How parents can model healthy tech habits

Tips for when to turn off the tech

Rachel Mark, Tarrant Institute for Innovative EducationIn addition to being an educator, I’m also a parent — of three spunky children between the ages of 5 and 12. Like many people, my husband and I bring our work home with us; more specifically, work and home are often one in the same.

Though we both enjoy and appreciate the benefits of technology in both our work and personal lives, we also recognize that it’s hard to disconnect from outside activities and connect in person with the people we love. In today’s world, we both feel how difficult it is to distinguish work time from family-time and couple-time, and the Holy Grail: personal-time.

But for the sake of our children, these healthy habits are what we have to model.

The Research

Based on research and the observations of experts, it’s critical that parents start to be more mindful of their relationship with technological devices.

For one, we’re the adults trying to guide children and young adults to go out into the world as citizens. They need role models of how to balance and build healthy relationships with technology themselves.

how parents can model healthy tech habitsMore compelling is the research that suggests that kids are begging for their parents’ focus; the ways they seek it may not always be clear and productive. What if our kids are misbehaving in order to get our undivided attention?

In a 2014 study published in the journal Pediatrics , families in the Boston-area were observed at fast-food restaurant dining tables. The conclusion? Adults are actively tuning out their children and spouses, in favor of attending to their smart phones, and in some cases their children are following suit.

In 55 observable families, only 15 of them used no mobile device (smart-phone or tablet) during the meal. That means that over ⅔ of the families did to some degree. Lead researcher and pediatrician Dr. Jenny Radesky described the study as less scientific and more of an anthropological study. One observable outcome is compelling for parents: the kids whose parents were most “tuned out” demonstrated the most attention-seeking and negative behaviors.

As a mother who’s likely guilty of these behaviors at some point, this is powerful. If I want my kids to stop acting out, pay attention to them.

The Expert Advice

Last week, I had the opportunity to meet and listen to Dr. Catherine Steiner-Adair, author of The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age. For years, the Boston-based psychologist, writer and researcher has been advocating for better adult habits with technology.

Steiner-Adair identifies these 8 Simple Steps to Strengthen Family Connections Every Day, and I love them.

1 – Don’t take your smartphone to your bedroom

Even if you use it as an alarm clock, find a way to leave your smartphone behind. Buy a $7 alarm clock from the store. You may sleep better, and be less inclined to check email and social media before you’ve had your necessary coffee.

2 – Be an early bird

Get up 30 minutes earlier than your kids to do all of your preliminary email and texting. When your children wake up, you are off your device (for now).

3 – Drive time is no time for screens and phones

Unless it’s a long trip, make driving times tech free and device free. Talk to each other, look out the windows, be bored.

4 – Present at pick-up

If and when you pick your children up from anything (school, practice, social events) try not to be on the phone or texting. Say hello, and give them eye contact. Wait for them to roll their eyes.

5 – Create tech-free time

When kids come home from school, don’t let them plug in. Make them get outside, be physical, play games, or make art. Of course, kids want some device time, but establish clear rules and parameters around when that happens.

6 – Leave it at the door

When parents come home from work, don’t be on your phone. If you have to take a  conversation or text in the driveway, so be it. Walk in the door and be available to your family at that moment.

7 – Spaghetti and smartphones don’t mix

Make mealtimes at the table a device-free zone. No exceptions.

8 – Unplug at bedtime and bath-time

Be focused on your kids and don’t multi-task. You’d be surprised at the statistics of increased accidents for children in the bath; and if your children are grown, let yourself smile at that sacred memory.

I live in the real world. Right now, I’m writing this with my 12 year old at my elbow; three members of my family are all sitting and working on our laptops. My husband jokes our mantra should be, “The family that clicks together, sticks together”. It’s a joke, but we know that we’re not perfect.

We do make an effort, though; we know that every family needs protected off-line time. In a few minutes, I’ll order everyone to shut the devices off and go outside. Period. Here it comes…

Rachel Mark

Rachel Mark joins the Tarrant Institute as a Professional Development Coordinator in the southern part of Vermont. Prior to working with TIIE, Rachel was a middle school literacy and social studies teacher at Tarrant partner school Manchester Elementary-Middle. As a teacher, Rachel loved exploring new content and new methods with inquisitive young adolescents. She thinks middle schools are the most dynamic learning centers in the state. Rachel is passionate about supporting teachers and helping them overcome obstacles; it’s her mission to break down the barriers that teachers face in implementing change. She is interested in student reflection and portfolio based assessment, inquiry and project-based learning When she's not reading, researching and supporting teachers, Rachel loves to play. She balances her life shuttling three busy kids around by getting sweaty and zen - yoga, exercise, and being outdoors are how she recharges her metaphorical batteries.

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