In a separate post, I explain that technology is best used in moderation. Here are some helpful tips and tools to help you and your family steward your weekly screen time.
1. Circle by Disney: Circle is the most comprehensive of all options when it comes to organizing how your family interacts with technology. It can limit time for anything—Netflix, social media apps, and so on. It can filter out bad websites. It can pause the internet in your home for specific times. It can track exactly where everyone has been, and for how long, on their devices. It can remind the household of bedtimes, homework time, save the date invites, and more. It also has various levels of limiting content: pre-K all the way up to adult. If you want a household tech manager, Circle is for you.
2. The Light Phone: Most people want to be less distracted in certain times of the day, but don’t want to completely ditch the smartphone because of how integral it is for their work teams, mom groups, travel navigation, family text threads, and so on. Enter the Light Phone. You can use your smartphone for all the reasons you love, but also have a regular-old-school phone in moments you want peace and quiet.
This basically gives people the option of using what we would call the “pre-smartphone” phone, meaning that it only makes phone calls. But here’s the catch: instead of throwing your smartphone out altogether, it works in tandem with it. You keep your same number, and in the times you want to leave the house without the incessant temptation to stare at your smartphone, it pushes all calls (from a limited amount of numbers you designate) to your Light Phone. You can go on a date night, enjoy a hike, head to coffee with a friend, or spend concerted amounts of time on a work project without your smartphone eating up your attention and time, all while allowing certain people (the babysitter, a spouse, or an important client, for example) to get in touch with you in case of emergencies or time-sensitive situations.
Steward your devices well by enjoying the good, guarding against the bad and teaching others to do the same.
3. Screen-Time Tracking Apps: There are various apps that allow parents to track the screen time of their kids. Some allow tracing for multiple lines, others break up the responsibility between both parents and kids to teach children how to manage their own smartphone use, and others are ultra-comprehensive (tracking the use of not only major social media platforms, but also third-party texting apps like GroupMe, WhatsApp and Kik, as well as sophisticated detection of nudity in images/videos).
4. Screenless bedrooms. More and more evidence points to how much our sleep is compromised due to the stimulation screens offer, whether that be in the form of our phones or our TVs. An easy way to remove a huge adversary to healthy sleep patterns is to keep televisions, tablets, and phones out of the bedroom. This goes for both adults and kids. The bedroom should be a place for winding down, reading stories, processing the day, or pulling away from the chaos of life into a safe space. To introduce intense stimulation in a place like that would be a detriment to its purpose, and also, as research shows, to the brain.
Also, given the isolation of the bedroom, this is usually the space kids end up on sites they shouldn’t be viewing. Removing the opportunity is helpful, especially in younger years. Once kids learns how to responsibly handle technology in common environments (like the living room) by watching the example of proper engagement from those around them, they can be trusted with more and more levels of isolated time.
And this doesn’t just go for kids! Parents are usually exhausted by the end of the day, and more and more marriages have less time for meaningful connection. Removing screens from the bedroom gives time for couples to have deeper conversations that they were unable to have during the chaos of the day, as well as opportunity for physical intimacy that should not be replaced with screen-time. This idea leads to number five.
5. Establish tech-free zones and times. Every family has group-rules, for example, making your bed everyday, always eating a family meal at dinner time, or never harming someone else.
Another family rule that could be easily incorporated is “tech free zones or times.” For example, in our family, we have a “no-phone-at-the-dinner-table” rule. That’s a zone. Meals are where humans have historically done a great deal of connection and collaboration, and we won’t jeopardize the sacredness of this for a glowing box or a bunch of red notification bubbles, whether that’s a family meal at home or having coffee with a friend.
“Times” on the other hand, are rules like “no email after 8:00pm.” This way, it doesn’t matter what zone you are in, your screen will not barricade you from meaningful interactions you need in your personal life after work is over for the day! My husband came up with another one for wake-up times: “no looking at your phone until our morning routine is complete.” That means that we brush our teeth, have our coffee and talk to our God before we consult with our phones. Spiritual health and daily personal hygiene should matter more than the glowing box, and these rules help us pursue what really matters in life, at the start of everyday.
These rules can also extend beyond the home, given that family rules are for people in the family, not bricks and mortar. This means that, for us, the no-phone-rule goes with us when we are out-to-eat, as does the no-screen after 8pm rule. What could be some helpful tech-free zones/times in your own family, personal life, or household?
6. Tech-celebratory updates: Given that image-bearers have both depravity and dignity in them, we should expect the same to be true of what image-bearers create, technology being no exception. While all the prior examples could be seen as ways to stop the depraved influence of technology in our lives, this one helps us celebrate the dignified things that technology is doing.
Plan regular times family times to share the good of what each person has experienced through their smartphone this week. Was there an inspirational video? A “how-to” that helped cultivate a skill in a member of the family? A way to donate to a national tragedy? A Scriptural lesson they learned through someone’s blog? Celebrating is just as important a component in our technological use as limiting. This practice helps us keep away from the idea that all of technology, and the people that cultivate it, is bad.
Hopefully this two-part series helped to offer practical help for navigating the smartphone-oriented culture that we all experience. May we all steward our devices well by enjoying the good, guarding against the bad and teaching those around us to do the same.