Ways to help kids unplug from technology

Winter break is over, school’s back in session and many families are enjoying the new gadgets and technology they received as gifts this past holiday season.

This is a great time to develop a "family technology policy" so everyone’s on the same page. Here’s a step-by-step guide:

1. Take inventory of all the technology you have in your home. This includes cellphones or smartphones, tablets, laptops, televisions and associated devices such as Roku or AppleTV, gaming consoles and games, e-readers, etc. Make a written list so you can share it with everyone in the family.

2. Decide who can use what. Will everyone have access to everything, or will you restrict access to some family members, depending on age and maturity level? For example, it might be OK for your 14-year-old to play a "Lord of the Rings" video game, but that same game might be way too intense for your 4-year-old. Your 16-year-old might have a smartphone, but you don’t want your 6-year-old walking around with such an expensive and complicated device. Once you’ve decided who can use what, you might get some tears and frustration from kids who don’t have as much access as they’d like, but that’s OK. Let them know you’re willing to discuss it again when they get older.

3. Decide when it’s OK (and not OK) to use technology. It’s a good idea to have some space and time when you put the devices down and interact with each other face-to-face. Will your dinner table be a “technology-free zone?" It also is a good idea to establish a technology curfew – a time when everyone powers down and devices are put on a charger. Many families keep the family charging station in mom and dad’s room to cut down on the temptation to text or watch videos into the wee hours. Also, technology usage doesn’t have to be an all or nothing proposition. If your 13-year-old has just started babysitting and needs a phone because she’ll be watching kids in a home with no landline, you can check out the phone to her just for the time she’s there.

4. Last, but certainly not least, decide how you will monitor and address appropriate usage of the devices. This includes consequences for violating the family technology policy. For example, if the device is password-protected, parents must have the password (or the child doesn’t get to have the device!).

Remember, technology for entertainment is a privilege, not a right. A family technology policy serves the purpose of teaching our kids to be savvy, responsible technology consumers – with the added bonus of better communication and less frustration for parents!

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Laura Holmes Buddenberg joined Father Flanagan's Boys' Home in January 2000. As a training manager at Boys Town, Buddenberg works as an administrator, writer and trainer, specializing in teen dating and relationships, media awareness, family spirituality, abuse and other issues affecting today's families.

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