Parenting in the Age of Technology

June 17, 2024, sierraharlan

My daughter, Camille,  just turned one, and my husband and I are already discussing and adapting our family’s technology rules. We have some technology guidelines we follow, like no phones at the table when we are eating, that have reduced distraction during family time. We have also researched what screen time guidelines experts recommend for toddlers and children. Quality time, connection, and meaningful experiences are some of our family values, and it is easy for technology to take away from these things. Children are also information sponges, and they learn by watching us, so we want to model healthy boundaries when it comes to spending time on technology.

Technology boundaries that help me as a parent

I spent a lot of time on my phone during the first few months after Camille was born. She would often only contact nap, and I would spend hours a day sitting in the nursery room chair. To pass the time, I scrolled through social media much more than I did before having a baby. When Camille was a few months old, I realized that I was struggling to be fully present with her and that the reward my brain was getting from being on my phone was impacting how I felt during our quiet moments. I created some boundaries for myself that have helped me be more present with Camille. Some changes that I made include:

  • I deactivated my social media accounts and took a break from them. I realized that I was habitually checking these apps, getting sucked into them, and wasting way too much time.
  • I do not take my phone or Kindle when Camille nurses in the morning. I focus on being mindful of that special morning time together.
  • I listen to podcasts and audiobooks around Camille, but I intentionally give her a lot of quiet time during the day, and we also have undistracted time together.
  • I have a spot in our house that I consider home to my phone, and I often leave it there with the volume on so I can hear it if it rings. This physical distance from my phone feels so freeing.
  • I am mindful of how much I am on my phone around Camille and remember that she is learning by watching me.

Screen time for children

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children under 18 months do not have any screen time, and children between 2 and 5 should not have more than an hour of screen time per day (Mayo Clinic). When my husband and I recently flew with Camille, we decided we were comfortable letting her watch a show if she got upset on the plane. We also put on an educational children’s show when we trim her nails, but this is only for a few minutes once or twice a month. While I do feel strongly that I don’t want Camille zoning out in front of a screen, it is a helpful tool to prevent her from becoming upset while I trim her nails. It is nice that limiting her screen time is in our control for now. This will become more challenging as she gets older.

Planning for the future

Before becoming a stay-at-home parent, I worked as an elementary school counselor. It was not uncommon for parents to reach out about their child coming across inappropriate content online or engaging in unsafe behaviors, like using chat apps to talk with strangers. Kids are so socially connected through their phones, and parents face a hard decision when considering the pros and cons of letting their child have a cell phone. Kids’ brains are not fully developed, making it harder for them to set boundaries with technology. Social media can especially be rewarding neurologically. One thing parents can do to help prepare for their child to have their own device is create a family technology plan. Even if parents establish good technology boundaries at home, children are still at risk of seeing inappropriate content at school, at friends’ houses, etc., and having conversations about safety early on is a good idea. Fostering openness and trust in your parent-child relationship goes a long way. Encourage your child to let you or another trusted adult know if they see or hear anything that feels unsafe, weird, or unexpected when using technology.

I am glad I have more time before Camille asks for a device of her own. Technology plays a significant role in our culture, and we want to model healthy boundaries for our child.  We also don’t want to waste time and energy on things that don’t add value to our lives, like spending too much time on our phones. As Camille grows up, we will create an environment of trust and safety in our home so she will hopefully feel comfortable talking about uncomfortable topics with us. My husband and I will also consider where she is developmentally when she gets a device in the far-off future and help her create healthy boundaries.