A recent research study entitled Not at the Dinner Table: Parents’ and Children’s Perspectives on Family Technology Rules found that the majority of the 259 families studied have rules around social media and technology. It also found that only 6% of families have no rules or expectations at all about technology use. The researchers asked the same questions to the parents and children in each family and the conclusions were eye opening.

This study also generated seven general rules children wished their parents would follow:

  1. Be present
    Given the rapid rise of different types of technology available to us today, we as adults often have difficulty monitoring ourselves when it comes to technology. Our kids are reporting that we are the ones with the inability to put away our phones. As their role models, it is incumbent on us to demonstrate that we are taking the time to be mindful and present with them, rather than prioritizing our screens.Tech tip: Find times to unplug. One family unplugs between the hours of 6:00 — 8:00 in the morning and at night to allow for uninterrupted time to connect with one another.
  1. Let your child have some autonomy
    Our children can only show us how capable they are when we give them the chance to prove it! Within the limits of the rules created as a family, show your children that you trust them. Once that baseline trust is created, additional responsibilities can be added. Start with devices that are closed systems, for example, nothing with web browsing capabilities or Internet access. As your children’s needs increase, so, too can their devices. We do not hand over the keys to a racecar as soon as our kids receive their drivers’ permits! The same should be said for technological devices.Tech tip: Together with your child, create a schedule that allows them to think critically about ways in which they can use their devices in the agreed-upon time frame. Set timers and trust your children to be able to turn off their devices once the alarm sounds in order to preempt any unplugging battles.
  1. Moderate use
    If our children had a say, they would ask us to balance our technology use with other activities. It’s up to us to model tech moderation and, in doing so, pave the way for other family activities.Tech tip: Find times throughout the day to put your phone away—breakfast time, in the car, and dinner time are great times to start! Fill the time with other activities you can do as a family. Family meals, walks, and game nights are all great bonding activities that naturally lend themselves to increased communication and feelings of connectedness.
  1. Supervise but don’t intrude
    Our children might not like our rules, but our children also want and need us to help keep them safe. The research also found that children are more open to our rules when those rules concern their personal safety and welfare, as opposed to when we set rules related to issues of personal taste. When first introducing a device to your child or deciding to add a new function or app to the device, go over the owner’s manual and tutorials so that you and your child are learning together. Be clear with your children that “supervision” is not the same as “spying”.Tech tip: Help your children understand that there will be routine checks of their devices—in order to keep them safe, not because you don’t trust them—and they will become more cognizant of how their devices are used.
  1. No texting while driving
    Not even at traffic lights! Children want us to stop texting or looking at our phones when we’re behind the wheel, even if we’re stopped at traffic lights. They’re watching everything we do. One day they’ll be driving, and when they are, we will want them to put their phones down, too.Tech tip: Set your phone to airplane mode while driving, in order to not get distracted by notifications or the urge to check your email.
  1. Don’t overshare
    Our kids really don’t want us to share information about them without their explicit permission. According to Sarita Schoenebeck, assistant professor at the University of Michigan’s School of Information and one of the authors of the study, “Twice as many children as parents expressed concerns about family members oversharing personal information about them on Facebook and other social media without permission … Many children said they found that content embarrassing and felt frustrated when their parents continued to do it.”Tech Tip: Think about how you would feel if a certain post was about YOU! Create a family rule that you ask for the “go ahead” before posting anything personal.
  1. Practice what you preach
    Kids and teens want their parents to practice what they preach. For example, putting the phone down when everyone is at the table should be a rule that applies to everyone. When you create your family technology rules, be mindful that these are rules for every family member, even the parents. This helps everyone be more accountable for their own actions and more likely to follow the rules.Tech tip: Help each other be more accountable for your family’s digital health by adhering to these guidelines and communicating regularly about what is and is no longer working for your family.

Unplugged bagReboot’s National Day of Unplugging is a 24-hour respite from digital devices. In 2018 it will be taking place from sundown March 9th — sundown March 10th. Try putting away your phone in one of their “cell phone sleeping bags”, available at Parents Place locations. You can do this for one hour, the whole day, or something in between! It may impact you in a way you never expected.

As an agency, we are dedicated to the idea of responsible use of technology and are here to assist your family create your own rules around technology, particularly if it has become a cause of stress in your home.

For further information contact Havi Wolfson Hall, LCSW, to set up an appointment at 650-699-3080 or [email protected].

Learn more about National Day of Unplugging.

Havi Wolfson Hall, LCSW is a Child and Adolescent Therapist for Parents Place in Palo Alto, which is a program of Jewish Family and Children’s Services.