Balanced Family Tech Contract
Last week our grade 2 students at YIS mentioned, as part of a digital citizenship week assembly, how they are going to have better balance than their parents about the amount of time they spend on their mobile phones, laptops, and other devices when they grow up. These 8 year olds are not students with ulterior motives. With regard to a balanced family tech contract, they say what they mean and their intended meaning was plainly obvious,
“We think our parents are on their devices too much and they ought to spend more time with us.”
As won’t come as a surprise, this isn’t a statement I hear as a secondary school counselor from the middle and high school students. As a parent, I also see that this means the time to start discussing family technology use isn’t when your kids get to middle school but well before. The time to build in some technology norms as a family is early and this means they are going to apply to us, too.
Flattening the conversation
Tonight after dinner we were sitting around half cleaning up and half moving on to other projects. I started a conversation with my wife, fifth grade son, and first grade daughter that began something like, “I’ve been thinking of what kind of home we like having and how we should manage our tech use so that we keep that going.” Maybe we should have some rules about when and how much we use technology so that we keep the good things happening. Seeing that I was talking about “we” and not just “them” my kids were right into it. In less than 90 seconds we came up with a list of the “stuff we want to keep”
The Stuff We Want to Keep…
- Being with each other…the most (“the most” added after a 5 sec delay by the seven year old)
- Healthy balance (says the 10 year old)
- Being available to each other to help and talk
- So we can do other things like – talking – listening to music – playing – sports – art projects – cooking together – helping each other – working together with all family members – playing go fish and Monopoly.
At that we were pretty happy with this horribly incomplete summary of everything we do together and then we discussed the technology rules. The next stage of our conversation began something like.
“There is no sense in creating rules just to control each other, the rules should help us keep all that good stuff we were just writing down. What do we need to do to keep that happening?”
Again my kids were off to the races. While I’d like to believe they are little geniuses with some kind of genetic mutation that leaves them 100x smarter than their dad, I can see that this is exactly the kind of conversation I have been having with other people’s kids for years. Below are our rules. Notice how they don’t just apply to the kids like so many family technology use contracts do but to everyone. Modeling good behavior means actually modeling good behavior.
Our balanced family tech contract…
- Parents will be off technology from the time we get home from work until 8:00pm
- Children can be on technology for a maximum total of 1 hour between 3:00pm and 6:00pm. This includes all homework and personal communication. Everyone thought it would be good to have the parents screen free so that we could help with homework etc as needed.
- All technology will reside in the living room. This means that the living room (main room in our house) is the study space so that if anyone needs to be noisy that happens in their own room.
- Talk needs over with each other and be flexible when necessary. Most likely when report writing hits we will be going to the kids for some accommodations.
I can already see that while I feel like I maintain pretty decent overall life balance, the “until 8pm” rule is going to be tough initially for me to get used to. I don’t usually do major projects during that time but I do often check my phone. I can also see that we haven’t gotten into all the other nuances of what contributes to a positive environment with technology but there is always room to expand our fledgling rules. We’ve been playing a lot of board games recently anyway and inventing and adding our own rules as we go is right in step with the Monopoly negotiations. What I do feel great about is that we have oriented ourselves as a family to what really matters, keeping the good stuff good. – AC