The SMART Strategy: Technology and Your Family

This morning, I spoke at the Alberta Home Education Association’s convention on technology in the home. The talk was called: “The SMART Family: Balancing Technology and Life”. I presented a five step process on how to create some principles and rules to balance technology with family life in the modern home.

The SMART Strategy: Technology and Your Family Image

The SMART Strategy:

S is for “Stop! and Strategize”

The first step is to sit down with your partner and agree to make a plan. Although you may think you already know what they will say, discuss where you think your family may be imbalanced when it comes to tech in the home. You might be surprised, and even annoyed at what they say.

Now get out some paper and a pen, and work through the following suggestions. Don’t try to change everything at once, only adopt 3-4 thing that you both can agree on.

M is for “Make a Map”

Mapping your home is probably the easiest way to create a healthy and balanced home in the tech age. This simply means that you create off-line or no-tech zones throughout your house. These can be either times or spaces in the home.

For example, in our house, there is no technology allowed at the table when we eat meals together. Sociology backs this up:

When families eat together the chances of their kids succeeding in every area of life grow exponentially.1)See http://www.cfs.purdue.edu/cff/documents/promoting_meals/spellsuccessfactsheet.pdf For chances of high-performing teenagers, all that is required is three meals together as a family per week.2)Craig Jutila, Faith and the Modern Family: “How to Raise a Healthy Family in a ‘Modern Family’ World” (Regal, 2014), Kindle Location, 1537. Obviously we lose some of this advantage if we eat together, but are still alone.

TV is an absolute no during mealtimes because adults eat more when they watch TV3)See http://greatist.com/health/does-eating-front-tv-make-you-eat-worse and children eat less (unless they have a normal habit of eating in front of the TV, then they eat more as well).4)Guernsey, 230.

Also, where you place your TV in your home matters a great deal for how much it will be used. At our house, the TVs in the basement which prevents us from using it as background noise or a five-minute distraction for the children.

Another example of how to map your home is to not allow children to charge their electronics in their bedrooms. A study from the University of Alberta has shown an increased correlation between gadgets in the bedroom and obesity.5)See http://mashable.com/2012/10/24/kids-with-electronic-devices-in-the-bedroom-are-more-likely-to-be-obese-study/ Plus, I’m sure you’ve heard stories about children staying up all night texting their friends. By creating a public charging station in the kitchen, everyone’s gadgets are accounted for each night and this may help keep your children from becoming too possessive of their devices.

A is for “Adjust Your Attitude”

This may be the hardest part of the strategy, but the most important for its success. Nothing affects children’s attitudes about technology as much as the way parents use their own gadgets. The book Into the Minds of Babes by Lisa Guernsey argues that that if parents “treat screen time like junk food, or ‘like a magazine at the hair salon’—good for passing the time in a frivolous way but nothing more—then the child will fully absorb that attitude.” Consequently, if we as parents use our cell phones at the table, as our kids get older, it will be even more difficult to bring such rules into practice.6)If you struggle with this one, consider downloading the Legacy App. This app creates a visual representation of how much time you have left with your kids. It encourages you to enter your child’s graduation date, which starts a countdown timer. When you have done that, switch your most used app’s position on your screen with the Legacy app. Now every time you  are tempted to text at the table, you will accidentally open Legacy (or at least once or twice, then you will be used to the new position).

Helping our children have a good attitude regarding their devices can be a challenge, but this step is just as important. In our house, we always call Laura’s iPad “Mommy’s iPad” and insist that when our children use it, they have short time limits. We also try to warn them when their time is almost up so we don’t surprise them when we take it away. This helps reinforce that using gadgets is a privilege not a right. For older children, it may help to walk through this planning strategy with them, so that they feel ownership over the rules. Alternatively, if your children are getting their first cell phone, you might want to get very specific and create a family cell phone contract.

R is for “Reorient and Redirect”:

Magicians use the art of redirection to distract us so that they can do their tricks. I know as a parent that redirection works much better than threats. The key to technological redirection is to find ways to distract children from using technology in isolation and only for personal entertainment. In the book, Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World Jane McGonical explains that video games have positive effects for children and teenagers if they are played less than two hours a day and they are the right kinds of games; games that require you to practice helpful behavior in order to succeed.

