Liam turned 14 last fall, and he is currently the only one of his peers without a cell phone. This isn’t a statement for or against it, just the reality. With Burke turning 13 in a few weeks and Blythe doing the same next year, you can imagine cell phones are regularly apart of the table conversation. According to this Pew Research in 2015, only 12% of teens (age 13-17) do not have a cell phone, and of the ones who do, 92% claimed to go online daily, and 24% claiming to be online “almost constantly.” Whether your children currently have cell phones or not, the growing role of technology in the family home can be anxiety-producing. But it doesn’t need to be.
Our home does regularly interacts with different screens within our home for work, school, and entertainment, including my cell phone. Our children watch math lessons online, learn to play instruments via apps, research and write papers about animals, people, and interesting places and events. They write stories, listen to music, take photos, and even sometimes record their own DIY videos. They text and Facetime with friends and family. But they do not yet have unlimited or unfiltered access to any of these places.
For the last two years, our home has had countless conversations about technology, the internet, and its role in our home. We’ve also used Circle––a small white device and user-friendly app that easily pairs with our Wi-Fi to help manage the content and time online––a helpful tool for navigating this new territory together. While every family must decide how to navigate these waters for their own home, here are some helpful ways we bridge the topic and manage it together.
Talk About Tech and the Internet as a Family / This may seem obvious as a parent, but sometimes talking with our children about the Internet can be the hardest, most complicated part. It’s so important to help create vision in your home for the gifts and vices of the abstract online world, to establish yourself as a trustworthy advocate for them and their interests. As with many areas of life for tweens and teens, their world and perspective is broadening and awakening. Whether they are able to communicate it or not, they need us in their corner. They also need to understand sometimes that means setting boundaries for their time or on the places they’re able to navigate online. If you’re using a helpful tool like Circle, introduce it to them. Set up their profile together, and show them the ways you will help them navigate the online world together.
Create a Clear Plan / Plans are empowering, especially for children who depend on predictability and consistency. Discussing the harder parts of this journey ahead of time, and how to handle them, also creates harmony and trust within the home. Consider how your family wants screen-time incorporated within your home and life. How will you handle social media? Will technology be allowed in every room? How will your choices vary from friends’ homes? How will your children or you bridge those differences together? Create a plan for your children to implement if they are exposed to something inappropriate or explicit online (within or outside of your home.) This is a wonderful reference we use.
Set Helpful Boundaries / Clear boundaries are also empowering and life-giving within the family home. Naturally, each home’s boundaries will vary, sometimes even between older and younger siblings, but the idea is for you to settle into what your home needs for the time and be consistent. Last summer, we tucked away the television for several weeks just to reset as a family. Now we pull it out each weekend for use, tucking it back into the closet to help direct our focus toward work/school and family time during the week. Circle has been the most helpful way for me to be more consistent with those trickier boundaries during our busy school days when my attention and presence is spread between the four. Here are my absolute favorite ways it helps our entire family (including me!) manage my time better.
Off-time | This feature within the app allows us to set regular blocks of time during a day or week to not be available for the internet. As a parent, I use this during my school hours with the kids, so I’m not distracted by notifications or app-browsing. I also use this for my children during hours we typically allot for play, outdoor exploration, and study.
Bedtime | This feature is my absolute favorite, even for myself. Although I know screentime right before bed isn’t helpful for any of our sleep habits, I still find myself scrolling and working sometimes in the evening, and sometimes just after dinner is Liam’s only free time to connect with friends via text. I love being able to set a bedtime for specific days of the week, for my boys (who are enjoying staying up later) and for myself and Mark, who tend to want to work.
Pause | In moments when we need a quick focus for the entire family, I can hit a pause button on the app and pause the internet for everyone at once. Although we don’t use this feature often, this can be particularly helpful when friends are over to play or join us for dinner, or when we’re simply enjoying some quality family time for a game night or conversation and I don’t want to be interrupted with notifications.
Filter Content / I like to think of an internet filter as floaties for the internet. It helps protect our children (and teens) from explicit material even when they think they don’t need it. And like toddlers wearing floaties in the pool, it doesn’t mean we’re off the hook to pay attention either. At this point, our children often have a specific purpose for being on the internet, but I appreciate having a filter in our home as a safety net. Circle has five different general filter levels: Pre-K, Kid, Teen, Adult, and Unfiltered. Within each profile, you have the option to filter specific apps and websites, too, allowing me to tweak it as my children grow in maturity and responsibility.
