We live in an age where walking around without a cell phone feels like walking around without a brain. Generation Z, kids aged 3 to 23, does not know a world that doesn’t include a heavy dose of technology. Now, more than ever, it is important to ensure children are developing healthy habits in relation to that technology.
Danah Boyd, a researcher at Microsoft, said as soon as a child is born, “people are shoving phones in their face to take pictures, turning to their phones to escape and obsessively talking on their phones while ignoring the kids.” Doing so normalizes the idea that a cell phone is essentially an appendage and teaches kids that they should expect and even repeat those behaviors.
Children are highly susceptible to the environment around them. It is important to practice positive technology habits and a healthy relationship between yourself, your children and technology, starting as early as possible. So how exactly do you do that?
Write a household tech contract
One of the best ways to enforce healthy habits is to create a technology or screen-time contract for every member of the house, specifying technology guidelines for everyone. Including the whole family in the contract, rather than just the kids, helps ensure parents will also follow the rules and demonstrate the kinds of behaviors they’d like to see. Not only does a contract outline specific rules to follow, but if the kids are involved in choosing the rules, they will be more likely to stick to them and hold each other accountable.
Talk about what you’re doing on your phone
Take a week or two and verbalize everything you do on your phone when you’re around your kids. For example, say things like “I’m scrolling through Kylie Jenner’s Instagram right now” or “I am checking my email for work”. When you say every action out loud, you draw attention to how often you are using it and the tech habits you are normalizing for your kids. Once you’ve made note of how often you use your phone, you can take steps toward minimizing that time and begin to prioritize being present with your children.
Go gadget-free during family meals
Eating meals together is one of the most important ways to bond with your family. However, if that time is spent with everyone glued to their phones or watching something on TV, none of that bonding can occur. Take the time to talk about your day, share funny stories and make plans for the future. Use meals as a time to truly connect with each other in-person as opposed to e-connecting via phones, social media or video games. Not only does this create healthy boundaries between children and technology, but it sets up your kids to build positive, healthy relationships throughout their lives.
Encourage imagination and creativity
It’s easy to set the kids up with their tablets or in front of the TV on a rainy day, but staring at a screen all day is not healthy for their eyes or their imaginations. Liat Hughes Joshi, author of How to Unplug Your Child noted that too much technology can “repress the free uncluttered thinking space to daydream”. Instead, spend those rainy days making up fairytales together. Lay outside and find pictures in the clouds in the summer. Encourage teenagers to learn a foreign language or pursue a new instrument. Inspire your kids to use their creative skills instead of staring at a computer screen for hours at a time.
Set aside designated screen-free time
At least once a week, set a time for the whole family to ditch their gadgets and do something together. Go out to dinner and leave the phones in the car, visit the closest national or state park and go for a hike or nature walk, or spend a day at the beach. No matter what you decide to do, make a commitment to spend the entire time electronic-free, even if only for a few hours. Doing that will teach kids to be completely present when spending time with others and will help develop a healthy balance between tech-appropriate times and those better spent without it.
Children today may as well be born with a phone in their hands and headphones in their ears. They are fully immersed in technology from the moment they are born and continue to gain more exposure as they grow older. It is important for parents, teachers and the other adults in their lives to help instill a healthy relationship with the technology surrounding them each day. From signing a household contract to avoiding electronic use at certain times to focusing on imagination and creativity, these practices will impart positive tech habits in your kids and may even reinforce them in yourself.
Guest Post Bio
Amanda Peterson is a contributor to Enlightened Digital and software engineer from New York City. When she’s not trying to find the best record store in the city, you can find her curling up to watch some Netflix with her Puggle, Hendrix.