The most vulnerable, formative, and psychologically impactful time in a person’s life is childhood. Children are in a time of their lives where they don’t fully know who they are, or what their place in the world is or even means, and so they are looking for it, mostly subconsciously – the nervous system is always seeking a state of regulation. Add in the fact that technology is one of their main conduits through which they create this sense of themselves, relationships, and ideals, is based on mostly superficial and brief interactions, and that it is run by corporations who’s primary goal is to make profit, not raise consciousness. Then add in that it’s totally awesome to them, and incredibly addicting. To make it more confusing, it also has tremendous positive aspects as well, of course. Put all of this together, and balance is a very, very easy thing to lose touch of, and even sight of.
The formula that your parents followed to protect you from dangers and negative influences, as well as to support you with exposures to healthy and positive experiences, was pretty simple: Basically know where you were physically and who you were with. What they may have protected you from on the “street corner” are the kinds of things that your children, through smart phones and computers, have 10,000 fold more exposure to now, from their pocket or bedroom. Parenting in a way that raises healthy, balanced children now requires more savvy, skill and self-responsibility than ever. It has been proven that over exposure to certain kinds of technology can and does increase narcissism, entitlement, and anxiety, and decreases empathy, self-esteem, and resiliency – to name a few.
So how then do you support them in having balance with something so highly addictive, disruptive and normalized … in a way that is effective, that they’ll be open to, and that doesn’t get mired in power-struggles?
Parenting in this age can be incredibly challenging if you don’t have the skills and understanding to work with it. If you do, and if your are willing to look deeply at yourself while you do it, you will be able to handle just about any reality that certain kinds of excessive exposures to technology and media can have on them, while creating connection and understanding. That said, it’s first and foremost your work to come from an integrated place as much as possible when you address these issues. If you put control and strategy before or in place of connection and understanding, it will not be effective and will only stress the relationship. Remember, your kids don’t know any time other than the time they are born into, so have compassion, and be careful to not project your fear and frustration onto them.
Below are 23 of the most important strategies that I see as essential, from working with families on these matters for over a decade – methods that work if you work at them. Go through this entire list and begin to find the places where you can begin to make shifts. If you need support, seek it out. Ignorance and the lack of personal accountability are two of the greatest impediments that can be overcome. Find your commitment to parenting consciously in this digital age, and let love be your strongest motivator.
#1: Work on yourself
Parenting is less a strategy and more a way of being. Become emotionally and mentally the healthiest person you can possibly become with this life of yours – go for it: as it will radically impact your parenting. It will impact the adults your children will become (which is especially more needed in this digital age). Do whatever it takes to heal, grow and evolve. Get support in breaking out of old habits and blind spots and learn to create deeper connection with your own inner world and those of your children.
Many of our recurring problems stem from lack of awareness about our own patterns. When we are unmindful of our patterns of excuses, fears, biases, and attachments, we tend to focus on externals. From that place of blindness, we blame others, bemoan life, and work furiously to change people and circumstances. Sadly, we neglect the urgent and abiding need to look within and work fervently to change our own patterns and perceptions.
– Sheikh Jamal Rahman
#2: Walk the Talk
If you are not balanced with YOUR screen addictions and excessive use, don’t bother trying to support them in having balance with theirs. Take full responsibility for yours, and address it. Get support. You can even find many answers by looking for support online
– Here are some examples:
Beating phone addiction
Adult internet addiction camp
#3: Become computer literate
Raising kids in the digital age requires you to educate yourself and what is out there. There are many websites and videos that can teach you about every single aspect of technology, it’s risks and creating healthy habits.
#4: Raise a Healthy Child
Do you know how to help them cultivate emotional intelligence, critical thinking, self-worth and authentic communication skills? Most parents are not that great at these things, specifically. Get support, join one of my parenting classes, read articles, books on parenting. All their choices come from this foundation.
#5: Relationship before rules
Relying too heavily on methods of control will only create power struggles. Creating understanding and connection is the foundation upon which all the strategies stand.
#6: Start conservatively
It’s easier to give them more slack as they earn it, then take it back once they’ve had it. This is the essential to avoiding excessive entitlement.
#7: Privacy & Guidance: Avoid re-enacting “Lord of the flies”
Kids need guidance, as they live in a world of intense and excessive pressures while not yet knowing who they are – creating opportunities to lose themselves greatly, or get stuck walking down dangerous paths. Privacy is not a right for minors, for specific reasons. Kids need to earn certain kinds of privacy – this way you are not protecting them from life, but preparing them for it.
#8: Track their levels of understanding
Help your children become aware of issues and the forces that influence their choices. Explore with them what they know about the various aspects of screen addiction, social profiles and connections, cyber- bullying, sexting, reputation management, marketing, pornography, etc – when you feel they are ready for such discussions – yet don’t wait too long.
#9: Learn with them
You don’t need to be a master to explore these topics with them – learn by their side.
