On average, teens spend 9 hours a day online. While 9 hours seems excessive, it is a hard to tease out what is wasted time and what is not. Sure, part of that time is scrolling through their Instagram feed or taking silly snaps but it is also working on group projects together, planning club activities and hanging out. Setting rules that allow teens to use technology to enhance their lives without it taking over their lives is a challenge.
To find out how families are managing technology, the University of Washington and University of Michigan asked both parents and kids about household internet safety rules. They surveyed 500 parents and children (age 10-17) and examined what rules parents had for using the internet and how children responded to these rules. They also talked with kids about what rules they would have for their parents.
This survey found most families were setting the same rules. In fact, the 12 rules listed below encompassed 90% of the rules families set to manage technology. Most of the rules focused on keeping kids in age appropriate areas, establishing screen free time and sharing smart online.
Researchers also asked the kids what rules they would have for their parents.
#1 Rule for both Kids and Parents – Be Present
For both parents and kids, their #1 rule was “Be Present.” No one wanted to vanquish technology. Everyone agreed that families should unplug when spending time together. Both parents and kids talked about putting devices down during meals or during a conversation.
While everyone wanted this rule, both parents and kids said this rule was challenging. Kids admitted to having a hard time putting away their devices. Parents too found it difficult to set aside the demands of work and turn off their device.
Interestingly, kids reported they found it easier to follow rules that banned certain activities and not limited them. They preferred rules like do not sext, do not share personal information and do not use Instagram. If they had to choose, most would allow their parents access to their accounts rather than having to put their phones away during meals or at night.
Parents have an easier time enforcing these no rules vs sometimes rules. Stopping a child from downloading an app is far easier than checking in on how they use the app. One requires setting restrictions on the device and the other requires learning about the app and checking up on them.
Easier does not mean better
While easier to ban and restrict technology, families should consider a more balanced approach. Technology is part of our lives. We use it at home, school and work. Simply banning technology does not allow teens to develop self-control. Being able to know when to put aside their phone or close their device is an important life skill.
Recently, Commonsense Media published Technology Addiction: Concern, Controversy, and Finding Balance. Under Finding Balance, researchers examined ways to develop a more balanced digital lifestyle. Self-regulation, people being aware of and managing their own digital use, helped them have a healthy digital life.
Commonsense Media also found that exercising self-regulation would improve self-regulation. “Research found that strengthening self-regulation helped adolescents with media addiction. A balanced approach provided opportunities to exercise self-regulation, enhance social competence, and combat loneliness, each of which made people less likely to use media pathologically.”
Being able to put down a device is not easy. But, self-control is like a muscle and exercising it makes it stronger. The more teens and parents take a break from their phone or device, the easier it gets. In the short-term, banning works. Ultimately, teaching everyone to manage their technology thoughtfully may lead to a healthier outcome.
Set rules together
Finally, parents and kids agreed rules created together were easier to enforce. The UW/UM study found child buy-in predicted compliance irrespective of rule type. Even rules that limited use were easier and more accepted by kids when they were involved in the rules setting process. Kids saw these rules as fair and understood the reason behind them.
Building a device contract together is a fantastic way to build buy-in. These contracts allow parents and kids to share concerns, expectations and consequences. When starting out, everyone is on the same page.
If your family is struggling with managing technology, consider revamping or creating a device contract. To get started, here are a few articles about building contracts.