I have been wanting to write on the topic of raising tech-wise kids in this technology age we live in for a while but have struggled to gather my thoughts so I can bring it all together into something that would even make sense. I have said it before, but for me, writing helps me make sense of my thoughts and also helps me convert those thoughts into ideas.
Those of you who know me know that I am fully emersed in technology. I have two smartphones, a smartwatch, a tablet, a laptop, computer, Kindle reader, cameras, gaming consoles, and more within reach every single day of my life. I have made a side business out of getting to spend time with technology with my YouTube channels State of Tech and Ditch Auto. I also have three young children ages 8, 6, and 4 who take notice of the endless tech options I have around me. So what am I doing to raise my kids to be wise consumers of technology? This is a question I have to continuously ask myself almost every day.
You are not going to like this, but raising tech-wise kids starts with your own behavior in regards to technology. I am approaching the ripe age of 40 and am realizing more and more each day the habits I gleaned from my parents when I was a child. Our kids will learn many of their behaviors from us and carry them into adulthood. I am in no way qualified to speak as though I have achieved some perfect balance of technology in my home but I am hyper-aware of what is going on and am doing my best to stay on top of it.
Before we can parent a child we have to be able to parent ourselves. We no longer have parents telling us to turn off the game and go to bed or to stop scrolling Instagram. It is our turn to be that person for our children but if we can not be that person for ourselves, we will simply become the thing we hated most about our own parents which was when they told us to do as they say, not as they are doing.
Children Learn Patterns
Around the age of 3-4 years old, our children start to notice patterns and are able to guess what the next item will be. Remember those pattern worksheets from your childhood? Square, circle, square, what comes next? Our children will mirror our behaviors. If we can’t spend an idle minute without checking our phones, our kids are not going to be able to sit still either. We have to give our children healthy behaviors as patterns for them to follow. The little brains of our children are being wired using the patterns and behaviors we model for them.
Remember when you used to be creative? Some of my best memories as a child was building with Legos. I never bought the Lego sets that came with instructions. I wanted to build something from nothing and even though my Lego creations were not perfect replications of things in the real world they took creativity to make. These days we reach to our phone for inspiration rather than trying to make something on our own. No need to come up with an idea for our child’s birthday lets just scroll Pinterest for “5-Year-Old Boy Birthday Party Ideas.” We’re teaching our kids that kind of behavior people!
We also need to keep control over the compulsions we find ourselves often giving into. What I mean is that there are things we compulsively do. Some of these things are healthy, some are addiction-driven. We have lost the ability to be idle because we grab our device in hopes for a small kick of dopamine. We have become so conditioned to receive that little jolt in the pleasure center of our brains that we can’t handle being disconnected. Our brains learn that Disconnection = Being Alone and that Being Alone = Sadness.
Lately, I am trying to be mindful of how everything affects my heart and how things affect the hearts of my children. I recently removed a lot of influences from my social media accounts. Some of it was affecting my heart in a negative way. Removing it felt like a weight lifted off of my shoulders. If I can’t see how the things of the world affect my heart, how can I guide my child’s heart?
Technology Is Not A Replacement For Creativity
Yes, you can be very creative using technology. I have built a business on it, so I know this very well. I also recognize that technology has limited my creativity. When I use technology to find inspiration for creativity I often end up taking shortcuts that take away from what could have been a good idea. There is nothing wrong with using technology to vet your ideas, but often the best way to be creative is to disconnect and sit down with a notepad. A pen and paper, not the notepad app on your PC! This means that you might fail, and boy do we hate that. Finding the ideas and the ten steps to make it happen on Pinterest sure make it easier, but what do we learn when we do that to ourselves.
When I was in high school, I was in charge of our senior class float. We had a general idea of what we wanted to do but none of us really knew how to pull it off. We did it ourselves, no help from parents and it sure looked like it. Guys, our class float was horrible. The freshman beat us. It was sad, but it taught me some lessons I wouldn’t have learned if we had let our parents do the work for us.
Technology Is A Stimulant
I spoke to this above, technology is a stimulant because of how we use it. We use it to connect to information and information feels good. Information is not inherently bad, but we can become addicted to it. Over stimulation + Isolation leads to addiction. When we constantly allow ourselves to be stimulated by the pretty pictures and information of the internet we start to feel isolated. We are constantly reminded about what we don’t have or what we haven’t achieved. As an entrepreneur, I see others in my industry achieving more than me and it can make me feel like I am a failure somehow.
