As parents, the last five months have presented us with numerous challenges and opportunities, many of which concern increased screen time. As a family, we’ve always had strict guidelines for technology use. It’s been relatively easy in many ways. Our elementary aged children were able to have social contact at school and church. However, the pandemic has changed all of that.
Five days after it was announced that schools would be closed, our oldest son, who is also our most social child, celebrated his birthday. He had been anticipating a party with his school friends, and we had to tell him that likely wouldn’t be happening (at that point, we still had no idea that we were actually entering a period of extended social isolation). On his birthday, we arranged for him to have virtual play dates with a couple of his closest friends. As these boys virtually shared their Lego creations, I had the sense that this was the beginning of a significant change. Playdates and social interactions were changing. Our oldest daughter is now messaging friends. We had always resisted the temptations to do that, but how do we help her maintain social contact in this time, especially in the early phase of the pandemic, before any bubbles were allowed?
We live in an age where it is so easy to be judgmental. As parents, we are faced with so many decisions to make, and we are striving to raise our children well. We will make different choices, and we need to be able to have reasonable conversations with one another.
My intention is not to be judgmental, but to share some questions that have helped us as we make decisions about our children and their technology use. You need to discern the best habits for your children.
What kind of example am I setting?
The adage “monkey see, monkey do” applies here. Am I constantly checking my phone, and thereby sending the message that it’s okay for my children to be doing that? (For the record, I fail regularly at this. I’m striving to set better limits for myself, but I’m terrible for checking notifications and regularly pulling out my phone).
Do I know what my children are doing?
There are so many dangers online for our children. From predators to pornography to cyber bullying, there is significant risk. We check our daughter’s messaging app and she knows that we do. We keep all devices locked, and only our oldest child knows any passcodes to access a device. What apps are your children using? What searches are they doing? What filters do you have set up?
Is our technology contributing to or taking away from our family values?
As a family, we value time together. Our children spend lots of time outside and they are all avid readers. We love our librarians, and our local staff know each of our kids’ names. Technology is helpful, but tablet usage can remove someone from the family dynamics because they get pulled into the screen. We’ve been enjoying watching movies together, and that creates shared experiences for conversation and imaginative play. Along this line, consider the space where your children access their devices? Are they in public spaces, like living rooms and dining rooms, or always in the bedroom?
What is at the centre of my home?
Is it the television or computer, or tools that promote creativity? We keep our television in the basement, and a bookshelf and library book basket in our living room. This says that books are more important than movies or apps. We regularly have art supplies in the living room, again providing resources that fosters creativity. The pieces that are most commonly seen are given higher value.
I’ve recently begun using the ParentCue app, which reminds me that I only have 416 weeks left with my oldest daughter before she has finished high school. In those 416 weeks, her technology use will change and increase. At some point, she’ll likely have her own phone. As she continues through school, her messaging with friends will increase. Her exposure to online threats will rise, and we’ll be navigating the dance of trust and access to devices. As I think about my family’s use of technology, I’ve appreciated Andy Crouch’s Tech Wise and the ten tech-wise commitments he suggests for families. His intention is to open up conversation to help parents put technology in its proper place in the home.
The school year is going to look radically different. We’re anticipating a second wave, which would likely mean we’ll be in isolation again. How do we as families pass the time? What boundaries do we need to create now to help our children thrive and encounter Jesus?