When the pandemic hit in March 2020, families everywhere turned to tech. They relied on smartphones to stay updated on the latest news. They jumped on laptops and tablets to finish online school and remote work assignments. They took the plunge and added Netflix and other entertainment providers to their cable plans.
Now, months later, everyone’s complaining of tech overload and its intrusion into family time. But is it a huge shock that tech’s become a mainstay in most homes? Not really.
To be fair, technology was creeping into household living long before COVID was a well-known term. For years, parents fretted about the effect technology was having on their kids. And those same kids were fast learning how to be “alone together” with their moms, dads, and siblings. In fact, in the past generation, children have begun spending more time at home with their parents. The problem? They’re all on devices, rather than communicating and interacting.
Are you concerned that your kids could pick out their phones in a lineup faster than they could tell someone your eye or hair color? You don’t have to go totally off the grid to recover family time. Just establish some new routines and put a few strategies into place.
- Ease preteens into technology.
Preteens are at an age when they want their own devices. Fair enough. However, they don’t necessarily have the self-discipline to use phones responsibly. One way to ease them into owning technology is by purchasing a safe phone for kids that doesn’t include Internet coverage or an app store connection. As long as they can text, make calls, and take pictures, they have everything they need. Keeping them off social media will help reduce the chances of them becoming dependent on unhealthy social validation.
- Make some weekly meal times tech-free.
Most families don’t have time to sit down for meals together every day. Even dinner is often eaten piecemeal, due to differing sports and occupational schedules. Nevertheless, at least once a week, plan to have a classic family sit-down meal at a table. Turn off all devices and leave them in another room. Then, practice the age-old art of conversation. It might feel awkward at first, even for you as a parent. In time, these moments will become easier—and your kids may just request more family meals.
- Curb your own tech use.
It’s very difficult for children to stay away from their devices if you’re tethered to yours. Yes, your job requires you to be online. Even so, you need to take breaks. So take them in front of your kids. Put the phone on the charger and refuse to look when a text or Slack message comes in. Turn off your desktop instead of leaving it on, reducing your temptation to check emails. The less you rely on technology, the less your children are likely to assume tech addiction is the “adult” thing to do.
- Help your children leverage technology to be more efficient.
When you begin introducing younger kids to technology, teach them how to use it to boost their productivity. Youngsters can be surprisingly intrigued by the idea of taking control of their own schedules and getting chores done correctly. Many kids respond well to digital reminders to feed the dog, clean their room, or finish up homework. If they’re going to be exposed to technology, they should know how to use it to their benefit.
- Encourage non-tech activities.
Many families used the pandemic and lockdowns as an opportunity to engage in non-tech activities. They walked throughout their neighborhoods, biked on park trails, and played in the backyard. You don’t have to stop these adventures just because the world is entering a “next normal” period. Rather, keep up the rhythm of getting closer to nature with family evening strolls or weekend outings. When you’re having a blast, you’ll only want to reach for your tech to capture moments.
- Talk openly about your tech use concerns.
Is everyone’s tech use the elephant in the room that nobody wants to bring up? Clear the air with a family discussion about your worries regarding technology. Explain to your kids that you feel like you’re all going in different directions. Your children may be surprisingly open to hearing your thoughts. They also may have suggestions about how all of you can go on a “tech diet.” Promoting a “we’re in this together’ mentality will make switching to a less tech-dependent lifestyle easier.
- Swap out video games for board games.
Both kids and adults love a good video game occasionally. That doesn’t mean you should forget about the Parcheesi board in the closet. Once a week or so, bring out classic games for family night. Teach your kiddos to play checkers, old-school style. See who can win a round of cards. Get out Trivial Pursuit so you can all learn something new. There’s nothing wrong with returning to the games that households played for generations.
- Get up close and personal with your local library.
Books tend to get lost in the tech mix. They’re wonderful vehicles to unplug and restore some positive mental energy. Plus, you don’t have to spend a fortune to get great reads. All you need is a trip to your local library and library cards for everyone in your crew. Encourage your kids to borrow any books they want, from knitting tutorials to nonfiction cookbooks. Set aside a specific time every week or every other weekend to bring back books and take more. You’ll all gain knowledge without needing any technology aside from a self-service checkout kiosk.
The idea of getting your family members to slowly unravel their need for tech may seem overwhelming. It needn’t be. You just need to make and stick to a plan. With patience, you can establish new routines that encourage face-to-face dialogue—no digital stuff required.
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