Tech + Kids: Our Rules

Well yes, I am a bit of a Luddite.

I know. There are all manners of contradiction in this statement – a blogger opposed to technology? – yet I can’t help but feel as if, often, we’re squandering our time on lesser things in the name of false connectivity.

Our attention spans are shorter. Our waistlines are wider. Our news is fragmented; we pass around headlines entirely void of context. (We call viral a good thing.) We are distracted, quick-tempered. The world feels larger, more connected, more robust than ever – so large in fact that we haphazardly become overwhelmed in our own small (actual) world, forfeiting our own small (actual) role within it.

I want to know my neighbor by his name, not by his Twitter handle.

When friends visit our home for dinner, the conversation often drifts to technology. Kids and cell phones – yay or nay? And at what age? And for what purpose? Safety, security? Responsibility? The teaching of healthy boundaries?

While Bee and Scout are far too young for us to consider any real stance on phone usage, I do often question the broader topic: what role are we offering technology in the rhythms of our home?

My relationship with this answer is far less about what we might gain and far more about what we might lose.

It’s not about how much time we’re spending on technology; it’s about how we might have spent that time elsewhere. Might we have done something productive? Inspired? A spontaneous walk in the neighborhood woods to fend off boredom and restlessness? Reading BFG on the sofa while the dogs snore? The chance to serve someone else? A craft, a snack? A rousing round of Uno?

Here, then, are a few current technology boundaries in our home with two littles 5 and under— both the standards, and the exceptions.

(After all, in parenting and in life, we’re offered both.)

Standard: No TV.
When Bee was younger, she watched her fair share of Daniel Tiger while I’d make/burn dinner each evening. But as soon as she was old enough to entertain herself safely, I ditched the TV. I find it far easier to remove something than to manage it, so setting a firm boundary that we simply don’t watch TV was an easier transition than attempting to negotiate 30 minutes (which all too often turns into 60). It’s been over three years since TV was a part of our daily rhythm and Bee has found some lovely alternative ways to spend her time.
Exception(s): If she’s sick.

Standard: No iPad.
Ken and I introduced the iPad on our (loooong) flight to Singapore when Bee was just over 1, and no surprise, she loved it. Upon returning home, she’d start the day with her language flashcard app or a show while snacking on cashews and raisins. But I started to notice the after-effects of her usage: moodiness, increased whining, lack of focus. Slowly but surely, we reclaimed those windows of time with a short walk through the neighborhood, a simple craft, reading, tower-building or helping with morning chores (begrudgingly, the latter).
Exception(s): If she’s practicing the piano, which is where the iPad now lives – plugged into our upright piano with only a single app available: learning scales.

Standard: No Phone.
This one’s a non-issue, as we’ve never offered our phone as a toy. Often, my phone is out of sight unless in use for music, and in that case, Bee’s got a wide reign over Spotify (the girl’s a killer DJ).
Exception(s): If she needs to make a phone call.

Of course, there is only one true rule we keep, one that trumps any of the aforementioned standards, and it is this:

The Rule: People first.

Want to borrow my phone to call your grandma? You got it.
Want to dance to The Trolls soundtrack with your friends? Let me queue it up.
Want to type out a sales menu for your tomato plant business? Sure, use the desktop computer.

Last week, Bee’s friend came over to play. His mother and I shooed them out into the backyard for muddy feet and rosy cheeks, and the pair returned twenty minutes later, Bee’s friend white in the face from too many trips around the tire swing.

And so, it was confirmed: a short rest on the sofa, snacks to replenish, and the little boy’s favorite TV show.

If there’s anything I’ve learned thus far, in parenting and in life, it’s this: We adapt.

We grow, we shrink. We form habits; then bend them. Our days become our lives. Our choices become the story. We will either rise to the occasion, or we will crumble beneath the weight of it. We get to choose which, and we get to practice it until our feet bleed.

The trick? We must practice.

We must practice good habits for ourselves before we can model them for our kids. If I want my kids to choose books over TV, I can choose to forgo the latest Netflix original series. If I want my kids to find freedom from devices, I can choose to leave my phone in the kitchen drawer, to “forget” it during errands. If I want my kids to choose eye contact over distracted listening, critical thinking over passive scrolling, open hands over jittery thumbs? I must model these for them first.

I don’t know what the future holds for technology, what the long-term ramifications will be for a life lived with such speed and connectivity. But I do know we can consider the costs wisely, both blessing and curse, and we can model our own fight for the former.

Tell me, what are your own technology rules, standards or boundaries? Exceptions? I’d love to hear!

p.s. My stance on (young) kids and social media.

  • Agree, Agree, Agree!!! Thank YOU!, love your posts!
    No TV for years here, technology can be such a lazy way out sometimes, it’s a battle at times, and take discipline, even for us adults. We were not blessed with children , but I just cringe in the grocery store when I see all these little ones in the cart with a phone. I was a nanny for years thankfully before the iPhone , there is so much to explore and teach your kids in this world…cut back on technology and go back to using our imaginations and make believe!

