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Setting family rules for devices

POSTED: December 7, 2017 5:19 a.m.
Erin Stewart/

When my daughter saved up for her own iPod, we suddenly had to determine when, where and how she could use her new "toy."

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My daughter has been saving up for an iPod for almost a year. When this iPod plan started, I was 100 percent onboard. She was saving up, working hard doing neighborhood jobs and earning money at home. Long-term goal? Check. Self-motivated? Check. Portable music device that couldn’t possibly cause any problems. Che — wait a minute. Why does this iPod look like a cellphone?

This month, my daughter finally realized her dream of buying her iPod, and I realized that I have not been paying much attention to the Apple product line. An iPod used to be a music device. For music. Sometime between when I last looked at an iPod circa 2010 and now, this “portable music player” became a smartphone without an actual phone line.

So while I thought I was signing off on my 10-year-old daughter buying a glorified Discman, she now owns a pocket-size portal into the wonders and horrors of the internet, not to mention hours of potential time-wasting entertainment at her fingertips.

Now, my husband and I are scrambling to act like we totally knew what an iPod was and are definitely not outdated and irrelevant old fogies, and we knew all along that we would need some ground rules on how and when our daughter can use her newfangled iPod. (That’s right, I said it. Newfangled.)

We don’t want to be too strict because she earned the iPod all on her own. She set a goal, worked hard and should be able to enjoy the results. But I also don’t want her to be sucked into the world of screens and constant stimulation.

Here’s what we’ve come up with so far, along with a little help from recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics:

1. Phone-free spaces: We’ve always had a no-phone policy at the kitchen table, but I learned quickly that I also don’t want phones in other places like the car or bedrooms. Just like at the table, car time can be used for talking and being together, not looking at a screen. I also nixed any bedroom phone time because like computers, all devices are best used in public spaces.

2. Phone-free times: We also decided to have some hours of the day where the iPod is off limits. These include after 7:45 p.m. until the next day after all chores and homework are done.

3. People first: This is a big one for us because I hate when adults or kids are staring at their phones during social gatherings. So, we agreed that if we ever feel like people are coming second to the iPod, then it’s time for a screen timeout.

4. Wi-Fi limits: My daughter is too young to be searching the internet on her own. She knows that if she needs to find something, she can come ask us to Google it with her.

5. Parental example: I’m on my phone a lot. I know this. I’m working on it. But seeing my daughter on her iPod basically constantly in the first 24 hours after she bought it made me realize how I must look to her. Neck hunched. Eyes scanning. Totally tuned out to the people sitting on the same couch as me. And when there was a moment of silence, I realized she was reaching for her phone just like I was. It’s not hard to see where she learned those behaviors, and now I can see more clearly than ever how that behavior feels to the person on the other side.

So while I’m setting rules for my daughter, I’m also setting them for myself. And the biggest one is that I won’t look at my phone when people should be my top priority. This means when my husband is telling me about his day, when my kids are talking to me or when I’m sitting at that stoplight looking at my email instead of engaging with my children. I don’t want them to grow up looking at the top of my head anymore than I want them to follow my example of phone-dependence because it doesn’t matter if it’s a phone, an iPad, a computer or a newfangled iPod, these devices are just tools meant to enrich our lives, not replace them.
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