by Kristen A. Jenson, MA
Raising kids in the digital age isn’t easy. Not only do you need to teach kids to say “please” and “thank you,” you’re responsible for teaching them tech etiquette: the rules of using tech around other people.
I’ll admit it. Most of us have been caught off guard by the rapid advancement of technology.
A few weeks ago I was in Costco and noticed a family shopping together. The mom was pushing the cart and had gone into the refrigerated produce section while the dad and his nine or ten-year-old son were waiting right outside. Instead of chatting with each other, the dad spent the entire time plugged into his phone while his son stood there looking uncomfortable and bored (and unloved). I kept watching as we both make our way through the store and it never changed. I wanted to go over and ask that dad this simple question: “What are you teaching your son right now?” But I didn’t. Instead I’m writing this blog post!
So even if you’ve ignored your kids or your kids have ignored you because of technology, it’s never too late to work on tech etiquette!
Whether you give your kids a device or just let them have access to use it (which I recommend), it’s a good idea to set up your own “Family Tech Etiquette.” I promise you, it will lead to greater family connection, engagement and harmony. (Don’t miss our FREE Family Tech Etiquette worksheet poster below.)
Step One: Establish Your Tech Etiquette Motto
Before you come up with specific guidelines, pull your family together and ask these questions:
- How can using technology help us live better lives? (Gives us access to good info, instant communication, entertainment, social media…)
- How can using technology hurt our family? (Exposes us to harmful content, disconnects us from people we are with, keeps us up at night, wastes time…)
- What’s our motto that describes how we’ll control our use of technology?
Here’s mine to get your started!
“In our family, we thoughtfully and intentionally use technology to improve our lives; we don’t allow technology to rule or damage our relationships.”
Step TWO: Develop Specific Guidelines (aka Family Rules)
Discuss these questions and write down your answers. (Use the Free Family Tech Etiquette Worksheet Poster available at the end of this post.)
- Mealtime. Do we allow devices at the dinner table or when we’re going out to eat? Do you want to agree to disconnect from tech for a certain amount of family time each day? (If your family doesn’t have regular family dinner time, the holidays are a great time to start! Family dinner time is associated with many positive outcomes for kids.)
- Being present. Do we allow our conversations with people we’re physically with to be interrupted with a call from someone else? If so, in which circumstances? What’s the polite thing to say if you have to take a call? (I believe the people you’re physically with take precedence over anyone who might be phoning or texting you.)
- Time limits. How much screen time each day should be given to interfacing with our device/internet? Are there blocks of family time when everyone is “disconnected” from tech?
- Bedtime. Are devices allowed to go to bed with kids at night or do they get re-charged at the parents’ bedside? I join many experts in recommending that devices have a curfew and are stowed at night with parents. Even if kids aren’t getting into inappropriate stuff, they lose sleep by texting friends or browsing on social media.
- Asking permission. What information should be shared online? This isn’t just about cyber safety, but emotional safety, too. What family pictures can be shared and when? Should everyone agree to get permission before posting a photo of a family member? What kinds of things should kids not say online? (I know one child who asked her Facebook friends to pray for her dad who was interviewing for a new job that day. You already know what happened. Her dad’s boss saw the post and he was immediately let go. Sad day.)
- House rules. When friends come over, what rules apply to their devices? Some parents ask kids and teens to put their phones etc. in a basket on the kitchen counter when they come over to play or hang out. Some families are very intentional about connecting with the people they are with.
- Family visits. When we visit friends or family can we use our devices? Can we play games? If we get a call, how long should we talk with others? Asking kids to turn this situation around will help them develop empathy. For example, ask: “If you’re playing with your cousin and s/he spends most of the time texting with friends, how does that make you feel?”
- Courtesy. When we’re in public (store, doctor’s office, performance, worship service, funeral or wedding) what are the rules? For example, do we keep conversations short in public places? Is talking on the phone in a confined space being thoughtful and respectful of the others in the room? When are good times to put phones/devices on airplane mode and silence the ringer?
Step THREE: Post Your Family Tech Etiquette
Find a place where everyone can clearly see what you’ve decided. Decide as a family what happens when family members go against the family’s tech etiquette.
Click below to get your Free Family Tech Etiquette worksheet and poster. It contains a space for your family motto and room to jot down your family’s rules for each of the above guidelines.