How to build your best household tech habits
It’s easy to feel guilty when you let your child chill out in front of a screen or reach for your phone a little more often than you’d like, but we’re here to remind you that all screens are not bad. Technology connects us, gives us access to endless amounts of information, and can educate and entertain the entire family.
Moreover, you are not a bad parent because your kids love screen time. Kids can develop social, creative, communication, and problem-solving skills by tapping into technology. Things like taking photos, making videos, connecting to other family members through video chat, and playing educational games can all benefit kiddos.
That said, screen time can obviously have a not so great impact on children (and all of us!) when it’s not used in moderation. What starts as five minutes of YouTube can quickly spiral into hours of zoning out in front of cute animal videos. And at a certain point it’s no longer a tool and may begin to interfere with school, work, relationships, and hobbies.
Having clear, consistent tech boundaries matters because they impact what role screens play within your household. So let’s work on dropping the shame and instead focus on building your best possible tech habits.
Establishing your family’s values
Family values are the guiding principles that help you and your family make decisions and live your lives as authentically as possible. They can highlight what is important to you, what you believe to be ethical, and what you want to prioritize in your life. You can think of them as the glue that holds it all together!
Exploring the values your family currently holds and the values you’d like to see yourselves hold is important because it helps you make decisions. Values can be related to work and education (like academic achievements or dream careers), leisure (such as self-determination, healthy movement, and rest), relationships (fulfilling friendships and meaningful relationships with extended family), or personal growth and health (like wellness, authenticity, or religious and spiritual practices).
There is no right or wrong here — values are completely neutral. Hard work is not a greater value than leisure time; valuing honesty is not worse than valuing intellectual curiosity. No value is good or bad, but they are internal motivators that guide our behaviors and help form our attitudes. These values can guide you and your children towards greater connection, in and out of your home, with or without tech.
Try taking some time to sit down with your family members to discuss what your shared values are as individuals and as a unit. Make sure that everyone has a chance to speak and feels like a valued contributor to the conversation. You can hang up your decided upon values in a shared space in the house and refer back to them at any time.
Here are some questions to get the conversation going:
- How do you want people to feel when they are in our home?
- How do you like to spend time alone, with friends, and with family?
- What makes you happy? Sad? Nervous?
- What does your perfect day look like?
Making a tech plan that actually works
Once your values are established, it’s a lot easier to make a plan and stick to it. Whether this plan is more structured or fluid, having a goal in mind sets a clear intention for what you want to accomplish.
Maybe your family identified that you all highly value having dinner together each night. And as part of that value, you want to all stay off of your devices for that designated period of time so that you can connect without distractions. You’ll want to set a specific goal for how to achieve this plan.
That’s where SMART goals come in. SMART is an acronym for the following:
- Specific. Think of direct actions you can take. Instead of saying, “I want to be on my phone less often,” you’d choose a specific goal such as, “I want to put my phone away for two hours each night.”
- Measurable. When you measure your progress, it’s easier to see how change can happen because you can actually track it and see it happening. “I want to quit scrolling on TikTok so much” is a great goal, but it’s hard to measure because you either do it or you don’t. Saying, “I want to cut down how long I spend on TikTok to 30 minutes a day,” is something you can track and measure over time.
- Achievable. Your goal should be something that you can actually accomplish. “I want to be tech-free” is admirable, but you’re much more likely to achieve the ability to cut down on daily tech use instead.
- Relevant. Make sure the goal you set is important to you and that you recognize the need for change. It will help focus your areas of improvement. For instance, maybe your “why” is that you want to be a more present parent at the dinner table.
- Timely. Putting a specific time frame on your goal helps hold you accountable. Saying, “I’m going to quit being on my phone all of the time!” is great, but if you don’t set a specific date, you could be dragging this out for way longer than you want. Any time frame, even months from now, is helpful.
Think about what a good SMART goal would look like for the next month regarding tech. There are no wrong answers — it’s all about what works best for you and your family.
Staying on track with your healthier habits
Our devices are designed to be highly addictive, so it’s completely understandable that we spend more time than we’d like scrolling on our phones or binging our favorite Netflix series. So it can be helpful to take a balanced approach, rather than black-and-white thinking, when it comes to implementing your new tech habits.
You can help your family honor their values by focusing on what you’re trying to achieve each time you’re online. Say your child needs to check their email, send their teacher homework to review, watch a YouTube video, and text a group chain about plans for a birthday. How long do they think they need to accomplish these tasks? What is the priority?
Prioritizing what needs to be done online (read, watch, listen) and where (messages, YouTube) will help them learn how to organize their time. It also sends the message that you’re not going to be dismissive or restrictive of their behavior, but rather flexible and encouraging of them using tech with intention.
Disconnect to connect
Another way to prioritize less tech time is to make a list of things you can do offline as a family. This could be anything from taking a hike together to having a family game night. What about gardening or swimming? When was the last time you cooked a meal together? Get everyone involved in the planning and use your SMART goals to build in time for these activities.
Remember that just because you make a plan doesn’t mean there won’t be messier moments, so give your family some grace in adjusting to new, healthier tech habits. We’re here to support you as you build a home where tech time is intentional and aligned with your very own values.