Parents should first look at their own habits and consider unplugging in order to "plug-in" to their children's digital lives.

The college sweaters are long gone. Kids are running around the house. And we are solidly middle-aged. We do a lot of things to stay young. Hit the gym. Rub in the moisturizer. Color the hair. Anything to look and act young again.

Thanks to the folks at Common Sense Media, we now know of one youthful behavior pattern that we mini-van driving parents have in common with our smartphone-addicted teenagers: we watch screens just as much as they do!

(Okay, so that’s maybe not a youthful connection we want to maintain.)

But for those parents who are hoping to curb some of the over-the-top media usage they observe in their children, it might be best to start with your own technology habits. 

3 Things Parents Should Consider

1. Examine Your Own Habits.

On any given day, American teenagers (12- to 18-year-olds) average about 9 hours of entertainment use, excluding time spent at school or for home work and tweens (8- to 12-year olds) use an average of  6 hours’ worth of entertainment media daily.

Most of us know our kids use a lot of technology, but we were surprised it was that much. In my own family, we began discussing ways to curb our own kids’ usage, to encourage more healthy behavior, and to ensure their safety while in the virtual world. But just how many of us examined our own technology habits?

Guess what mom and dad? Parents of American tweens and teens average more than 9 hours with screen media with 82% of that time devoted to personal screen media. Caught your breath yet?

Well, take comfort in the fact that, though we appear to be hypocrites, we are blissfully unaware of it. It turns out that 78% of us parents believe we are good media and technology role models for our children. Perhaps the first step in bringing technological harmony to our homes is to set boundaries for ourselves.

2. Don’t be Afraid to Act.

Take comfort in the fact that you are not alone. Many of us are worried about the activities of our children in the digital universe. Others are afraid that if they get too involved, their children will get upset.

That may be, but we can’t just be parents in the real world. We must be their parents in the digital world too. In a recent survey, parents indicated their concerns over some very common online activities. Half of parents worry that using social media damages a child’s physical activity. Regarding online activities, the top concerns were:

  • Spending too much time online (43%)
  • Oversharing personal details (38%)
  • Accessing online pornography (36%)
  • Being exposed to images or videos of violence (36%)
  • Children may be addicted to technology (56%)
  • Technology use is negatively impacting their children’s sleep (34%)

Do not be afraid to be their parent. 

Set boundaries around usage. Limit usage during certain activities such as dinner time, homework time, and while driving. Most parents have reported having a range of media rules for their tweens and teens. They include:

  • 78% of parents do not allow device usage at mealtime
  • 63% of parents do not allow device usage at bedtime
  • 70% of parents reported they must approve of their children’s apps purchases “most of the time” or “always”
  • 67% of parents say that monitoring their children’s media use is more important than respecting their privacy

So, next time your child informs you that, “none of their friends have house rules”, you can let them know that most families do, in fact, have technology rules in place.

3. Accept the Positive Role of Technology.

Short of living on a deserted island, eating coconuts and talking to “Wilson” for entertainment, we will not be successful in removing technology from our lives. As parents, our job is to teach our children good habits that they will need to thrive in the modern world. Parents overwhelmingly have positive attitudes about the roles of technology when it comes to their children’s education and development skills.

  • 94% of parents agree that technology positively supports their children with schoolwork and education
  • 88% felt that technology helped their kids to learn a new skill
  • 89% felt it prepared kids for 21st century jobs
  • 77% of parents agreed that technology increases their children’s exposure to other cultures
  • 79% said it helps their children develop creativity

Good Parents are Good Role Models

In trying to be good parents, it always demands that we balance protection with freedom. We must keep our children safe, but we must also let them explore and learn in the modern worldWe can embrace the positive benefits of technology and the good it brings while acting to keep them safe.

And all of that needs to begin with us -- let’s model the behavior we expect from our kids.

About ​Chris Rothey

Chris Rothey, President of Zift, is a father of four and enjoys figuring out ways to strike up more conversations with his kids.

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