How to tell if your family needs a technology policy

Is this a regular picture in your home? Maybe it's time to create a technology policy.
Is this a regular picture in your home? Maybe it’s time to create a technology policy.

Last year, my wife, Catherine, and I, instituted a technology policy in our home to police and guide our children. We felt the need to create and maintain this policy because we were observing our children spending a lot of time of their devices, and choosing to stay home to play, instead of participating in family activities.

According to TIME, research shows that “using next-gen tech in the right ways can make students smarter, more engaged and more creative.

Said research doesn’t quite provide “the right ways” for well-meaning parents looking to tools to improve their children’s curricular and extra-curricular performance. In our situation, our kids were watching questionable videos on YouTube, playing a particular game or app for several hours at a time without breaks, and resisting calls to eat or rest to continue using the technology.

The issues here were, in our opinion:

  1. Excessive time spent on the devices in passive, explicitly non-educational activities
  2. The specific questionable content our children chose to access; and
  3. The potentially negative effect of the devices on their studies and social skills.

In our opinion as parents, this necessitated an intervention, hence our need to create and implement a technology policy. (An important note: these are standards that we, as parents, hold on to; your parental standards may differ from ours, and whatever call you would like make for your children is certainly your call, as your children are different from ours.)

Research already identifies the dangers of the overuse of technology, including addiction, aggression, and regression of social interaction skill. If adults themselves can get addicted, what more children? Nick Bilton writes in the New York Times, “Children under 10 seem to be most susceptible to becoming addicted.” His article, Steve Jobs Was a Low-Tech Parent, notes that “movers and shakers in the field of technology themselves understand the dangers of technology. He writes, “a number of technology chief executives and venture capitalists… strictly limit their children’s screen time, often banning all gadgets on school nights, and allocating ascetic time limits on weekends.”

So how do parents go about deciding whether a technology policy is right for them, and how do they go about making the policy? Caths and I asked ourselves four questions that proved helpful in deciding to create this policy.

1. Does my child exhibit symptoms to show he needs a technology policy? Dr. Jennifer Adair writes in the Christian Science Monitor, “…children learn and grow in many different ways. Too often, tablets, phones, and apps distract rather than support the types of educational experiences young children need most.” Observe your child and ask yourself the following questions:

  • Does he wake up looking to play with the device?
  • Does he want to bring the device everywhere he goes?
  • Does he choose to spend more time with the device than with you or other children?
  • Are the kinds of games and apps he chooses to play, the kind that require full attention, such that interaction with the child is next to impossible?

If your answer to any or more of these questions is Yes, there may be a component of addiction already coming into play, you may want to consider drafting and implementing a technology policy. Dr. Adair writes, “Technology should encourage and even require creative manipulation and social engagement. Just because a device or app is labeled as ‘educational’ doesn’t make it so.” She adds, “Electronics have to take a rest if relationships are suffering.”

2. How much time does my child spend on technology? The Kaiser Family Foundation says today’s “8-18 year-olds devote an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes (7:38) to using entertainment media across a typical day (more than 53 hours a week). The report adds, “because they spend so much of that time ‘media multitasking’ (using more than one medium at a time), they actually manage to pack a total of 10 hours and 45 minutes (10:45) worth of media content into those seven hours.”

Ten hours a day! Even if the device were used to supplement learning in school, those are crazy hours! A properly drafted and implemented technology policy can help you monitor the time devoted to technology use, and bring about a more normal usage pattern.

3. Am I using this device to get out of parenting? My generation grew up in an era of television, and TV was the babysitter of the time, keeping us occupied while our parents went about doing other things that adults do. Today, mobile technology is that babysitter, and it’s a convenient scapegoat for our own inability–or lack of interest–to facilitate the learning process. Dr. Adair writes, “Technology can be a part of that process, but not without people being involved and creating a creative and social experience with the technology.”

If you find that your technology is causing you to spend less time with your child, you aren’t part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. When your child is not on the device, he can be spending that time with you. A technology policy helps us, as parents, remain accountable to the commitment to give adequate quality time and resources to our children and our spouses.

4. Does this technology help my child honor God? Caths and I believe it is our role as parents to provide our children tools and guidance to help them grow to become God-fearing adults who contribute positively to society. Proverbs 22:6 says, “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.”

Technology can be very useful in helping children learn more in school, as well as encourage them on their faith walk, with Bible apps, games, social media connections to other children in church, all available at the tap of a finger. We’ve identified the kind of persons we want our children to grow up to become in our family mission statement, and it gives us accountability as parents to ensure our use of technology helps them become that kind of person.  Our technology policy helps us use our technology in the proper manner.

To summarize, parents should be involved in ensuring the responsible use of technology by their children. If you believe your children are not using technology responsibly, a technology policy is one way towards helping develop the discipline and mindset towards responsible use. I hope these tips help guide you in determining whether your family needs a tech policy. I’ll be sure to write a blog next time offering tips on how to draft a technology policy for your family. Cheers!

[Read our updated policy here.]

Image taken from Dr. Kate Robert’s brilliant blog entry, Giving Technology: Four Tips to Guide Parents. (No copyright infringement intended.) Be sure to check it out!