The Tech Generation Still Needs No-Tech Time

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Just like when my parents tried to keep the amount of TV down when I was a child, I have to do the same thing, to help raise a well-rounded and well-adjusted child. But, my job is three times harder. (I’m not invalidating that they may have had to walk me uphill both ways in the snow…) My parents only had to contend with the television. I have to contend with not only TV, but the internet, cell phones and video games.

Left to their own devices, I’ve watched my own children, along with their peers; sit for hours just surfing, texting and mmorpg’ing.

The goal however, is not to eliminate these things from their lives – knowing and using all these things are life skills for their generation. Clearly, it’s about balance. Just like nutrition, too much of any thing is bad for you. Same goes for technology use.

So here are five things to help you help your kids keep their lives from being taken over by technology.

1. Clear Expectations and Ground Rules Set. A good way to manage technology use by your children is to set clear expectations like all responsibilities like homework, chores and checking in with a parent before sitting down to game or Facebook. Homework’s not done? No Nintendo.  Morris the Cat not fed? No World of Warcraft. Ground rules like what’s okay to surf and interaction on an online game with other unknown persons is important. Talk to your kids about safety and the internet. How lack of moving makes you unhealthy. They want to do a marathon gaming session on Saturday afternoon? A nice long walk with Fido is necessary first. The message of balance is what we’re sending here with clear expectations and ground rules.

2. Get Them Involved in an Activity. Team sports, dance, bike riding, hiking, and swimming – you name it. The more time they spend involved in something they love — before you know it video games and computers lose their luster. Cell phones become a way for them to contact you for rides to the dairy freeze after a winning game. My son’s is an all-star in baseball. He hasn’t seen Mario or Azeroth in months. He also thinks since his time is at a premium, it’s easier to call someone than text, too.

3. Throw out the time limits. My mom went on a kick for about six weeks where she timed our television intake. After two hours we were done. It didn’t matter if a brand new episode of The Incredible Hulk or The Muppet Show was on. We had to go read a book or play outside. However, her grand master plan only lasted six weeks, but that was a parent who was home full-time. Most families today are dual income parents. Many parents are “tag-teaming” between jobs, splitting the day between morning and evening routine. Throwing another thing to ‘track’ is complicated and becomes too much and then inconsistency comes in and you’re whole point is moot. If you do some of the other things on this list – like responsibilities-come-first ground rules and getting them involved in an activity, having time limits just comes organically.

4.  Parental Control Cell Phone Plans/Network Control (aka:  In sight equals in mind.) Make sure your cell phone plan allows you the parent to block out certain numbers (like 411) as well as certain times (like when they are in school). With the exception of emergency numbers and family members (Mom, Dad, Grandpa, Siblings) my children cannot text or call anyone during school hours or after bed time. Oh, and bedtimes, especially on school nights are a regulated thing as well. No technology allowed in the bedrooms. If you don’t know how to control your computer network, take a class. Many free classes are offered at local libraries, or you can take a low-cost continuing education class that teaches you about firewalls, malware scanners and updating that software. Keep all technology in a public place. Phones are charged overnight, say in the dining room. Computers and gaming are in a family room, not a bedroom.

5.  Set The Example. If your kids see you going for a walk rather than surfing the internet, they’re likely to join you or at least decide they’ll do the same with their peers. Plan family time that centers on non-technology, although some time spent gaming together via active video games like the Wii can be good for family ties. Keep your technology in a common area of the home as well. If you don’t want them texting or taking calls at dinner, you can’t do it either. Let your kids see you reading a book as often as they see you play Dragon Age.

There are dozens of other ways to help keep the technology in your children’s lives balanced. These are just a few. What are your favorites?

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