Reward Efforts / We all love rewards! Celebrate the way your home honors your boundaries and collaboration. Celebrate with a night out together, or a family excursion. Give them a later night bedtime on the weekend or have a sleepover. Set rewards that do not require technology or screens. For those of you who keep track of chores and home responsibilities online, Circle also connects to Mothershp, Chore Monster, and Landra. We don’t currently use this feature, but it may be helpful for some homes.
Circle Go/ For those of you with children/teens with personal devices, Circle Go is an optional subscription feature that allows you to filter your child’s device wherever they go, including data plans and other wifi networks. Wink.
Raising children in the digital age is intimidating and foreign to many of us. This doesn’t need to be a tense or fearful conversation, but it does require mindfulness and more intentional connection with one another. At the very least, as parents it’s a gift to know we are not alone in the journey.
This post is sponsored by Circle, a business committed to helping families manage the ways they connect and one we’ve loved for years. All of the images and thoughts are my own, and as always, thank you for helping support the businesses that help keep this space afloat.
What a great post! My 7 yr old is already a coder and it’s so hard to limit that screen time. Luckily when the weather is warmer it’s easier to keep them away. Would you be able to share more about the music apps you’re using? I never did anything with instruments beyond the recorder and I would like to start my kids playing music but I don’t know where to start
Wow Erin! I can imagine that gift is bittersweet as a parent. We have used the Kala app for the ukulele, and a guitar app that I can’t remember off the top of my head. But here’s another list that seems to have some good options, too.
I’m reading this with fear, fascination, and joy! You’re right that parenting in the age of technology is so new. My kids are still baby babies … what in the world will the Internet be like even in 10 years?!
Thank you for this post. Have you designated an age when your kids can have their own phone? How do they feel about not having one now? My kids are a little younger, and it never occurred to me that not having a phone would isolate them from friends who want to text. Is it lonely? Do their friends seem to understand? We love and highly recommend The Tech-Wise Family, by Andy Crouch. So, so good.
My children do text their friends and cousins via our iPad, computer, or my phone right now, so I don’t know that it’s terribly isolating for them, other than the “they have, and I don’t” factor. My husband worked as an educator for several years, and the way he watched students use/misuse technology, feel connected and yet so alone, has been a difficult stumbling block for us as we venture forward with our own children. We haven’t set a designated age for a phone, as it feels more specific as to when the individual child seems ready. I keep waiting for that parental gut instinct t kick in, but with our oldest three so close in age, it feels like a slippery slope really quickly here. I have the Tech-Wise Family on my to read list for this year. Thank you for the recommendation!
loving your blog. I recently finished reading courage to grow by laura sandefer who started Acton Academy – I think you’d really enjoy their take on tech in school.
Ooh, thank you for the recommendation! I’ll check it out. x
This post is very helpful to me as a parent learning how to plan ahead and implement rules and boundaries for the internet with my kids and myself. I really enjoy your posts as they are real and relevant and your values are similar to mine when it comes to homeschooling, parenting, religion, etc. This is my first year homeschooling my 10 and 8 year old daughters, the transition in fall was very challenging for me but I find now in our 2nd term we are doing a lot better. I don’t have time to read too many posts and there is so much out there it can sometimes be overwhelming. I’m truly thankful I’ve found your ig account (i’ve had to take a break from ig for now) and that you have a
blog I can follow for good tips and encouragement. Thank You!
Welcome, Melody, and thank you! Homeschooling has been the greatest and most challenging adventure for me. And especially as my children are getting older and doing more research and work (and wanting more play and relational connection) online, this has been a very helpful tool for us. I’m so grateful to hear that you resonate with the content shared in this space. Best to you. x
This is a wonderful post, and – I think – something so many of us parents struggle with (for both our families and ourselves!). Thank you for the inspiring words and ideas.
Thank you for sharing, Anna. I completely agree. And there are so many new, alarming realities we’re faced with as parents. It’s important for us to speak up, to encourage and empower one another on the journey. x