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The Technology-Alternative Lifestyle

January 8, 2019     By Sarah Potts, Post Doc. Clinic Psych Fellow, Boys Town Behavioral Health Clinic

Behavior, Communicating with Kids, Connecting with Kids, Connecting with Teens, social media, Technology

Does your child spend too much time on electronic devices such as phones, tablets, computers or gaming consoles? Does he or she struggle when you attempt to limit or remove access to these devices? Does it feel like your child constantly complains when he or she doesn't have access to technology at home?

If you answered "Yes" to any of these questions, you are not alone.

While some adults may long for the days when there was limited technology and no cell phones, that is not true for young people today. Children are typically introduced to technology early in life, and spend a lot of time in front of some kind of screen all through their childhood and into adulthood. From schoolwork to entertainment to applying for a job, children are often required to have access to a device. Given these demands, teaching children how to properly use technology has become one of the most important focuses of parenting.

Many families wish their children would spend less time using technology, but they often struggle with identifying and connecting their kids to screen time alternatives. While there is no way to completely eliminate technology from your child's life, there are ways to create a healthy, technology-alternative lifestyle.

What is a technology-alternative lifestyle? It's a lifestyle that incorporates more "unplugged" time! It promotes the things kids miss out on when social media and other forms of technology occupy too much of their world – having face-to-face interactions with others, receiving feedback within important relationships and connecting with personal and family values. A technology-alternative lifestyle can help families find more time to spend together, which can lead to important experiences that help shape a child's or teen's healthy behaviors. Most importantly, technology alternatives can help children, teenagers and families strengthen relationships.

Setting family-based expectations with regard to technology requires some thought and planning. Every household will have different alternative activities because each has different values and interests. It is important to find technology alternatives that best fit your family. 

Here are some tips for creating a Technology-Alternative Lifestyle in your home:

  • Make "together time" a habit. Sharing time together at home can take many different forms. Find activities that help bring your family together, such as collaborating on cooking duties, eating a meal together, playing a game, reorganizing a room or spending time outside. These activities can encourage conversation and create opportunities for your child or teen to receive specific praise for being with you. This can help your child understand that family time can be joyful and rewarding.
  • Make completing household chores a family effort. Being part of household means taking care of the home. Schedule a chore hour or work together to tackle spring cleaning.  Attack the kitchen as a team or divide and conquer as you clean and organize the family room. Whatever you do, the important part is that you are doing it together.
  • Get active in life. Life does not take place just on a computer screen. Social media is not an alternative to spending time with others face-to-face. Encourage your child or teen to get out there and attend school events, get active in extracurricular activities or make plans with peers. If your child has other creative interests, such as painting or music, explore how you can work together to make opportunities happen.
  • Set realistic, meaningful limits. Technology is a major part of our world. You can reduce arguments over how your child uses it by setting reasonable limits and establishing healthy media habits. This can include coming up with time limits for technology use, having a "bedtime" for phones (in addition to your child's bedtime) or creating a technology-free zone, such as the dinner table or during valued family activities. Certain situations are appropriate for using devices, while others are not. You can help your child or teen learn the difference by discussing technology use as a family. You can teach expectations for using technology in the same way you might establish rules for watching TV, completing homework or doing chores.
  • You are the model... start EARLY! Kids who witness healthy technology use by parents and other adults may demonstrate healthier technology habits. While it seems so simple, parents often forget how important it is to model the behaviors they want their children to produce. You might want to set limits on your own phone use during evenings. You might even ask yourself, "Do I need to be on my phone right now?" Kids learn the importance of balancing technology when they see it being consistently modeled.
  • Open the conversation about healthy technology use habits. Technology is unavoidable, but it does not have to be a bad thing. There can be many benefits to navigating technology efficiently and appropriately. You are probably reading this blog because you are using technology. Encourage your child or teen to talk about what they learn from social media or what they find interesting as they use their devices. Discuss their interests, safety, and plans for managing potentially tricky situations. The most important aspect of child and teen technology use is decision-making. You can help your child make smart decisions by keeping the door open for communication.

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