Q. I have three children 6, 9 and 12 years of age. With the influence of more technology starting at an ever-younger age, it seems like we have less and less family time. How can we increase face to face connection time and still see the value in technology?
A. Culture has absorbed the digital world. Helping children also see the value of personal interaction is your goal. Recognizing these facts will get you started on a solution:
TV, computers, pods and pads are important parts of family life.
Connecting face to face requires some down time from all the “digitals.”
Connecting face to face also must have an esteemed place in your family.
Parents need to figure out what they actually believe and make family rules to support those beliefs.
Set limits on where devices may be used and how many hours they may be used (can vary with age of child).
Create a “screen free” zone in the house. Make it a gradual adjustment, perhaps starting with the bedrooms. Begin with just 1 or 2 nights a week and increase the number of nights or switch which area will be “screen free.”
Establish consequences for loss or damage to the devices, including penalties for over hours usage.
Parenting techno kids takes a “gentle firmness.” Don’t cave in to the pleas of children who can’t live without their devices.
All family members can be involved in creating tech-etiquette. Set roles and responsibilities for your children so they are part of the plan.
Most parents were raised in two worlds —your children were born digital. Recognize their familiarity with this mode of communication and reinforce the value of face to face connections.
Claim a family game night. Attendance is non-negotiable.
Given the busyness of children in the family, this will be a great challenge. Make it happen by being creative.
Help teens become playful. Play cards, board games, plan a family trip to the zoo or walk in the park together.
Your belief that this can happen, and eventually not be pure torture, is the only way you won’t succumb to foot dragging of teens and pre-teens. You may have to be the electronic police for a while. It will help to have all electronics docked in a common place every night. The level of resistance is comparable to the importance both kids and a lot of adults put on electronics.
Your children need you face to face to help them learn meaning from body language . . . theirs and yours. The more you are actively present with your child heart to heart, mind to mind, the more that child will learn serenity.
Hogan-Downey is a licensed master social worker and marriage and family therapist and has been in clinical practice for more than 30 years. She can be reached at (586) 774-7779.
The Family Center, a 501(c)(3), non-profit organization, serves as the community’s centralized hub for information, resources and referral for families and professionals. To view more Ask The Experts articles, visit familycenterweb.org.