Everybody loves their tech devices. And one key to using them properly in your family is to make sure they complement your time together.
Here are seven tips parents can use to help their family relationships flourish in a digital home.
Create an activity-filled home
A great way to get kids’ eyes off a screen is to have engaging alternatives at the ready.
“Strive to create a balanced home environment that allows for ready access to board games, art projects and indoor and outdoor exercise,” said Dr. Carla Marie Manly, a clinical psychologist and family relationship expert. “Engage with your child in fun, tech-free activities that include cooking, baking and learning together.”
Emphasize tech as a tool
Help kids understand that connected devices aren’t just digital social gatherings and entertainment portals. They’re helpful tools that can help support their goals.
“If we can teach kids all of the great ways to utilize technology to help them learn and be more efficient, then they associate their devices with growth,” said Dr. Scott Noorda, a family medicine doctor, co-author of Power Couple Habits and a father of five.
Go online with your kids to find recipes together. Encourage them to install journal apps they can write with. Teach them to use goal-tracking apps to help establish good habits.
Talk about online values
Parents are right to worry about the dangers their children can encounter online. Among those are cyberbullying and criminal behavior. Opening a dialogue about these issues not only helps kids make good decisions, it can strengthen parent-child relationships.
“Create an understanding of what is appropriate and expected regarding technology, violence, sexuality and the respectful treatment of others,” Manly said. “When parents take the time to openly and supportively discuss these issues with children, those children are also learning that it is safe to communicate on all topics.”
Plus, Manly adds, kids who understand the “why” behind appropriate online behavior are more likely to abide by guidelines.
Talk about online fun
Not all conversations between parents and kids about online behavior need to be about danger and rules. In fact, opening a dialogue about the fun things they’re up to on their devices is healthy.
“Invite informal discussions of what your kids are up to online. Who’s their favorite YouTuber? What show are they streaming right now? What is their favorite app at the moment?” said Theresa Desuyo, digital family expert.
“The more normal these types of conversations become, the more comfortable your kids will be to approach you should they encounter problems like cyberbullying or online predators,” she added.
Create tech-free times
Encouraging a healthy balance of digital and “real-life” activities in your home does require putting devices down.
But keeping tabs on how many minutes your kid has been looking at a screen each day can be a big undertaking.
According to Sarah Keyeski, a licensed professional counselor, establishing digital “block-out times” when no one uses devices makes more sense than counting up minutes throughout the day.
Designate tech-free zones
An additional way to encourage less screen time and more family face time is to set limits on where devices are allowed in the home.
The dinner table makes a fine phone-free zone.
“Although it’s becoming a lost art, eating together consistently is an important way for families to connect,” Noorda said.
Be a model of digital health
After setting guidelines for healthy technology use in the home, the most important thing parents can do is follow them themselves.
“Be mindful of modeling healthy tech use habits, so your kids are exposed to a balanced attitude,” Desuyo said. That can mean avoiding work emails at the table or “sneaky scrolling” during family time.
“Children are quick to spot when you’re not paying attention, so if they see you putting the screen first, they’ll learn to do the same,” she said.
With fewer opportunities to stare at screens and more opportunities to engage with each other, families can encourage healthy relationships without banning the internet from family time completely.
A former downtown development professional, Natalie Burg is a freelancer who writes about growth, entrepreneurialism and innovation.
Our content is not intended to provide scientific, nutritional, dietary, medical, physical fitness or financial advice. For specific advice about your unique circumstances, consider talking with a qualified professional.