The more digitized our lives become, the more it seems we rely less on the in-person interactions that have been the cornerstone of human relationships for centuries. This ever-evolving digital revolution brings with it a new set of challenges, specifically for parents. How do we raise our children to be successful in a world inundated with technology? How do we raise our children to stay fully engaged with people and with the world around them in meaningful and authentic ways, especially when digital distractions are always calling out for their attention?
In this article, we’ll look closer at these important questions and more. We hope that, with the information shared, you’ll be able to strike a healthy balance between thoughtful technology time and time apart from screens. We’ll present some tips and insights on how to be a good parent in a tech-filled world.
Our Digital World: The Age of Distraction
Life has changed dramatically since the advent of the internet. These changes have only increased over the past few decades, as social media platforms have become such an influential force in every corner of our lives. Information streams, videos, random web surfing, streamable movies, click-bait articles and advertising, and just about anything else you can think of, are always just a click away. Our attention spans have become shorter than ever before. As parents, we need to understand completely what this means for our kids. We need to grasp how this directly affects their relationships, their work, their perspective on the world, their view and treatment of others, and their understanding of their own identity and worth.
It has become second nature for us to rely on our constant data stream for a kind of connection that often feels great in the moment, but leaves us unsatisfied and alienated in the end. It’s easy to believe we simply can’t live without our phone for a day, even a few hours. Frighteningly, we’ve come not simply to use our tools to stay connected and increase efficiency, we’ve allowed their influence to dictate how we think, act, and relate to the world, to ourselves and others.
Children are constantly connected. They’re conditioned to expect that everything they need will be available at the touch of a screen. This isn’t just overwhelming, it often creates conflict between children and parents. It makes it increasingly difficult for parents to guide and teach their children with so many random voices and distractions clamoring for their attention. And it can affect our child’s personal character as it continues to alter the way they view reality as they struggle with something that promises so much but often leaves them without focus, peace of mind, and self-control.
The key to raising a child in today’s era lies not just in setting limits on screen time but in cultivating an environment where technology and screen time are neither a fear nor an obsession, a place where each member of the family has a healthy relationship with others and with their media tools. Ultimately, we all want a meaningful life, fulfilling relationships, and access to pathways toward abundant living. Getting a positive, balanced handle on our use of technology and media has a lot to do with this pursuit.
The Upside of Technology
Face it, technology has a lot to offer. There’s a reason we like it so much. And it isn’t just social media and texting. Our interconnected and interdependent systems of communication and information have streamlined more than we know. So many aspects of our work, our creativity, and our collaboration have improved significantly. We can communicate immediately with anyone anywhere, produce and post videos in a matter of hours instead of days, teach and learn online live with students and instructors from around the world, conduct corporate meetings or strategy sessions in virtual boardrooms, design or write in real-time with like-minded individuals, exchange contracts, manage money and investments, and run successful businesses from our homes that benefit people from all over the world.
Social media has allowed us to stay connected with those we love and find those we thought we’d lost touch with, meet new people, market our products and services to others, and so much more. Texting gives us a way to quickly communicate information and keep a record of potentially important details we may need to look back on. Other social apps allow us to get creative and share new things with a larger audience.
Our technology isn’t going anywhere. We’ve orchestrated a world where we depend on it. Parts of our service and information-based economies only exist because of these technologies. What matters now is that we work to overcome what is sometimes an overzealous attachment to these social and media tools, and a life where we lose touch with true connection with others, lose our sense of balance and self-control, and allow our technologies to govern us instead of the other way around. This struggle becomes even more potent in the lives of our children at a time when endless influences have a way of shaping their habits and their worldview for the rest of their lives.
Why Conscientious Digital Parenting is Important
A 2017 study found that one in five teenagers believe they’re addicted to their screens. But we don’t need to depend on studies, surveys, and anecdotes to know that this is a problem: we can see it in the increasing rates of anxiety, depression, and loneliness. Far too many kids find themselves the victim of various forms of online bullying and other disrespectful and damaging behavior.
And while it’s tempting to think that more screen time will lead us to a more enlightened world where everyone is educated and happy, the opposite is sometimes true. The reality is that too much screen time can actually lead to lower grades, higher rates of depression, and less empathy—in addition to the typical physical risks like headaches and eyestrain. And those are just the immediate effects; what about future implications? Do we want our children growing up without the full range of social skills they need to build a good life, a life where they possess the compassion, openness, understanding, and integrity necessary both for happiness and success?
Modeling Intentional Screen Time
As a parent, it’s important we model intentional screen time. It’s easy for us to let our choices be governed by tech and social apps. This creates a bad foundation and example for our kids. If we don’t show self-control with our own choices, how can we expect our children to do the same? When children see their parents on their screens constantly, they think it’s appropriate for them to be perpetually connected as well. So make sure you’re mindful of the time spent with your phone, computer, or other devices. Be deliberate about your screen time and set aside time for yourself to put down the devices.