People turn to their technology to connect to whatever makes them feel something. It used to be tabloids and magazines, now it’s Instagram and Pinterest. We are surrounded by it. Though it often makes us feel insufficient, we are drawn to it like a moth is to light. We scroll Facebook or Instagram for hours hoping for a connection to something. Those apps are designed to make sure we receive some sort of reward from time to time for using them.
Technology Can Isolate Us
If we allow our technology to over stimulate us we crave more and will find ways to consume more of it. This leads to us deciding to spend time on our devices rather than with others who edify and build us up. When we are over stimulated and isolated, addiction takes hold. We need to make sure we recognize this before it becomes a problem because we are not only isolating ourselves from our peers but also from our spouse and children.
How To Raise Tech-Wise Kids
I often get asked by other parents about healthy limitations. How should I limit the time my children spend with technology they ask. To be honest, I am no sure I like the idea of limitations. Setting limitations mean focusing on lack rather than abundance. I believe that what we need to do is make sure that there are enough healthy and edifying things in the lives of our children that technology is just one of the many things that makes up their lives.
I find that when I get lazy and don’t make my children my main focus in our home, they want technology. When I am constantly checking my phone and busy on my laptop, my kids want to be busy playing games on theirs. It is not fair to them to see me constantly on my phone and not allow them to do the same. I knew I had a problem when my oldest told me that he can’t wait until he turns 18 and moves out so he can surround himself with all of the technology that I have. That hit me like a brick to the face. How can I teach my kids about being “tech-wise” when I don’t appear to be tech-wise myself?
This has led to me making some other changes in my life. I am currently working to free up the clutter in my life so I have more mental bandwidth to assure I don’t get blindsided again.
Healthy Boundaries vs Limitations
We don’t let our kids take technology into their rooms. Their rooms are for sleep and play. This is an area I need to work on myself. I go to bed with devices next to me and I need to create some separation. This is going to become more important as I transition back to working from home. Our kids need these same healthy boundaries in place. There is a time for technology and there is a time for it to be put away.
Most devices these days have the option to set limitations which shut them down after a certain amount of time. While this is a nice safety feature, I want my kids to be able to moderate their own use of technology without having to rely on the device to disable itself. What happens when they are old enough for their own device? They will just turn that limitation off and let freedom ring!
We should be starting the day and ending the day technology free. When we are with other people, we should be interacting with them rather than burying our faces in a game or an app. I think virtual reality is neat, but I fear what it will do to the family if that is the future of consuming content in the home. We all slip on our headsets and forget about each other. That freaks me out!
But They’re Bored!
When attempting to moderate my kids use of technology I will offer up suggestions on how they can spend their time. Are you really a parent if your child hasn’t told you, “That’s Boring!?” I get it. Playing Legos just can’t hang with the latest updates to Fortnite. What my kids will choose every time is uninterrupted time with me. When I chose to play with them, they don’t care about the games and the apps. They want to spend time with me.
“But your kids are still young,” you say. Yes, they are, which means I still have time. This is why I am making major changes in my work life right now to allow for more time with my kids. When they get older, they will choose technology over me if I spent their childhood doing the same to them. Your kids will never get bored of you engaging with them in fun activities they can take part it. It’s when you trade out that time for other distractions that it becomes hard to win them back later on. They will fight you when you try to separate them from their devices because those devices have been their comfort. I never said this would be easy.
Intention is going to be the biggest tool you have in your arsenal. If you make a device the top priority in your own life, your kids will as well. It is also important that your kids’ friends parents know your stance on technology use as well. One of my favorite things about my kids still being young is their accidental spilling of information. They know they are not allowed to play games endlessly at home and that goes for when they are at their friends’ houses as well.
We need to set healthy boundaries between us and our technology. I recently moved my phone across the bedroom. I have kept my phone on my nightstand for as long as I can remember. My first business used to get broken into occasionally so I had this fear that I would get a call in the middle of the night from the alarm company and police and that is when the habit of having my phone next to me while I sleep started. Now, I simply wear my smartwatch to bed and put it on “Do Not Disturb” mode. If someone from my contacts calls me, my watch will notify me of a call, otherwise, it will not disturb me. I have slept like a baby and grabbing my phone when I wake up before even putting my feet on the floor has changed my attitude in the morning. These are healthy boundaries I want to pass on to my kids and that can’t happen if I am not practicing them myself.
Avoiding Technology Addiction
As I eluded to before, technology provides us with a stimulant we use to feel something. When we start to isolate so we can spend more time in an app or game, that leads to addiction. We need to recognize what that looks like in our own lives. Are we addicted already, or on our way?
What does video game addiction and recovery from that look like?
