3 Ways to Set Technology Limits Creatively

Do you find yourself getting into fights over screen time? Yelling, punishing or over-monitoring technology? 

Consider play as a tool:

  • Playfulness can dissolve in-the-moment stress (yours, or your child's).
  • Play helps you discover novel solutions collaboratively.

(1) Create a device-free zone and/or time.

This is a hard one, with our 24-hour communication expectations and habits. So try it as an experiment. Pick one night where everyone - no exceptions! - puts their devices away after dinner and does something creative and playful together. Or reads quietly. Or creates a funny-looking device-free zone sign together. 

(2) Have a playful conversation about it.

Hold an official family meeting in which you discuss the pros and cons of media in your household. Really dig into the conversation and try not to have pre-conceived ideas. You'll learn something, no doubt. And when you drop the I-know-best and embrace we're-exploring-this-together stance your child will also engage differently in the conversation.

Try playing a game. Something like 'What else can this be used for?', in which you go around brainstorming novel uses for your technology (e.g. a seat warmer! a robotic hand!, a walkie-talkie for aliens!). When you can be playful with the raw materials of the conversation (both the emotions and the pros/cons list), you set a stage for a much richer, calmer, more interesting and productive conversation.

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(3) Create a family contract.

After having some quality conversations on the topic (see above), you are much better situated to come up with an agreement within your family. Let the initial conversations breathe. Let there be laughter. Let their be tears.

Then, make the contract. Of course you are the ultimate arbiter and you do know more about the dangers and concerns of over-use of technology. But you can convey that to your child without the emotional baggage that can cloud our interactions. Discuss openly your concerns and what you feel are appropriate limits; hear your child out, too. Come up with a plan together, including consequences for breaking the contract as well as a trial period to test out the parameters and regular check-ins to make tweaks. In Designing Family Contracts For Technology Use a Professor of Media you'll find a thorough treatment of the process. 

It is damn hard to feel creative with family issues that stress us. But just a smattering of play into this complex, dynamic issue, moves the conversation - and behaviors - t new places IRL.