Now it’s important to set rules with your kids about when it’s appropriate to use screens and when they should put them away. You might find that you want different rules based on individual age or situation: for instance, at dinner or during homework time and what you allow on weekends vs weekdays. Whatever the scenario may be, establishing these clear boundaries can help develop habits of healthy screen usage for kids and give them more than just a general encouragement to “be responsible” or “mindful.”
Find some activities that work well offline. The more in-person interactions your child has, the more likely they are to enjoy face-to-face interactions as an adult later in life. And who knows? Maybe even start teaching their own kids a thing or two about tech management! The same activities that have always served to bring families and friends together are great, things like cooking together, movie nights, cycling, kayaking or canoeing, bowling, hiking, camping, various outdoor and indoor sports, board games, and more.
It’s also just as important to encourage and model times of solitude without digital devices. These can often be both enriching and restful. Think of reading, writing, yoga, meditation, prayer, one-on-one conversations with someone who you’re really able to open up, a nice walk or relaxing drive. We need screen-free time, both alone and with others, to create a balanced, affirming life.
It’s natural for kids to want to mimic their parents and explore the world around them. As adults, we should all be conscious of how our digital interactions and choices affect our children. Children also take cues from their peers, online influencers, and just about anyone that strikes their fancy while browsing. With so many individuals using social media, there are endless variances when it comes to how each of us communicates and behaves in the digital realm.
There are some grey areas where context is key, knowing the right place or time to share certain things in specific ways. Still, there are things that are wrong no matter when you do them. And some choices can lead to legal trouble, serious conflict with other individuals, safety concerns, broken relationships, bullying, “rampant cancel culture” and considerable emotional and psychological trauma.
Digital etiquette is a skill that needs to be taught early and often. We know that most children learn by example, so we need to model the behaviors we expect from our children. It can’t be a “Do as I say not as I do,” mentality. We’ve got to set the standard and walk that path consistently. When it comes to social media, though, it’s not enough to just set a good example – we need to actively engage our children in conversation about what’s appropriate online and why. You’ll also want to discuss the dangers of interacting with strangers online or posting inappropriate content.
Below, you’ll find some examples of inappropriate digital etiquette, and then some examples of healthy digital behavior.
Examples of Inappropriate Digital Etiquette
Using technology for bullying, manipulation, or peer pressure
Taking photos or videos of others without their consent and/or posting them online
Texting while carrying on another conversation in person
Texting or surfing the internet while driving
Carrying on loud conversations in public or crowded areas
Using devices for non-emergency personal reasons during class time.
Using your phone at work in ways, or at times, specifically prohibited by your employer
Viewing images or videos of private, sexual, or intensely violent content in public places where others are subjected to it.
Running online scams to defraud someone of their money, trust, possessions, social standing, or professional position
Texting or talking on the phone while professionals are trying to help you with a product, service, or at check-out.
Not sharing public technology
Using your phone for personal reasons during interviews
Constantly using your phone during family or friend meal times or conversations instead of engaging with those in the same room.
Examples of Good Digital Etiquette
Stopping your vehicle in a safe area to text, make calls, or look something up online
Informing adults of misuse: things like bullying, unauthorized sharing of visual media, or the attempt to defraud someone.
Checking messages and email only during personal time
Keeping your ringer or audible notifications turned off during class, at movies, during meals, and in other public event or professional spaces where it would be distracting and disrespectful.
Keeping your cell phone conversations private by moving further away from others
Being willing to share public technology with others
There are certainly more examples of both positive and negative digital behavior. But these should give you a good framework for acceptable norms.
The Importance of Permission When Sharing Visual Media
Even though we mentioned this above, it’s important enough to look at more closely as it affects so many people in a host of ways. There was a time not so long ago, when we had to pack along a film or digital camera if we wanted to record our memories. We were deliberate about the images we took and it required much more effort to either develop and print or transfer and post these images. Today, we can record video or snap photos and post them to a number of sites within seconds. This ease of use and a diminishing private life has left us in a state where many people don’t think twice about recording for themselves or posting images of others online. Having your image taken is and should always be based on consent. We should endeavor to ask permission whenever we want to photograph or record someone, and certainly get their permission to share these images publicly.
There are a number of reasons that someone might not want this to happen. They may be distancing themselves from the digital arena to get closure or safe separation from an unhealthy relationship. They may have been the victim of a crime. They may want to keep their social media stream clean and, without confusion, to look good for potential employers. Or they may simply value their privacy more than you. Whatever the reason or reasons might be, operate with integrity. Request permission when taking photos and recording video and make sure they say that it’s okay first before posting or even sharing with others via text. Respect goes a long way toward helping us build the societies we most desire.
Have a conversation with your kids about digital media sharing. Discuss the reasons why crossing those lines is harmful. Talk about better ways to handle these situations and let them ask questions so they can go away with a firm understanding of how to use their digital tools in ways that build others up and not tear them down.
