We’ve all heard children and youth beg for just five more minutes of screen time. And too often that turns into a meltdown or battle around technology use.
It’s important for parents and caregivers to develop habits and set limits for their family’s use of technology. When children are young, parents and caregivers have more control over what their kids are consuming on screens. As kids get older, it can take more work to get buy-in and to put a tech plan in place. But, there are ways to do this. It’s never too late to develop or reset a tech use plan for your family.
Make a family plan for technology use together
Work together on a plan for you and your family. Have everyone in the family take part and come up with rules and recommendations. If you make a plan together, it can help prevent arguments over tech use.
Know that you can revisit and reset your plan at any point. In fact families should be prepared to revisit this topic again and again. As your child grows and moves through stages of development - early childhood, youth and young adulthood - their interests and involvement in technology will change. It’s a good idea to go over the plan together often in each of these stages. And know that your plan may need to have different guidelines for siblings of different ages.
How to develop a plan:
- Set aside a specific time as a family to develop your plan when you won’t be interrupted. Look at a calendar and choose a time that works for all family members. Let everyone know the purpose is to develop a plan for healthy tech use or to make a change to the way your family uses technology at home. Make it fun – bring snacks, or colourful paper and pens. Have a picnic or a party - whatever will help to keep all involved.
- Start the conversation by talking about the pros and cons of tech use. Discuss together the benefits of healthy tech use and the impacts of unhealthy tech use. Give examples that are age appropriate. Check out the Tech Solution Plate resource to guide your conversation.
- Talk about those times and tasks that are important to your family. Use a weekly calendar and fill in important life activities that contribute to self-care, connection with family and friends, being active, school, work, projects, hobbies, etc. Start with these as the building blocks in your plan so your family can see what time they might have leftover. Then talk about how some remaining time may be used for screen time.
- Post the plan for all to see as a reminder and to keep the whole family on track (on the fridge, bulletin board).
What to discuss when developing your family’s plan:
- Choose and agree on a healthy amount of
time for tech use at home and when it can be used – daily? Weekends only? What you decide for your family will probably look different from other families. A good question to ask yourself is, “Does the amount of time we’ve chosen interfere with being active, connecting with family and friends, affect school work or other commitments (volunteering)?” If yes, then you may need to revisit your plan.
- Be clear about tech-free zones and times that can encourage more family time, better sleep, and healthier eating habits. ‘Tech-free’ zones and times might include:
- no technology during meals
- no screens in family bedrooms
- turning off TVs that you aren’t watching
- recharging devices overnight in a common space like the kitchen
- Discuss what content is okay for tech use. Give priority to programs that are educational and age-appropriate. Talk about and give examples of content that you agree should be a part of the plan - for TV shows, apps, video games, etc. Also, list content that your family will stay away from and explain why it’s on that list. Dr. Shimi Kang’s ‘types of tech’ (healthy tech, junk tech, toxic tech) explained in our podcast might help you talk about this with your family.
- Talk about how to use technology safely. You can read more about safe use of technology here.
- Agree on boundaries and the consequences for when technology is misused.
It’s important to set limits from the start and put them in the plan. There are ways you can do this that keep your relationship with your child in a healthy place:
- Remind your child that technology, like any powerful tool, comes with limits and responsibilities.
- Ask each family member to come up with a rule or boundary - “We agree as a family to turn off and put away all technology 2 hours before bedtime”.
- Explain why the rule is being set: “We are going to put away our devices because screens too close to bedtime can interfere with sleeping well. You need sleep to help your brain and body grow.”
- As a family, discuss what the consequences will be if a rule isn't followed.
- If a rule is broken, the first step is to sit down and calmly have a conversation. Ask the family member to honour the plan and accept the consequence that was agreed upon.
- Discuss as a family what things can be done to increase the chance that rules will be followed (calendar on fridge, lists in tech room, timers, or even tech solutions such as apps that turn things off automatically)
- Recognize or maybe offer a small reward when your child is following the rules without having to be reminded. For younger kids it could be a sticker chart, for youth it could be getting to stay out later with friends.