    • Yes to the discipline of it all! I tend to set a firm boundary when they’re little and loosen the reins as they grow in maturity. But oh, I’ve been that frazzled mom in the grocery plenty of times, so I can definitely understand the temptation to hand the baby whatever works! :)

  • He likes complicated games on the iPad, which lead to complicated bedtime stories and story-filled hands-on Lego play, and I’m okay with that. My phone is off limits except for special times – rarely is the grocery store “special” – and music use. I grew up in a house that had a TV on all the time, as my mom’s preferred background noise, but at our house there are days it’s on and days it’s off. Each day we try to balance play with technology and I think we’re doing okay so far. But I tell you, technology is FRAUGHT with controversy in the world of parenting, isn’t it?

    • Ha, it totally is so full of controversy! I, too, grew up in a home where the TV was always on and I have to admit – I still have fond memories of my mom baking brownies to Rod Stewart VH1 music videos in the kitchen. :) There’s the good, and there’s the not-so-good, and we get to decide how much we choose to grab hold of. Love your take!

  • I love how you articulate that we must practice and model the behaviour we seek. Thank you for writing this!

  • I love your stance on technology. My life now; a baby that needs constant attention and a very-thin picky-eater that will prefer to starve rather than eat without the help of a 15 minute long episode of Sarah and Duck, prevent me to ditch technology altogether. I’m trying to change the rules slowly, though. Hopefully, as the baby is growing less dependent and my picky eater slowly decides to try new things with her taste buds, I’ll be able to get rid of screen time.

    The other day we had a blackout for a few hours. We spent them reading a wonderful book and building block towers. I will treasure that forever. I want more memories like that one.

    • It sounds like you’re doing your very best, Cecilia — and your blackout sounds a bit magical! I remember tornado warnings as a child when my family would pile into the bathroom with flashlights, sleeping bags in the empty tub and a big box of Cheezits to share — such a happy, undistracted time – albeit scary for my parents, I’m sure!

  • getting rid of the tv was such a blessing for us as well. when trying to limit time there it ended up being more of an issue than letting them have free reign so we just ditched it!

  • My inlaws watched my daughter for 3 days on a beautiful 70 degree week. They never left the house and binge watched tv and 5 movies. I was grateful they babysat but when they found out my daughter (usually) gets one show a day as a wind down after dinner, my father in laws jaw dropped. During winter this rule tends to bend, but I see tantrums, moodiness, and trouble leaving the house as a result. I’ll never judge others for technology use, I know I’ll eat our words when our next baby comes, but for now this works. Thanks for sharing! :)

    • Ha – yes, I can relate! Bee gets a movie morning with her grandma when they have sleepovers and oh, gracious, she’s in heaven. :)

  • Harder when they are older. I am totally with you on less TV, less distraction., less phones.. It is different when they are bigger. I limit tech but still bugs me when at end of day everyone has their own screen.

    • Gosh, yes – I can only imagine how tricky this gets as they grow! I’m working pretty hard to establish some rhythms now in hopes at least a few of them might stick later down the road. ;)

  • Your words are so powerful. Every time. I love this & look forward to applying very similar standards in our home when children arrive. <3

  • I like how you are prepared to offer an alternative activity. Sooo much better and more positive!
    “Taking away”. “Limiting” “Forbidding” often leads to “sneaking” and figuring out ways to get what you really really really want.
    The more we see ourselves as teammates and facilitators of fun and excitement (with or without tech), the better!! And also, kids pick up on hypocrisy quickly…so YES modeling all the other cool choices while being with our kids shows them that being with them is the most fun for us too!

  • I think these rules are terrific! I would use them for older children too (like over18!) Thanks!

  • TV used to be a large part of our lives, with three under 6 sometimes and a busy Husband TV was my only way to cook dinner. Except it wasn’t, was it.

    We ditched the TV in place of a book reading ticket system. For every book read (or being read to, while sitting criss-cross applesauce with full attention for the littles) a ticket in the jar. On the weekends, we watch one movie together as a family and it’s 1 ticket to see the movie, and then I have a box of snacks, that turn into “moms really cool movie snack store” and treats can be purchased for the movie.

    Kindles for long trips in the car, or when at home sick for the day, and like you said movies for special occasions when friends are over as needed. I have never allowed my phone to be used as a toy, but I am on it too much which I know is a distraction. My job requires that I be available but I am working on setting rules and boundaries there as well for myself.

    Dinner time? Sometimes it’s stressful, but I take a deep breath and I create tasks for them to help to keep their busy hands busy. Slowly, very slowly the aftermath of over-stimulation is starting to disappear and I can see a faint glimmer of calm and peacefulness on the horizon … I think … as much as there can be with a 6,4 and 1-year-old :)

    • Ha, I can so relate to this — love love love your creative solutions, Jenn! Well done!!!!!!!!!

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