It was 1996, my freshman year of high school, and I was eating dinner with my family when the phone started ringing. The phone was attached to the wall near the refrigerator. (You know the kind… the phone with the long twisted phone cord that you’d mindlessly wrap around your finger as you sat on the floor by the phone, talking, because if you walked too far with the phone, you’d pull the cord out of the wall? That’s the one.)
My brother, who is two years older than me, got up from the table, walked over to the phone and answered it.
“She can’t talk right now. We’re having dinner. Can I take a message?”
Of course, as a teenage girl, I could have melted in embarrassment, but that’s the way things were: No calls during dinner. No calls at night.
We couldn’t even have phones in our bedrooms, let alone carrying one around in our pockets and having access to the world anytime we chose.
That’s not all that has changed.
When that phone rang at our house, my parents didn’t answer it at dinner. Family meals were family meals.
My mom didn’t talk to friends in the car while we drove places: we talked.
My dad didn’t look at his phone at bedtime: he read books about mathematics.
My mom didn’t get online to find new ways to decorate: she decorated the way she liked.
Parents have changed… and kids have taken notice.
At least 35% of teenagers think their parents are addicted to technology. Let that sink in for a second.
It’s funny that we usually talk about kids being online and how they are using too much technology, but what if we switched views?
While this 35% of teenagers think their parents use too much technology, 58% of parents are actually concerned about their own use of technology, stating that they think they use it too often.
I am working with Google to share these statistics and information about how we can change them. I want to talk about how we can make technology work for us, instead of leaving us feeling guilty.
When Google asked those parents how they were able to tell that they were using technology too much, they said that they felt like instead of controlling technology, it was controlling them.
One person even said: “Smartphone distractions are causing us to miss out on In Real LIfe moments.”
I want to challenge you to find out how often you and your child are using your phone by checking your SCREENTIME in the past day and in the past week.
This is done through a setting in your phone, or through the Family Link App from Google. If you aren’t aware of this app, it gives you parental control that is available across multiple platforms, to build a safer experience for kids online. The app itself stays on your device, but you can use it to monitor their devices: Android or Chromebook.
When you make the decision to give your child their own device, Family Link can serve as a tool that keeps you in the loop as they begin to explore.
Using the Family Link App, you can see exactly where your child is spending their time on their phone, which we will use later when having a discussion with our children.
We know that teenagers think their parents are overusing their phones, but what do parents think about their children? Google research shows that 84% of parents are concerned about their child’s use of technology.
What does this mean? It means that BOTH sides want the OTHER side to be aware of their tech time and to use it wisely. Both sides want more attention from the other side.
When used correctly, technology can be an amazing tool. It has the ability to drastically improve your productivity leaving you feeling better. However, when used incorrectly, it can distract you, leaving you feeling anxious.
In parents, the overuse of technology, in a non-productive way, can lead to a lot of parent guilt.
One mother of a two-year-old and five-year-old told Google:
“I already feel bad. I do. I have the mom guilt. I feel like I’m on my phone too much. I’m not spending enough time with the kids. Sometimes with my little one- I’ll have her next to me, and I am holding her and I’m looking this way [on the phone] because I’m trying to still work.”
What is the best way to help both children and parents? It starts with us. We are their example.
The Internet is a powerful tool… and it has the ability to help us on a daily basis.
- My kids can learn fun songs about Continents and the names of all five Oceans online.
- I can find apps to help the kids practice math facts by using the suggestions from teachers on my Family Link App.
- I can talk to friends from high school and college with social media.
- I can ask Google Assistant to remind me to pick up groceries for dinner.
- I can have Google Home announce that the kids have “Piano Lessons in 20 minutes. Gather everything that you need, please” at the same time every Wednesday.”
- I can take a vacation with my family and with a simple tool like the Google Vacation Responder, it lets people know that I won’t be able to get back to them right away. This little tool allows me to relax without worrying that someone is waiting for me to respond. My kids can see that I am using a simple tool to help me control my distractions so I can really be with them.
- I can see where they are by using the GPS Tracker with the Family Link App.
What if our kids saw us only using our devices in intentional ways, so we could be more present in our Real Lives?
What if we taught them to be intentional online, too, instead of using their devices as a distraction?
What if we set that example for them?
Did you know that you can set an amount of time for your child to be using their device, and you can lock your child’s device? When you open the Family Link App, you can set times for your child to be online, and even on certain apps. I’d like to suggest doing the same for your phone. When you set up the times for your child to be off of their device… be off of your device, too.
It’s easy to tell our kids to spend less time online, but when we look at ourselves, it gets a bit trickier. I encourage you to take your own advice… the same advice you would give your kids.
- When your child wants an app and you get the notification on your Family Link App, asking you to approve or deny the app, show them how you make your decision. Let your child see that you are looking at the suggestions that came with the request, show them how you are reading the reviews that the Family Link App has shown you. Talk about why you think this app is a good one to have or one that you’d rather they not have on their phone.
In order to be an example for children, they need to understand the WHY behind the things that we do.
- When you are with your kids, tell them that you want to be completely present, so you want to turn your distractions off. Put your phone in another room and let them watch you do it.
- You can also let your kids see you putting your phone into Focus Mode to pause apps that distract you or hide your notifications for a set amount of time.
It’s up to us what we do with the technology. Let’s be the example that our kids need us to be. Use technology to help you, use it to learn and educate yourself, use it to stay in touch or to learn.
When you use these tools together, they can be wonderful, if you always have balance.
Here are a few examples of how you can teach your child about the balance between online & offline. These are a few activities to teach your child how to use the internet to get what they need and then unplug and get back to Living in the Moment:
- Read a book together on the couch and then turn on the TV and watch the movie together. Talk about if the characters looked the way that you expected and if you liked the movie or book better.
- Watch an online baking tutorial together and then head into the kitchen to recreate the recipe in your own creative way.
- Create a scavenger hunt using places in your town or neighborhood and then go out together to find them.
- Show your child pictures of their ancestors and use Google Earth to find where they grew up.
- Talk about the places you’d like to visit, locate them on a map, and head to Google Earth to see them.
Whatever it is, just be present and be together. Make this time count.
Remember… the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Be their leader in the new world of technology. Navigate it for them and then teach them the best way to walk in the digital world… and the real world.