Assure that they are educated by learning with them, through videos, articles, and regular dialogue. Your role in this will support their critical thinking and perspective. Pick a topic and google it. Search for videos or articles that you can watch or together – quality education or entertainment. Examples of topics and videos to watch with your kids are below.
#10: Make a “Family Use-Contract”
You’ll likely need to make some adjustments to these contracts so they work more specifically for you family.
Here are some ideas:
The App “Ignore no more” – locks their phone if they ignore your call.
#11: Keep the computer in a common area
Keep it where you can monitor their use to some degree. Avoid putting a computer in a child’s bedroom.
#12: Limit Multi-tasking opportunities
Have devices with games and apps on a SEPARATE device than the one they do homework on.
#13: Gather up all devices at night
Charge them in your room.
#14: Set limits on time usage
Have black out times, tech-free zones, and time-limits on usage (to the degree that you can hold them accountable).
#15: Be in control of internet usage in your home
You can control this through your router’s setting (through the website of you ISP – Internet Service Provider), or through OpenDNS or other parental controls listed below. ***Know that your child may be able to access internet through their phone line, using their phone as a wifi hotspot (which you may be able to disable), or using a neighbors open wifi.
#16: Support authentic, in-person, tech-free connection time
…with their friends, or new kids and groups. During “play dates” require time that is tech-free (collect or shut down their devices). Virtual relationships are not an adequate substitute for non-virtual ones.
Consider having your kids join my Authentic-Relating Teen Groups.
#17: Get them out in nature for e x t e n d e d periods of time!
Do this every single year… as it will help them reconnect with who they really are, beyond the social image that they can confuse themselves with, and free of the distractions that divide them from their deeper experiences. It will reconnect them with who they are beyond who they are trying to be.
Nature is unique in the way it helps us experience ourselves in that we can’t project our issues as well onto the natural world – and this creates a more inward, accountable and reflective process. Nature also gives us feedback in a way that nothing else does – clear, blunt, indifferent and to the point: This supports a kind of learning process that fosters deeper self reliance and self-resourcing.
The reason I encourage extended periods of time in nature is because it takes about 4 days to unwind, and another few to drop in more deeply, and another few to recalibrate their nervous system to this more authentic and regulated place. I strongly believe most kids need at minimum 2 consecutive weeks, 2 times each year. (This strong belief of mine stems from running 4-week trips with teens for over decade. It really does work to create balance and self-connection like nothing else I’ve ever seen do).
For longer trips you may need to connect them to organizations similar to:
Here is a list of a few local outdoor opportunities (near Boulder, Colorado). If you are living elsewhere, research your local options:
http://laughingcoyoteproject.org http://wildbear.org http://www.thornenature.org
http://www.cottonwoodinstitute.org http://wayofthewild.org http://www.coloradowildernessridesandguides.com http://www.OutwardBound.org http://www.NOLS.edu
For girls/women only:
#18: Know the recommended Guidelines
Though most parents don’t follow them at all, there is science behind these recommendations.
The above Technology Use Guidelines for children and youth were developed by Cris Rowan, pediatric occupational therapist and author of Virtual Child; Dr. Andrew Doan, neuroscientist and author of Hooked on Games; and Dr. Hilarie Cash, Director of reSTART Internet Addiction Recovery Program and author of Video Games and Your Kids, with contribution from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Canadian Pediatric Society in an effort to ensure sustainable futures for all children.
When introducing younger children to digital devices and media:
#19: Establish the privilege of it / Safeguard against entitlement
It’s not a right, but a privilege. Explore the difference with them.
#20: Create a shared email account
This will allow you can monitor who is sending them messages.
#21: Teach your child about the specific dangers of the internet
Discuss rules for your kids to follow to maintain the privilege:
– If it’s not OK to say or show or do offline, it’s not OK online
– Never reveal personal information (including address, phone number,school name or location.)
– It IS addictive for most, so establish that you will monitor that
– Be kind to those you communicate with
– Educate! Share with them age-appropriate educational videos (below)
#22: Bookmark your child’s favorite sites
This will keep their use habits focused, create easy access, and limit the chance they’ll access inappropriate content.
#23: Help their brains develop in a balanced way!
Make sure you are not leaving it up to them and “life” that they’ll choose such things over excessive screen use.
– Attention and Focus-cultivating activities
– like reading, certain games, climbing, dancing, writing
– Imagination and creativity-cultivating activities
– Art, building things, unstructured time, story telling
– Relational-development games
– Where they interact non-virtually with others
– Board games, card games, play games (think about your childhood)
– Unstructured play time
– It’ll help them develop their brain in more well-balanced ways. ***Games like chess, projects like origami, experiences like cooking with you, repairing projects with you, listening to different kinds of music with you, and even exploring fun, educational magazines, books and even websites – these all have profound impacts on development.
The human spirit must prevail over technology
~ Albert Einstein