Not All Screen Time is the Same
The term “screen time” can be a little misleading. It’s not just about the time your child spends looking at their phone. It might also refer to the time they spend on phones, watching television, or playing video games, for example.
As we touched on earlier, the amount of screen time that’s appropriate for your child depends on their age. Younger children should have less screen time than older children and adults. If your child is under two years old, they should have zero hours of screen time per day (none). While this may sound extreme, it’s not. Screen time at that age sets in motion a cascade of neurological, psychological and emotional changes that negatively affect your child’s learning capabilities, capacity for empathy, patience, intelligence, and ability to understand others and develop other important social skills.
When it comes to older kids and adults, there’s more wiggle room in terms of how much screen time is okay per day. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests no more than one hour of recreational screen time per day for kids between 25-36 months old and two hours per day for kids over 13 years old.
Whatever you decide as a parent, make sure you’re mindful of your children’s needs as well as their preferences when it comes to technology use. There are many opinions on this topic and it’s important to understand what works best for your family. If you’re confused at all, it’s best to lean toward less screen time, which will empower your family to seek real connection, closer relationships, creative outlets, and greater focus when using digital media to accomplish tasks.
Cultivate Openness in Texting and Social Media
Develop a culture of transparency in your home. We don’t mean get into everyone else’s business or private conversations. We simply mean that you should work to build trust between children and adults, a place where each of you can share certain aspects of your digital activities so that you can all learn together. Ask your child to show you an example of where someone they know or follow used technology in an unhealthy way. Then ask them to show you an example where they used it to build others up, encourage, enlighten, or create. Talk about these occurrences and why it’s important to be conscious of the way you and others are using the tools at hand.
Remember, though, be a parent, not a hover-parent! Give them some space so that they can make mistakes on their own terms in a safe way. Let them learn from those mistakes, but help guide them through the process by being available for support when needed and establishing guidelines early on.
The Role of Discernment
In order to have a healthy relationship with technology, each of us must be discerning. This means being thoughtful about how and when we use digital devices, and why we’re choosing to do so in each situation. It’s not enough to just say “no” all the time. For example, if a child is taking an online test for school, or one of their friends is going through a very difficult situation, it will make sense for them to use their phone or laptop during a time when you may have otherwise wanted them to be screen-free. But if your child is scrolling through social media feeds for hours, texting during family meals, or using their phone to take part in damaging behavior toward themselves or others, you need to work with them toward better choices.
Discernment is understanding the role of context, the role of the right time and place, and being able to read social cues, the reactions of others, and your own mindset and habits, to understand why you or others are making these choices in the digital sphere.
Establish Daily Screen-free Time for the Whole Family
No matter how digitally connected certain members of the family may be, always create completely screen-free times each day so that relationships and connection are prioritized. These times help you understand what’s going on in each other’s lives, equips you to support one another better, and gives you time to work out more complex issues and form solutions together. You can’t simply find the time together; you’ve got to make it.
We live in a world where technology, information and mass communication now sit as defining points of a complex and interconnected society. These tools and access points give us tremendous power. They afford us leverage to build and create far beyond what we once thought possible. But they’ve also landed us in some trouble. Without discernment and with overuse, we find ourselves growing idle, distracted, disinterested, and without empathy.
It’s up to each one of us to set a standard within our own life for the healthy use of digital technology. And as parents, it is our responsibility and our privilege, to open this ongoing conversation with our children, to establish healthy habits and boundaries, to encourage the creative and empowering use of these tools while helping them make choices that lead them toward success, understanding and the world beyond their own head. Our screens don’t have to define us. We can choose to be good parents and individuals in this tech-filled world.
Torrone Law wants the best for you and your family. We work to restore families to wholeness with comprehensive legal support in divorce, custody, adoption, and other family law issues. Connect with us today to learn more.
For answers to questions about screen time, check out our FAQs below.
What does screen time involve?
Screen time can include anything related to tech and media time, such as texting, video chats, surfing the web, using apps, making videos, posting content, and using social media platforms for any reason. It also includes things like watching television or movies, playing video games and more.
How do I know what the right limits are on screen time for my child?
This isn’t an easy answer. Different ages require different boundaries. Children under the age of 2 should essentially have zero screen time per day as it negatively affects their growth, development, intelligence, and social skills. For older kids, often 1 to 2 hours is standard. But you’ll need to have these conversations and set limits for your own family.
How do I encourage healthy digital behavior for my kids?
The first thing to remember is to do what you say. Set the example first by not overusing digital tools yourself. Limit your own screen time and prioritize time with family, friends, and positive activities. Start early on in their life by exposing them to a lot of screen-free living, engaging activities that don’t require devices, and encourage relationships. Cultivate an environment where honesty thrives, where you can all share openly about your digital experiences and discuss ways to use our screen time for positive activities and actions that build others up and help us grow and succeed.