How Andrea Uses Technology
Last year, my dad upgraded his cell phone and gave us his old one. My oldest daughter was twelve, so we decided it would be convenient for us and for her to give her the phone. We had just moved, none of us knew anyone, and we wanted her to be able to get a hold of us.
It didn't take long for us to realize we had made a mistake. After four or five months, things were popping up that we hadn't thought of. First, we realized that her after-school routine had changed. She used to come home and read to decompress. Now she was scrolling through her phone. She had downloaded a few social media apps (Instagram and Musical.ly) that we hadn't specifically forbidden, but she hadn't asked for permission to download them. Nothing that was happening was horrific, but it wasn't positive, either.
When we gave our daughter the phone, we had set some rules and talked about proper cell-phone use with the entire family, but we soon realized this wasn't enough. We decided we needed a better, more deliberate plan, and although it wasn't ideal to take away something we had already given, it wasn't too late to pull back on the reins.
Doing Our Homework
Thus far, it may sound like our family is naturally wary of technology, but we're actually big fans. My husband is a mechanical and software engineer, and loves keeping up on the latest technology. His own father fueled these interests by programming his computer so that as a kid my husband had to solve a complicated math problem to gain access to it.
My husband and I also ran a video editing business together for a while. We love that our five kids spend hours making movies together on our iPad. Our six-year-old son has started getting into coding. Our ten-year-old daughter has a dream to become a voice actor and spends hours at the computer recording herself read stories. She also likes to compose her own music and record it onto the computer through the electronic keyboard. Our oldest daughter likes to watch home-decorating and hand-lettering tutorials on Youtube.
Six months after giving our oldest daughter the smartphone, we realized that we needed to do more research and come up with a family technology strategy that allowed us to keep technology as a positive force in our home. As we researched, we found that a lot of people were talking about the challenges of technology online, but not a lot of people were attacking them head-on.
I started calling parents who were about five years ahead of us. These parents are pioneers in navigating technology with teenagers. A lot of them were blind-sided. The common thread was a lot of regret and lists of things they would have done differently. Rather than getting discouraged from these conversations, I was grateful to be able to learn from these parents who were ahead of us.
Of course, these parents dealt with big and little concerns related to technology, from cyber-bullying and pornography to anxiety, depression, and screen addiction. There were also subtle problems, like the way young teenagers learn to deal with awkward social situations. It's so much easier to pull out your phone and withdraw, rather than learning to work through social situations.
We realized that with five kids, we'd have to confront this problem five different times, and that we couldn't just create a one-size-fits-all process, because our kids (like kids in all families) are so different. We also realized how passionate we are about this topic and decided to launch our own website dedicated to helping other families tackle technology issues, betterscreentime.com.
The Family Tech Think Tank
My husband and I took all the research and developed a series of eight discussions for our family about technology, which we spread over the course of three or four months. The goal of these discussions was to work together as a family to create a personalized Family Technology Plan.
We started our discussions with a principle we learned from Simon Sinek: "Start With Why." We knew we had to talk with our kids about why it was important to have rules about technology before we could delve right in to making rules. Sinek's Golden Circle model then became the framework for our family discussions. After Why comes How (how we want to use technology in our family) and then What (our rules for screen time, device usage, etc.). During our research phase, we realized that many families started with the What instead, setting rules before really explaining the reasons behind them.
Here's a rough guide to what we covered in each discussion:
What is your purpose for using technology? We talked about using technology as a tool, and listed uses that were a “thumbs up” or a “thumbs down”.
How do we use screens? We worked on developing a family technology plan and created an approved list of sites for positive screen time.
We created a list of consequences for not following our family tech plan. We likened this to driving a car.
The progression. Some rules apply to everyone, other rules are dependent on ages and stages. Discuss who, what and when.
Formulate questions to ask your children when determining their readiness for the next phase.
Talk about social media—the implications, studies, etc. Video games can also be their own lesson if your family enjoys video games.
Get agreement on following the rules. Parents included. Plan one-on-one time to set up an agreement with kids that are old enough, or do it right after the meeting with everyone.
Summary/return to The Why
For more details about our Tech Think Tank, go to betterscreentime.com. Right now we have a rough outline available, and are working on more detailed guides for all eight discussions.
Our Family Technology Plan
By the end of our eight discussions, we emerged with a solid Family Technology Plan that works for us (although we will revisit it from time to time to make sure it's still working). Every family's plan will look a little different, but ours basically took the form of a four-step process to introducing a smartphone.
1. Start with a feature phone (aka flip phone). We decided to take the smartphone back from our daughter and get her a feature phone instead. She can call, text (though it's more inconvenient on this kind of phone), and take simple pictures.
2. Transition to a bare-bones smartphone. Once a child shows he or she can be responsible with a feature phone, upgrade to a smartphone with a few additional features enabled, such as music, a better camera, and email. Most phones make it easy to enable restrictions to keep the features simple.
3. Add a few non-social-media apps. Sit down with the child and determine which apps would be useful and fun to add, for example, a game or two.
4. Finally, add social media. The very last thing to add is social media. Many adults are still learning how to handle social media (including me), so unleashing this on a teen without a fully developed prefrontal cortex is not a good idea.
For more details on this, see our article, "Handing Your Child a Cell Phone: A Simple Four-Phase Process You May Not Have Considered."
We purposely did not set specific ages for each of these steps, because we know they will be different for each of our kids. Instead, we worked together as a family to create benchmarks for when they will be ready for each of these steps. For example, before transitioning to a smartphone, we decided a child must be able to show that they are responsible enough to complete homework on time and do assigned chores without being asked.
Our oldest daughter, of course, was not excited about this new plan, especially since it involved losing her smartphone, but she understood why we were setting these new rules, and she agreed to follow them. After a few weeks of a bit of moping and grumbling, our daughter soon adjusted to her new feature phone. Her after-school snack time no longer involved scrolling Instagram. Instead, she decompressed from the day by looking out the window, reading a book, or talking about her day.
We also set screen time limitations for the younger kids. When our kids are using technology for creative purposes or working together on a project, we don't really set limits. But we often set a 30-minute timer for any screen time during the week, once chores are done. Setting the timer keeps me from being the bad guy. I also try to have a plan for what we're going to do afterwards, so there's not a fight. Often this is a quick activity that I do with them, such as jumping on the trampoline or playing a game of UNO. These are things they'll happily leave technology for, and they don't take much of my time. We also have several days a week when we just don't use them at all. We try to fill out time with family activities or play with friends.
We're really excited about the changes we've seen in our family after creating a more deliberate technology plan, and about being able to share our strategy on Better Screen Time. We hope it becomes a great resource for other families as they develop their own Technology Plans!
Andrea Davis grew up in the heart of the Grand Tetons, so it's no surprise that she loves anything outdoors—biking, swimming, hiking, horse back riding, and her SUP. She has a B.A. in secondary education, and her teaching experience ranges from teaching preschool swimming lessons to college-level Spanish. However, her greatest learning has come from her daily work as a stay-at-home mom of five children. Andrea considers her husband, Tyler, the best co-captain she could ask for. Their motto has always been "Go Team!" They live in Hood River, Oregon.
Andrea is currently the managing director for Power of Moms and the creator of Better Screen Time. She also loves sharing "inspiration for high achievers learning to create greatness with just the basics" on an Instagram and FaceBook account called Do a Lot With a Little. You can follow her there!