One of the most important topics at Totoli is the relationship between kids and technology, so we spend a lot of time thinking about how to set healthy technology boundaries for kids. We’re probably familiar with the feeling of being glued to our devices and forgetting how much time has even passed. Some of us may even be familiar with our kids experiencing this same feeling. In order to set up our children for success in the digital world, we’ve thought of some tips for keeping our kids sane and safe while using their tech and spending time online.
- Start the conversation early
Open the dialogue about technology in general from a neutral perspective, and not just as something you’re trying to limit. In fact, we recommend framing the issue as a matter of boundaries rather than rules. Ultimately the goal is to create healthy habits and have your kids make good decisions on their own, rather than being forced to make decisions they disagree with. Good tech habits start early, so make this conversation a regular fixture of your home from an early age and help foster a healthy relationship with tech.
- List out the pros and cons of technology together
Let’s face it – there are clear pros and cons of using devices and consuming content, and the list is different for everyone. Think about what makes sense for your family, make this process a concrete activity with a pen and paper if necessary, and do it together. Be fair in your qualification of pros like access to quality content and connecting with friends, and cons like distraction from homework and fatigue.
- Make an honest assessment of current tech usage
It can be hard to know for sure how much time we’re actually spending on our devices until we check. The same applies for our children. For any normal week, keep track of how much time your child spends using technology, whether it’s with a computer, smartphone, or TV. Try to assess time spent with tech outside of the house too, but within reason. Do this for yourself as well to show that this is an effort you’re all making in the family.
- Create reasonable limits and guidelines
Based on the assessment and on your family’s unique needs, decide on healthy limits that your children can live with. Again, the key is to remind them that this isn’t about punishing excessive use or bad behavior, but a shared goal to make the most of our devices and content. If possible, provide them some decision-making capacity like choosing which device or app to limit the time of.
- Enforce reasonable consequences
When these limits are exceeded or guidelines are violated, enforce reasonable consequences. We’ve seen success with a few different approaches. There’s the “negative” approach like confiscating the device for a certain period of time or a “positive” approach like having your child complete a certain number of extra household chores while keeping the device. Guidelines work best when there are repercussions, but it’s not about punishment. These consequences are only reminders to rationally shape your child’s views about tech, rather than cause an emotional reaction.
- Keep devices out of the bedroom and away from mealtime
The clearest boundaries we can set for tech-addicted kids are literal boundaries in the house. Choose your tech-free areas and times in your home so there are obvious opportunities to cool off or do other things. The bedroom may be designated as a place only to relax without devices, and family mealtimes may only be for eating and talking. Remember to adhere to these rules yourselves as well!
- Practice internet safety
Go over the ins and outs of internet safety with your kids early on, and revisit the information periodically to refresh everyone’s memory. Like most of our recommendations, this topic is also centered around facilitating open communication and asking informed questions. For example, you should be able to ask your kids what their favorite content is these days, who they love talking to the most online, and what games they’re enjoying the most. Internet and device safety tips change for different ages so check out our full guide that has tips for kids and teens.
- Make conscious buying decisions
Avoid the trap of buying electronics for your kids out of convenience – make every purchase a conscious choice in introducing a new device, gadget, or toy into your kids’ lives. We recommend creating an environment of conscious consumption where just having a device and consuming content isn’t the default mode in the house. Consider the impact each object will have in the home, and buy objects that are purposely made for kids if possible.
- Prepare to adapt over time
Check in on everything above periodically! The agreements you made with a 3 year old may no longer apply to a 4 year old. You can help regulate a child’s use of technology at every age by being proactive and staying up to date on the ever-changing tech landscape. Your earnest interest in new technology and content will contribute to the open and honest dialogue with your child.
- Be a role model
Arguably the most effective form of moderating tech use in the house is to set the example yourself. After all, our kids love to mimic what we do. How can we teach our kids to use technology responsibly if we’re not doing it ourselves? Everything we discussed in this article works best when you’re participating in this process with your child, rather than exempting yourself from it.