Several studies document how young people who play video games which require helpful behavior, become more likely to “help friends, family, neighbors, and even strangers in their real lives.”7)Jane McGonigal, Reality Is Broken : Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World (New York: Penguin Press, 2011), 113-114.

In my opinion, it’s best if adults play games with kids in the same room, but if that can’t happen, it’s better if they are able to play with friends or relatives on games like Mine Craft or over the internet using family friendly games. One great cooperative game that families can enjoy together is called “Space Team“. This game is a cooperative game, is cross-platform so both IOS and Android devices can play, and really fun. You probably can’t prevent your kids from using media completely, but if you can bring the family around media is much better.

The best advice I’ve seen on this is to practice “One Channel for Family Time”: “If you are having a family TV night but your kids want to text, play a game, read a book, or post something on a social media site that’s not relevant to what you are doing together, have them turn it off. They need to plug in to the rest of the family.”8)Jutila, Kindle Location, 837.

Third, find ways to guide your kids away from technology as entertainment by using technology itself. One option is the podcast “Entrepreneur Kids” by an 11-year-old girl who started small business in her town offering to pick up dog poop for owners who didn’t want to clean up their own backyards. Now she interviews other child entrepreneurs. Why not subscribe to this podcast in iTunes and listen to it in the vehicle to encourage your kids to think beyond the next videogame.

Another idea is to try the free service called Chore Wars to gamify your household chores. If you don’t think this could work, read what one parent said: “I sat down with the kids, showed them their characters and the adventures and they literally jumped up and ran off to complete their chosen tasks. I’ve never seen my 8 year old son make his bed!”

Finally, if you need some fresh ideas on how to get your kids doing fun things outside beyond technology, subscribe to the free email list: “My Kids Adventures” or buy this 4.00 ebook is a fantastic resource: KidVentures: 50 Outdoor Experiences of Wonder, Discovery, & Childhood Memories.

T is for “Tweak Your Tech”:

The last part of the puzzle is making sure you have good technological defenses in place. If your children are bound to be exposed to porn sooner rather than later, it can be tempting to give up here and just hope it doesn’t happen too early. However consider the following quote:

“Our children have been born into a digital garden with a million trees they have been told not to touch. They have been told to do their homework on it, study on it, use it for research and play a few games for enjoyment, but all around those activities are trees they are not supposed to touch. When (or if) our kids take the digital fruit from a tree they weren’t supposed to touch, they will want to hide. Why? For the same reason you and I want to hide, for the same reason Adam and Eve wanted to hide: guilt, fear, failure, embarrassment, shame and regret. The difference between our kids and the original occupants of the Garden is that our kids don’t hide behind trees; they erase their digital footprints…The difficult thing about online pornography is that our kids may not even be looking for it. But just like the serpent in the Garden, it will come looking for them.”9)Jutila, Kindle Location, 2647.

But we need to have a plan in place. This must include software on our routers to block inappropriate content coming into the home, as well as age-appropriate filters and restrictions on all devices, including iPods and tablets (most porn is now consumed on mobile devices). Even video game systems are not immune. If you want to go through the steps to create a safe home for your gadgets and router, I have linked to some ideas at my blog post: “The Internet and a Safe Home“.

Conclusion:

Technology historians often point out that as a certain technology becomes ubiquitous, we take it for granted and no longer talk about how it affects us. This is obvious from the fact that we aren’t talking about automobiles in this blog post. As Christians living in this historical moment, we get the privilege of setting the trajectory for how our children think about and use technology. And if we are fortunate, maybe even our grandchildren. God bless you as you strive to be Godly parents in a challenging time!

If you have any suggestions to how to tweak this strategy, I would love to add them to the mix for future presentations. Please feel free to leave comments or ideas!

Recommended Book:

  
  
  
  
  

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2 Comments:

  1. Thanks Josh! This talk was informative and eye opening. One of the best talks we attended this weekend at the conference!

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