, and schools”
When it comes to being safe online, avoiding technology full stop isn’t a practical solution in today’s world, especially in Singapore, one of the most connected cities on the planet. The folks behind CSKA work to teach individuals and communities to “behave safely, think critically and participate responsibly in digital environments.” Note “think critically” because it’s when our kids can do that, they are able to navigate the challenges and dilemmas they will face when you’re not around.
Here’s a 5 minute video from the Australian Government e-safety commission which gives parents an outline of some of the most popular social media apps and sites. Note that for every app they discuss, there are others that have the same function, and new ones being developed daily. It’s not about knowing every form of communication, but fostering a relationship where you can talk about them with your child.
6. Role Modeling
The most important thing you can do as a parent is to model the behavior you would like to see in your child. Think about what you want to see from your child with respect to technology: perhaps limiting it to fixed times, transitioning from online to offline without drama, screens away during family time or no screens in the bedroom. If you’re asking this of your kids, do they see the same from you? And if they see you doing the opposite, what message does that send in terms of the importance of the rule?
At the end of the day, learning to manage technology, like any new freedom, is a skill that takes time to develop and appropriate limits to help foster. By communicating with your kids about what you want, what you are afraid of and hearing things from their perspective, you strengthen your relationship with your child. It’s that relationship that is the backbone of your family and what your kids will rely on when times are tough.
This post originally appeared on March 15 on