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Technology Free-Zone: How to Limit Your Child’s Tech Time

January 27, 2014

smartphonesWith the availability of tablets, gaming systems, cell phones and computers, “play” isn’t what it used to be. In fact, many families find themselves, children included, constantly glued to technology.

Even though technology play has positive aspects, it’s also important to have some “tech-free” moments throughout the day. With these strategies, learn how to limit your child’s tech time and bring back the quality in family time.

Risks of Technology Overload

One of the most common risks of being glued to technology is the lack of one-on-one communication families and children have with each other.  We’ve all had the experience of walking into a restaurant and seeing everyone under 16 with their heads down, furiously texting on their phones or playing on a tablet, says Jon Lam, founder of Noventa Learning. “As a result, many people are rusty at communicating with people face to face and developing relationships,” he says.

Being addicted to short reward cycles is another risk of technology overload. Children get instant gratification when playing electronic games. “The problem is that real life is not designed like that,” says Lam.

Your child could also suffer from overstimulation, according to Jennifer Schindele, Pennsylvania-based certified sleep consultant. “This can and often does affect the child’s ability to go to sleep easily at bedtime and can result in fragmented or broken sleep during the night due to the child’s now overtired state after being overstimulated by TV, a computer, video games or tablets right before bedtime,” she says.

Children who are glued to technology often struggle to develop social skills. “They miss learning how to read and respond to social cues that are often subtle, such as facial expression or body language,” says Robin Kevles-Necowitz, licensed psychotherapist and parenting coach in Pennsylvania. “Children who spend lots of time with technology struggle to develop the skills required to carry a conversation or develop critical friendship skills.”

How to Set Limits

In order to set limits, parents and nannies must be intentional about how they schedule technology time and limits, says David Simonsen, licensed family therapist. “Parents must be in agreement with one another about how to deal with it,” he says. “Once they are in agreement then some type of plan is in order. For example, is technology ever allowed at the table or when you’re out to eat with friends? There are going to need to be hard and fast rules and then flexible rules.”

As part of the plan, you can also set specific times on certain days for technology use, according to Kevles-Necowitz. The key is to stay firm and consistent with your children. “It’s easy. Just say ‘New Rule. From now on, we only use technology from 4-6 p.m. during the week and 12-4 p.m. on the weekends’ or whatever works best for your family,” she says. “They may not like it or understand it until they are much older, but we need to have patience, manage our anxiety when they have a fit and trust the process.”

Another approach is to involve your children in creating a tech-free schedule. “By doing this, they can have an open discussion on appropriate times and duration of technology use and how it is not a healthy part of preparing for bedtime,” says Schindele. “I suggest to all families that I work with to limit the use of technology for at least 45 minutes to an hour before nap or bedtime. This way, the child’s brain has the opportunity to wind down and prepare for sleep.”

Setting up tech-free zones in certain rooms of the house can help enforce technology limits, too. For example, the kitchen and dining room may be off limits for electronics, but the living room during certain hours is a tech-friendly zone.

Benefits of Tech-Free Zones

Although your children may initially miss their electronic devices, if you show them the opportunities outside of a technology zone, they will soon forget.

“In our household, we don’t stress the importance of limiting technology as much as highlight all the fun things that one can do without technology,” says Lam. “Our kids spend as much time reading, doing crafts, and playing outside as they do watching TV or using the iPad. Promote the habit of maintaining balance between those types of activities.”

These tech-free moments not only help your child discover other interests and socialize, but they can also put more focus on family time. “Technology often takes away from family relationships,” says Simonsen. “So, taking away technology can actually be used to build family time that is usually missing.”


4 Responses to Technology Free-Zone: How to Limit Your Child’s Tech Time

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Sue P. says:

I am completely on board with having tech-free times, however my husbands job (he’s in sales) pretty much requires that he be “on call” 24/7, so he always has his phone with him and is constantly fielding calls and checking emails. How can we teach our kids tech-free times when my husband doesn’t really have that luxury?

Doc David says:

I think this is a great learning opportunity for your kids. Having a conversation with them about why dad needs to be on the phone as well as how that is very different from simply being on a tablet or game systems is great. As conversations like this continue consistently with your kids they will be less likely to fight you about using tech at inappropriate times.

Jon L says:

I’m on the computer pretty much all day as well, so it seems almost hypocritical to enforce tech-free times to me! Being an entrepreneur, I have that “always on” need as well – even on vacation!

But I’ve found that ultimately, I have to lead by example. No tech for kids – No tech for me! Plus it gives me a chance to spend some quality time with them reading, playing board games, or doing crafts. As David said, if a phone call comes in…that’s a different story :)

admin says:

Thank you so much for the input! Love the idea of “no tech for the kids – no tech for me” – that’s a great way to avoid double standards!