By Callie Albaugh, MA, LAMFT & Mathew Meyers, MA, LMFT
In a time of quarantining in our homes with limited access to the world outside, it can be a slippery slope into unhealthy habits and routines. For many, this is a time that we easily sink into extended technology use – either as a means of distraction or a way to ease the boredom of staying inside. If we are unable to practice healthy boundaries with technology, it can create a slippery slope that greatly separates us from developing and nourishing connections in real life. Healthy technology use exhibits the ability to prioritize life in the real over technology use. It truly is possible to do this in our current circumstances. Here are common struggles families today are facing when it comes to technology use:
- Setting Limits and Consequences – Parents that create clear and concise structure and boundaries for their families to follow experience significant decreases in stress and an increased ability to effectively communicate. Now, parents are placed in a complicated bind in terms of providing consequences and setting limits for their children in terms of technology. Now, even more so than before, technology is a lifeline for kids to communicate with friends and family, and to use for their schoolwork. Taking away technology as a consequence also limits your child’s ability to connect socially — this doesn’t mean you can’t have limits on technology for your kids to follow. Parents can ensure that schoolwork is completed first before kids are given ‘free time’ with their devices. If consequences are needed in your household, parents can limit the amount of time kids are allowed to be on their devices (aside from schoolwork) for the day.
- My Kids Are SO BORED – In a time that we are physically stuck with our family inside, we are all looking to find new ways to mend the inevitable boredom. Your family can gather and use video games as a way to play together in the same household. Technology can be used as a tool to bond and strengthen connection under one roof. Families can also use this opportunity to interact and play in the real – whether that’s a board game, reading a book altogether, or learning a new skill.
- Our Schedule is All Over the Place – With our schedules newly misaligned, it can also be a temptation for our kids (us adults, too) to stay up later than normal on devices and wake up later than usual. It’s important for us to maintain our typical structure during the week – keeping bedtime and wake-up at its normal time during the school/work week, completing schoolwork before having free time, meals as a family, etc.
Principles to guide your understanding of healthy technology use:
- Sleep is a necessity – don’t let your children turn into night walkers. Maintain digital boundaries that prioritize a lights out/power down time in the evening until the next day.
- Contribute to the community – whether it is meal preparation, house cleaning, laundry, yard clean-up, or some other contribution to the community that your children live in (your home), participating and contributing (chores) gives children a meaningful way to contribute. They may experience feeling more invested in their home life when they contribute in this way (at least you are offering them that opportunity, aren’t you the greatest!). Prioritize a contribution to your community each and every day for all of your children.
- Boredom is a gift – The fact that you have created a home life in which your children get to have leisure time is a gift. There is benefit in children resolving boredom with other options than just technology. Make sure that you offer them this gift (even when they don’t realize that they want it).
- Technology can bring people together to play – Play together as a family utilizing technology. Pull out the old Guitar Hero or Dance Dance Revolution from WAAAY back in the day. Or utilize a Kahoot! Online and play together as a family. As adults we often forget how important play is in nurturing our own spirits and our relationships. Playing together creates vulnerability and vulnerability leads to a greater degree of intimacy.
- Peer Relationships are important – Create a structure that allows children to connect with their friends using digital tools. Be mindful that (for teens especially) not feeling connected to their peers may make them vulnerable to making poor decisions about what they share or how they communicate in order to feel close with their peers. Provide accountability by maintaining oversight of devices and keeping them out of bedrooms and bathrooms.
- Call Grandma/pa – There is much research that highlights the value of intergenerational relationships. Young and old benefit from being in relationship with each other. Support your children by using digital tools to connect with your family and friends. Include your kids in calls with family and friends.
COVID 19 is offering us an opportunity to evaluate the value of digital technology in our lives in a way that we have never known. Have conversations with your kids about how this experience is shaping us as a family and as individuals during this time. Ask about how it is connecting us and in what ways it is putting walls between us. This is a time that will define this generation. Our job as parents and caregivers of children and teens is to help them know the fullness of human relationship, to experience intimate connection, to know that they belong and are connected, and to realize that their contribution to a community matters. COVID 19 is offering us an opportunity to reflect on ways in which technology can support us and inhibit us in actualizing these things, allowing us to pass our best lessons along to our children in real time.