We want our children to be proficient at using technology, because it is a powerful tool that they must be able to use effectively in today’s society and economy. However, at the same time, we are wary of many of the issues that arise from too much screen time and seek to limit the use of their devices. So how is a parent to strike a reasonable balance between these two seemingly competing objectives?
We feel that hands-on learning is the best teacher for learning about technology. So if we want the kids to be proficient with many of the technologies that are out there today – we are going to have to let them use it. However, we have found that if we allowed the kids unregulated access to their devices & the Internet, they abused the privilege and became engrossed in the virtual world the device provides.
Before we went to Washington D.C. there was a period of time where we weren’t particularly good at regulating their usage – and we felt that Annie (in particular) was becoming a little too dependent on her device and the escape it provided. As many of you know – on that trip she dropped her device and went several months before she had saved up enough money to replace it. (See The Money Fix)
Not having her device for those several months – there was a remarkably positive change in Annie’s demeanor and personality. We felt like we got our sweet & creative little girl back – and it really opened our eyes with regards to the need to regulate their device use.
Over the last several years we have tried several strategies, with varying degrees of success, to accomplish some sense of balance with regards to these opposing objectives of wanting the kids to be technologically proficient, while not letting them become too engrossed in their virtual worlds. Currently, we are allowing the kids to EARN screen time on the weekends and some holidays.
Tagging 2 Birds With 1 Stone
Although the kids are not technically home-schooled, they do each have a workbook they are expected to complete by a certain date (Usually August 25th – Sophie’s birthday). If it is completed earlier than that – they receive a bonus. But sometimes having a goal in the somewhat distant future is not a very powerful motivator for children (that whole underdeveloped pre-frontal cortex thing again…) – and getting them to work in their workbook is a real challenge. So we have recently started rewarding them with device & Internet access for each page of the workbook they complete.
Presently each page gets them 15 minutes of device time on the weekends. They can earn a total of 1 hour & 15 minutes by completing 5 pages in a day.
How do we administer this – well, ironically technology is also part of the solution. We have a Synology router that makes it very easy to reward them with Internet access. It also filters content and websites that are inappropriate for children. (I will plan on writing a future review of this router and elaborate a little further on exactly how we use it.)
This present system has worked surprisingly well so far!
1) It has helped manage their expectations for when and how long they will be able to use their devices. We have found there to be a lot less pestering and whining for their devices since they now know that it will only be available to them on the weekends, provided they earn some time with it by completing workbook pages.
2) It has also helped the kids advance towards their long-term goal (completing their workbook), while simultaneously providing them with some more immediate benefit (Internet access on the weekend).
3) It has helped change their perception regarding their device access. We feel they more appropriately perceive it now as a privilege they earn – rather than some right or entitlement.
In the grand scheme of things, we really view this as a matter of teaching the children how to ultimately discipline themselves. We are hoping it provides them with perspective and a framework they can use in the future (when they are not under our supervision ) for self-regulating their own behavior when they are faced with balancing other potentially addictive activities and habits with the demands of a normal life.
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