In a time when the internet is connected to so many aspects of life, family technology rules are important.
If you receive work emails or chat notifications on your cell phone, you know how much you’ve become accustomed to smartphones and the convenience they offer.
There are downsides though, like the erosion of personal boundaries and continuous interruptions. Add the social media dopamine loop that extends your scrolling time, and you can see how setting limits can help anyone.
If your kids are from the digital native generation, they have no pre-internet experience to draw on to set limits for themselves. While there are benefits of children using technology, kids and teens still need guidance and modeling from adults to help ensure their tech time remains a productive part of their lives.
Technology boundaries involve more than just reducing your kids’ screen time. There are a few standards you can implement to model appropriate tech use for the whole family:
- rules that apply to adults too
- time limits
- family unplugged time
- screen cut-off time
- homework first policy
- parental supervision
Some computer rules for kids can — and likely should — also apply to parents.
If you have teens, screen time spent on social media is one example. If you want your teen to spend less time scrolling through cellphone apps, an effective way to increase your credibility is to cut back on phone use yourself.
There are reasons you’ll need to spend more time online, such as household duties like banking. But drawing time or duration limits for yourself can both model best practices and help you lean into work-life harmony as well.
Other options for whole family technology rules include:
- limits to personal information sharing
- no posting photos or stories using names without consent from those family members
- evening screen cut-off time limits
- scheduled family unplugged time
- no technology during family meals
- no cellphones during family events
Once you or your child posts something to the internet, it’s there forever (especially with the ability for others to screen capture!). If it falls into the wrong hands, it can cause significant distress. Possible outcomes include:
- identity theft
- property theft
- harassment from online bullies
- exposure to internet predators
- phishing scams
Children can be identity theft victims just like adults. Without your guidance and supervision, it’s possible for your kid or teen to reveal information that can be stolen and used for illegal activity.
Oversharing is common online, and it’s easy to let your guard down when you see so many people post content including:
- photos of people that include recognizable landmarks
- stories that feature names and locations
- pictures of report cards or awards that contain identity and location information
- vacation photos posted while you’re still away from home
- birthday greetings
It’s important to have conversations with your kids about the possible harm that can come from this kind of content. Not only is it eye-opening for them, but it’s also a useful reminder for you.
Deciding how and when to limit kids’ tech use depends on a few factors, like your child’s:
- activity level
It can help to adopt a flexible mindset and adjust screen time limits as needed.
One option is to set a daily limit but let your kids earn more tech time in exchange for beneficial activities, like:
- helping around the house
- spending time outdoors
- eating nutritious food
- reading a book
You can assign values for each or negotiate, depending on your child’s age and interest.
Including unplugged time for kids and parents in family technology rules gives everyone a chance to take a break from screens and interact without the internet, according to parent and child respondents in a 2016 study.
A few ways you can unplug as a family
- schedule a screen-free hour every day
- schedule a screen-free day each week
- designate a location in your home as tech-free
- assign tech-free status to certain events, like meals, movie nights, or family game night
If your teen is prone to anxiety, some unplugged time may improve their sleep. A current study involving teens ages 14 to 19 finds that more video game and computer time was harmful to the sleep of teens who were prone to anxiety.
Implementing a screen cut-off time well before bedtime may help your kids sleep at night.
Blue light is fine during the day, but people who use electronic media at night can experience sleep disruption. Disordered sleep can eventually contribute to health issues like:
- mental health conditions
To set children up for success, it’s worth considering encouraging technology-free bedrooms at night.
Once a child or teen is absorbed in scrolling YouTube or TikTok, or playing a favorite video game, it can be hard to transition them to the tedium of schoolwork or chores. Instead, you might find “temptation bundling” an effective motivator.
Temptation bundling: Here’s how it works
Think: Do what you have to do to unlock what you want to do.
The prioritization strategy involves completing an undesirable chore to access a desirable activity.
If you try this, keep in mind the circadian-disruptive effects of blue light in the evening. It’s important to stick to the evening screen cut-off even if the less desired task takes longer than usual.
As your kid gets older, they might object to the way you monitor their social media and video games. However, it’s important to stay involved to some degree, since teens can still encounter trouble online.
It’s easy to supervise when they watch TV, but a cellphone presents new challenges because of its size and portability. There are still some steps you can take to oversee their tech use:
- install parental controls on all devices
- ensure they use age-appropriate technology
- educate teens on the dangers of sexting
- educate teens on porn literacy
- allow social media profiles only if you have access to their password
Another way to supervise is to have your own account on the platforms of interest and participate (within reason!).
Supervise by sharing interests
- If your kid has Snapchat, perhaps you get it too and share Snaps.
- If they frequent Discord for gaming banter you might add a profile and play the games while chatting now and then.
This gives you a firsthand look at their online activity. It also gives you another way to connect because when you join them in a pastime they love, it sends the message that their interests matter to you.
The internet contains a wealth of information and resources, and it doesn’t have to be harmful. Limits and boundaries can reduce the chances that your child might encounter adverse experiences online.
Parent modeling can be a powerful influence. Your child may be more inclined to respect internet boundaries if they see you set the same limits for yourself.
Reduced screen time for yourself and your kids has another important upside: You’ll have more time to spend enjoying face-to-face activities together.