The other night, my husband texted me from upstairs. "I'm going to bed," read his text. I replied "ok. are you going to kiss the phone goodnight?" I cannot explain how annoyed I was - could he not even come downstairs to say good night? Then I looked around and felt a little like a hypocrite. My phone was to my right, my tablet to my left, and my computer was in front of me. Not exactly the best example, I guess.
My point is this: if family togetherness in your house looks like the picture below, maybe it's time to make a change. It's ironic, but I decided that the only way we can reconnect as a family is to disconnect our electronic devices.
If you look around our house during any unstructured time (aka not dinner time, homework time, etc), there are generally two kids on their hand-held video game consoles and one teenager either talking or texting on her mobile phone...as well as one or both parents on their laptop computers. I am not saying electronics are evil. I happen to love mine, and I do believe that there are educational and productive uses for most electronics. When they start taking away from family time is where I want to draw the line.
To do this, I've made a couple of new house rules in addition to the existing, obvious ones:
- no phones while doing homework or at the dinner table,
- no video games until chores and homework are done, and
- no electronics after bedtime.
The new rules are:
1 - between the hours of 7pm and 9pm, there will be no electronics allowed, period, including parental usage. (ouch)
2 - if we don't all eat dinner together, we must share at least 30 minutes of electronics-free family fun sometime that day. (this is a tough one with school, work, and sports schedules, but we need to try it)
How do we put togetherness back on the family calendar and ensure that our teens and tweens are not over-using their electronics? Here are some ideas:
- Put a gadgets basket in an obvious place, and ensure that all electronics are deposited there from bedtime until school time, or whatever your rules dictate. In our house, everyone's gadgets live there during dinner time and overnight, for example. Warning: if you have ambitious teens or tweens, you may want to put a combination lock on the gadgets box. I am serious!
- For family time together, don't avoid gadgets if that is truly what everyone likes to do. Wii, Nintendo, and other companies have come out with some fun and hysterical family games. The dance ones are hysterical, and we also love Wii bowling and skiing.
- Go outside! This is the best time of the year to do the cheesy family walk around the block, as my daughter calls it, or play some wiffle ball. Even just have dinner or picnic out back! Days are getting shorter, you know. Camping is a great way to get kids away from their phones, especially if you go someplace where there is no service.
- Make sure you know how to get into your kids' devices...no unknown passwords! I have a friend who tells her 15-year old son that anything he texts, she gets a copy of, so nothing inappropriate or she'll know. I am not sure if that is actually true but it's a good way to keep things clean in cyberspace.
- Use books or activities as a way to earn time with their electronics. Homework done thoroughly = 15 minutes; extra chores get extra time; read a book and get 45 minutes, that kind of thing. Or credits toward the purchase of a new one!
- Talk to other parents about their policies, concerns, and family fun time ideas.
How do you keep electronics from taking over your household and family time?