Limiting Technology Creatively

Last night in our adult workshop a set of parents asked us to brainstorm some ideas for managing ipad/phone/tv usage for their elementary-aged girls. While acknowledging that everyone is going to have agreed-upon guidelines that work best for their family, we thought up some creative ways to play with technology use in the home.

Like any other potential stressor, such as mealtimes or transition out of the house, our take is to do as much creative play with whatever the THING is as you can. Why? For one, it can help dissolve the in-the-moment stress (yours or your child's), and two, it can help you find some novel solutions to the problems that arise (communication challenges, values you want to reinforce). If technology is a battle ground or source of stress for you, here are a few playful ideas we came up with:

(1) Let the battery run out. Credit this idea to Blake Wanger, my co-facilitator at last night's workshop. He suggested giving the elementary- or middle-school aged child a device fully charged, but without the cord or charger. Then you only make the charger available at certain intervals - say, every three or four days - so the child gets to choose when and how much he uses the device, knowing that it will eventually run out and not be re-charged until the next set date.

(2) Make up games that involve the content your child likes. For example, my son loves a tv show called the Octonauts (credit Sarah Gioia for giving us this gem). Of course when we play pretend there are storylines that involve the characters, and I do my best to honor his interest by imitating accents and personality traits. For the older child you get to be more sophisticated. For example, your daughter might really love watching You So Think You Can Dance (a show that is exactly what it sounds like). Make up a game that involves making up your own dance and having her be a judge. You don't have to know how to dance - in fact, you can make it more funny/silly with your feeble attempts to do real moves. Or, if your daughter is too cool to play with you like that, set up a situation where she does it with her friends. A staple birthday party game in my home was to do lip syncing for the camera (remember Putting On the Hits from the '80s?). My mom was the videographer and facilitated the process, while the kids were featured and owned the experience. 

(3) Create a device-free zone/time. This is a more 'normal' suggestion, but it's a hard one. Most of us are so tied to our devices it's hard for us to commit to this. But just try it as an experiment. Try 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. When your kids see you practicing what you preach and finding a healthy balance with technology, that is the most powerful teacher of all. 

These were just a few ideas that came up with last night; nothing profound or extraordinary, just simple ideas to experiment with. It can be hard to feel playful or creative with issues that trigger or stress you. Improv and creative brainstorming can help you release your judgments and attachments and see the issue with fresh eyes and inspiration. 

Keren Gudeman

Minneapolis, Minnesota