I have no idea how to help our four-year-old (and, in the future, our four-month-old) develop a healthy relationship with technology. On the one hand, I feel that screens are an addiction for me, and I want him to not be as controlled by devices as I sometimes feel. On the other hand, I know that I have gained so much from the connection that my devices provide, and I also want my kids to be fluent in the tools of their generation.
Despite my love of technology, and my conviction that my smartphone enhances my life, I don’t think I have a healthy relationship with it. The first time I realized this was when a friend stopped talking during a meal when I was looking up something related to our conversation on my phone. I also check my phone first thing in the morning, when Apple’s ScreenTime feature came out I was ashamed by the number of hours I use my phone and the number of times I open it, and, most significantly, I find myself checking for updates when I am spending time with family and friends.
Despite being ruled by technology, I still wish I were better at it. I check my phone all the time, but I often fall behind on messages, and I feel very “non-native” to social media. I wish I checked my phone less, but I also wish I connected more online. I have the same wish for my children: I don’t want them to be controlled by their devices, but I want them to be masters of the online world.
As far as “screen time policies”, I bounce back and forth between wanting no screen time for my small kids and wanting to have a completely open policy. An open policy would be to just let them jump in without limits and let them figure it out. If they play Minecraft all day today, they’ll probably want to do something else tomorrow. For right now, we’ve settled somewhere in the middle. We haven’t had a TV at home for many years, and we started letting our son watch some shows and movies when he was two. We also started letting him play around on phones and tablets. As of now, if he asks to play with the tablet or watch a show, we sometimes say yes, generally limiting it to 20-30 minutes a day.
As I write this, I’m realizing that the obvious answer is to model the behavior that I hope to see in our sons. This is almost certainly way more important than any rules that we have.
I think I’ll start with not checking my phone in the morning and evening at home, or in the car taking my son to and from school (I’m not driving!). Reading on a Kindle is okay. We’ll see how it goes.