Once upon a long while ago, one of my friends asked a group of us for help in solving a vexing parenting question. Her three-year-old son was constantly getting into her jewelry box. There was just something about all those chains and glittery things that was impossibly attractive to him and his three-year-old brain. She tried explaining to him, reasoning with him why he shouldn't get in there. She tried every discipline tactic she could think of--time out, taking away privileges, offering rewards, reminding him in advance, but still, no luck.
What to do, what to do?
After a moment or two, somebody piped up, "How 'bout moving the jewelry box?"
Ah! Of course. Duh. Sometimes the answer is just to move the jewelry box. Problem solved. Instead of asking for more self control than his little three-year-old brain possessed, this way set him up for success rather than taxing his ability to comply.
. . .
I think technology can be a little like that jewelry box for a lot of older kids and teens--so glittery and promising and accessible. Sometimes its attractiveness outpaces their developmental ability to exercise self control--it's hard enough for those of us firmly in adulthood! There are times, especially in the beginning, when you've just gotta move the jewelry box now and then and set them up for success.
A few things we've tried at our house, admittedly with varying consistency and success:
- Back a few years ago we came up with a simple and direct formula: music practicing = screen time. You want to go online? Let's see, did you practice today? You practiced for an hour? Congrats, sounds like you get an hour on the computer! That worked for quite a while, in fact, when they were a bit younger. And it mostly took me out of the equation, which I liked.
- We have a rule about phones, ipods, and computers in bedrooms. Before bed, all devices are out on the kitchen counter or in the hallway, no exceptions.
- Use good manners. For instance, if you're texting during family time (even in the car, hanging out in the kitchen, etc.), be prepared to be asked to share out loud the entire text conversation; siblings may or may not act out the scene.
- No texting and driving, no excuses or exceptions. Put your phone in the glove compartment if you need help remembering this rule.
- We know the passwords for the kids' devices. We will definitely try to respect privacy but reserve the right to do checks now and then to make sure usage and apps, etc., are appropriate to our agreed-upon expectations. (Cell phone bills are also wonderful documents to check now and then for details of when and who and for how long.)
- We've tried turning off the wireless router completely at the kids' bedtime but that means the parents are out of luck, too, so we didn't keep that going consistently*.
- We're a bit wary of iphones, through experience. Content is more difficult to monitor since it can be accessed (filterless) anytime, anywhere.
Interesting ideas I've heard from others:
- Changing the wireless password at bedtime every night; it takes a little extra effort (and knowing me, I would forget the new password all. the. time.) but it's a great way to give everyone a break from constant connectivity*.
- A technology contract. You probably saw the viral post about a mom's contract with her son a few months ago. I like the idea of putting into writing the expectations and consequences so there are no surprises down the line. (I also really like her "slow tech manifesto.")
- A computer app that shuts off the computer after a pre-set amount of time. (I have friends who swear by this and who tailor the restrictions to each child's maturity by using unique sign-in and passwords for each child to get on the computer.)
Ideally, I'd say most of us try to balance our parental monitoring of content and screen time with gradually transitioning more of the responsibility to the kids. After all, they're eventually going to be out on their own with unfettered access so it's good to develop the skills and discipline to manage this themselves (i.e., bringing the jewelry box back into reach and letting them practice self control and decision making when they're ready.) Okay, enough with the metaphor already.
So, tell me, how do you approach technology use in your family?
. . .
* Here's a pie-in-the-sky idea!
Dear technology manufacturers,
I have idea for a new kind of wireless router but have neither the know-how nor the means to make it happen. Plus, I want it now. Like yesterday. I can guarantee you will have many many takers. Ready? Here goes:
Please design a wireless router that has a dual-password system with programmable timers. One password would be timed to be in charge of the wireless network from, say, the hours of 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. This would be the general family password that all members of the household would know and be able to use to access the internet (if we could also add a filter or something at the router level that would also be great, mkay?). At a certain time, the nightwatch password would kick in, known and used only by the parents in the house, making rogue after-hours internet surfing very difficult for the younger set.
Simple as that.
Or does it already exist? Do tell.