Create Healthier Tech Habits for Kids
There’s a lot to love about tech, but there’s also a lot to love about real-life, real-time experiences. Many parents struggle to find the sweet spot between the two, especially following a holiday season during which 20 percent* of U.S. kids received new smartphones and tablets.
Whether wrapped into your list of New Year’s resolutions or not, creating healthier tech habits is both an ongoing goal and challenge for many families around the world, and my family was no exception.
As a software developer, I am familiar with the benefits of tech — it’s long been my livelihood. But I’m also keenly aware of the drawbacks of overindulgence. In fact, a few years ago, my three children were struggling to resist the glow of their screens. My wife and I started to grow increasingly worried about losing them to their devices.
Beyond that, we had noticed that phones and tablets had become the primary source of strife in our household — and running timers, nagging and hiding tablets was neither helpful nor effective. Concerned about our children’s waning interest in family time and fearing they might miss out on childhood memories related to hobbies and playing outside, I decided to build an app. My goal? To establish a better lifestyle balance for our kids while teaching them tech etiquette and time management skills — and putting an end to the arguments that happened whenever we asked the kids to put away their devices. Today, the app continues to make it easy for me and my wife to manage tech in our household, but it’s also helping households around the world.
Whether your family uses an app, or you have another method for managing the time your children spend on smartphones and tablets, here are a few tips to put you on the path to healthier tech habits and a better lifestyle balance for your kids.
Take stock of tech’s effects
For benchmark’s sake, begin by assessing your family’s rhythms and dynamics around tech. How are your kids using devices? Any signs of dependency? Signs of waning interest in hobbies or face-to-face socializing? Any arguments around usage? Then, gauge how much time your kids are spending online during the week and on the weekends. (You might be surprised, as it isn’t uncommon for kids to rack up eight hours of tech time on a Saturday or Sunday.) Just last October, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) updated its recommendations around screen time, acknowledging the benefits of tech but also the importance of consistent, age-specific and limited device use (details here). Having daily time limits not only validates the value of tech but also the value of things beyond it. That’s why it’s important to have an accurate picture of what’s happening in your home and outside it.
Start the conversation
Before setting time limits or implementing changes, I also recommend having a conversation as a family for context, airing concerns and getting everyone on the same page. Tell your children what’s great about smartphones and tablets, but also underscore the importance of what happens away from them — perhaps sharing stories and memories from your own childhood as well as the offline hobbies and activities that are a source of joy. For example, I didn’t want my kids to miss out on splashing in puddles and playing outside. Ultimately, your kids need to know there’s a world of discovery to be had, which means bucketing time for various online and offline activities.
Create a family pact
Next, you’ll want to consider having a family pact or contract. Determining what that agreement looks like offers a great opportunity to take your tech discussion a step further and set expectations together. This pact, for example, outlines what kids and parents could agree to, defining etiquette for all ages as well as other rules your family wants to put in place (daily time limits, schedules, etc.). Once every voice has been heard and terms are defined, print the pact for everyone to sign and then hang it in a visible place, like on the fridge, as a reminder to all.
Empower and reward
With expectations set and a pact signed, you now have the chance to leverage healthier tech habits for growth and learning. Realize this effort isn’t just about parental management and control but also kids’ management and control when it comes to how and when they use their daily screen-time allotment. Also, feel free to offer a little extra screen time as a reward when your kids do well at school, achieve a goal, finish their chores or do something kind for others. Additionally, consider seeking out ways you can bond as a family, both online and off, whether learning and playing together online or enjoying sports, music, art and more. All of this will help create balance, leading to healthier habits around tech and in life.
*Research conducted by Screen Time Labs. Results are from a global survey of 3,500 subscribers to Screen Time Labs.
About the Author: Steve Vangasse is a dad, software developer and the founder of the Screen Time app. A few years ago, Steve became concerned with the amount of time his three children were spending on their tablets and smartphones. Unable to find a solution to meet his needs, he created one. Since then, Screen Time has become the number one app of its kind on Google Play and has had over one million downloads worldwide by parents seeking to manage the time their kids spend on their devices.