My mother is a role model to me in so many ways. When my own children are having trouble falling asleep, I hum the song she used to sing to me, when they were learning how to tie their shoes, I use the same rhymes she taught me, and when they eventually learn how to drive a car I hope to show the same patience and trust she modeled for me many years ago. But, for all the wisdom she passed down to me, she never showed me what to do when my kids get invited to group text messaging sessions, because I didn’t have a phone until college.
Like so many parents, I feel concerned that I’m sending the wrong message to my children by being online so often. Ticona and Wellmon shared the story of Cate, a mother, who says “Sometimes, he will be busy playing and doing something, and I’ll be sitting on the couch with my phone like ten minutes. All of a sudden, I will look up and he is looking at me. I’m like, “Oh. What am I doing?” I’ll throw my phone down and go play with him…. I want him to have my full attention and feel like he is the most important thing, which when it comes down to it, he is…. If he is busy doing something and all of a sudden…I look up and he is looking at me with that look like, “What are you doing?” Then I feel horrible.” (p. 62-63). We want to make sure that we are prioritizing the important things in our lives, but technology can often draw our attention. We see how easy it is to get pulled into the digital sphere and we know it’s just as easy, or easier, for our children to do that too. So how can we help our children to make responsible decisions with and on technology? “A starting point then is to recognize that our lives are so entwined with technology now that just being offline or online aren’t the right categories anymore. Now, we need to think about how we are online and only accept the ways that deepen and strengthen the relationships that we want to matter to us.” (Patterson, 2014). By looking at what we ARE doing, we can more clearly see what legacies we will leave behind. Technology has so much more to offer than just texting and YouTube, and there are so many things I want to pass on to my children that aren’t just about being safe or how many minutes they are on a phone. It’s also about being kind, and healthy, and polite, and inquisitive, and so much more! How can I instill those values in my children in the age of technology?
Let’s look at some traditions you could start with your own families.
- Set boundaries for technology from the start. Before you even begin giving devices to young children, set up expectations, revisit them often as they age, and always keep open communication about your expectations for them when they are online. (Kelly, 2022). You can even use specific apps or settings to help your children stay safe when they are on their devices (Commonsensemedia, 2022).
- Make a point to put technology away as a group. If you want to make sure that everyone is taking breaks from screen time, why not start a family activity during that time? It’s a great opportunity to cook and eat a meal together or play a board game as a family. Turn it into a tradition by making it the same time of day, or the same day of the week, so that everyone can plan accordingly. (Patterson, 2014).
- Use technology to build connections. Technology is also a way to get together with those who may not be just down the road, so why not start a monthly zoom game night with more distant relatives? Cards are a lovely way to tell someone you care, but these days we can send that message any time! Get your whole family involved for a group rendition of a “Happy Birthday” song to make an extra personal video. (Brown, ND).
- Play together! Bring back game night with a twist and challenge everyone to a Mario cart battle! You could also keep up a running wordle count, a scrabble game from afar, or just watch a show together separately. All those ways that we like to unwind with tech can be done together. (Brown, ND).
- Make your tasks more visible. One thing that the digital age has done is put chores like scheduling appointments or paying bills or even grocery shopping online. That means that what kids used to be able to clearly see (parents calling or driving to the store to take care of things) now looks the same as playing candy crush when they can’t see the screens. Announce what you’re up to when you are working on family tasks, and maybe even invite them to see how it’s done if they are interested. Make it clear that sometimes you use your phone or computer to do chores, and they will too someday. (Patterson, 2014).
- Model self-management with tech. If you are asking your family to use a public charging station in the house to keep devices out of the bedroom, join them. If you want them to have limited screen time, join them. Make family goals and talk about what you are doing to help reach them. You can even set alarms to help you manage your time online or on certain apps. (Patterson, 2014).
- Show how to help someone with their devices. Many of us have fond memories of putting together a bookshelf or maybe changing a tire or replacing a button on a shirt with a family member. Now, there’s a new skill to have when it comes to fixing things around the house. Get the whole family involved and let everyone take a crack at solving the down Wi-Fi or hooking up the new tv when it comes in. You may even have already started the holiday tradition of fixing family’s tech woes over the holidays when others come in from out of town and can ask for help in person at family gatherings. (AT&T, 2019) Make it a part of your family skill set to be able to troubleshoot basic (or advanced) tech problems and serve others by assisting them.
- Create an image online that you are proud of. My generation is familiar with looking back through photo albums and old home movies of our relatives from years gone by, but the next generation can google their grandparents and see the images they left behind online forever. “While lost in the vortex of our social media and digital networks, most people don’t seem to notice that they are helping create another, digital self” (Ticona & Wellmon, 2015, p. 65). When we are online, we are also creating a possibly more permanent legacy, our digital footprints. Our children will be able to see their parent’s photos, comments, likes and shares, all preserved on the internet, for as long as they wish to access them. This is potentially scary for some, but also it provides a true time capsule with which to pass on our values to our children.
As with all things, each child is different and each family will need to try out and customize their own family traditions, but I hope that this starts us on the right path. And, when my own children are looking for examples of technological navigation in parenthood or adulthood, I hope they can see a positive role model in me.
Anderson, Janna, and Lee Rainie. “The Future of Well-Being in a Tech-Saturated World.” Pew Research Center: Internet, Science & Tech, 15 Sept. 2022, www.pewresearch.org/internet/2018/04/17/the-future-of-well-being-in-a-tech-saturated-world.
“Embrace Technology to Make Meaningful Family Connections.” ResourceUMC, 19 Dec. 2018, www.resourceumc.org/en/content/embrace-technology-to-make-meaningful-family-connections.
Kelly, Heather. “A Guide to Giving Your Child Their First Phone.” Washington Post, 13 Oct. 2022, www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2022/10/13/guide-child-phone.
A New Millennial Holiday Tradition: Providing Tech Care for Family. about.att.com/newsroom/2019/tech_caregiving.html.
“Parenting, Media, and Everything in Between.” Common Sense Media, www.commonsensemedia.org/articles.
Patterson, Don. “Take Charge of Your Family’s Digital Culture – Don Patterson.” Medium, 9 May 2018, djp3.medium.com/take-charge-of-your-familys-digital-culture-74e3c22e16ab.
Ticona, J., & Wellmon, C. (2015). Uneasy in Digital Zion. The Hedgehog Review, Spring, 58-71. https://chadwellmon.files.wordpress.com/2015/10/ticonawellmon_hi.pdf