ESports and The Professional Gamer Movement
There is a new category of sports if you haven’t already heard and that is the sport of Electronic Gaming. There are gaming competitions and events where professional gamers go head to head just like in the world of physical sports. It’s fun to watch, especially if you enjoy the game they are playing. Gamers stream live each day so others can watch them play and be entertained by their commentary. This is a huge emerging market where gamers are making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year and getting major sponsorships just for playing games on their computer.
Kids watch these streamers and are envious of their skill and the lifestyle they get to lead because of their skill at the game. It would be easy for our kids to become addicted to video games because there is an online community that enjoys the same thing they do. However, online gaming communities are nothing more than a community around that game. Outside of that, it is rare that any real connection or personal growth will come out of those communities.
We not only have to guide our children toward healthy technology use but we have to guard them against the false realities that exist out there. Just like we enjoy following people on Instagram and Pinterest who are amazing at certain things, kids want to follow those who are pros at their favorite games. We have to make sure our children understand what being a professional gamer means and how that differs from spending too much time playing games as a child.
As adults, we can fall into the same traps by getting too caught up in the lives of celebrities. Our kids are getting caught up in the lives of gaming celebrities and it is much easier for them to fall into the addiction of gaming than it is for an adult to carry out a shopping addiction. We have to look at our own lives and make sure that we are not projecting addictive behavior onto our children. If we are addicted people, our kids are going to become addicted.
Check out this short review of a book called “Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products.”
External vs Internal Triggers
As you now know, we live in a world of external triggers. These are the things that are marketed to us that look great and promise to make us feel better. Technology companies have perfected the trigger. Look at how Apple has triggered millions of people into purchasing new phones each year that only contain small updates.
If our children are not strong enough, they are going to give in to those external triggers when they have their own internal negative triggers. We all have negative triggers such as feeling down or lonely. If we do not model for our children how to create healthy boundaries between us and our technology, our kids are going to have the behavior patterns that lead to turning to those external triggers that are the first step to creating a technology addiction.
It’s impossible to avoid technology altogether and if we do not allow our kids to explore technology, they will likely be left behind. We now live in a connected world, but our minds have not adapted to that kind of existence. We are community driven and need to connect with others.
This summer I took my family camping and decided to go completely off the grid. That is a hard thing to do as a business owner but I told my clients that I would be unreachable for 8 days. During those 8 days, I did not touch my phone at all. The first four days were torture. When I didn’t have something to do I felt the desire to go grab my phone. Even without a connection to the internet, I was sure something needed my attention. Thankfully I resisted and spent that time reading instead. It was a nice break and part of me wished I didn’t have to reconnect.
To drive home the point about setting healthy boundaries we need to make sure we are building planned separation from technology. This means taking a technology fast. In the book, “The Tech-Wise Family, author Andy Crouch shares that in his family they take an hour a day, one day a week, and one week each year completely free from technology. Here is what that might look like:
One Hour Dialy- Dinner time no technology. Dinner lasts an hour. Instead, we take our time to enjoy our food and each other through conversation.
One Day/Week – Sunday, no technology. We go to church, maybe go to the park to play, and then do some yard work. It’s not that hard to fill a day with activity.
One Week/Year – Camping or disconnected vacation. We like to go camping so we go camping up in the mountains away from Wifi and cellular connection. For me, I need to be completely disconnected. That means no signal at all!
Be a Leader to Your Children and to Others
I could go on forever on this topic. Each paragraph I write I think of something to add to a previous paragraph. Writing helps me think and I learn through the process of converting my thoughts into written word. I want to encourage you to look inward and consider the behaviors you are displaying to your children. They are going to grow up with those patterns gleaned from you ready to be put into practice when they encounter situations. This goes for so much more than just technology.
We need to be the leaders our children need. Only by understanding ourselves will we be able to equip our children with the patterns and behaviors they will need to navigate the world they are growing up in.
Here is a list of books that have added insight into my own life and thus resulted in me being able to recognize my own behaviors so that I can build upon or correct to better equip myself to raise tech-wise children.
- Change Your Brain, Change Your Life
- The Tech-Wise Family
- 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You
- Hooked – How to build habit-forming products
- Why You’re Stuck: Your Guide To Finding Freedom From Any Of Life’s Challenges
- No Excuses!: The Power of Self-Discipline
- DadBot Podcast – Navigating Parenting & Technology
- Focus on the Family Parenting Podcast
- The Brain Warrior’s Way Podcast
- Hardcore Self Help Podcast (Content warning, this guy covers tough stuff and there is occasionally some profanity.)
There is no one book or podcast that will give you all of the answers to life. I have read hundreds of books and recognize that each book introduces me to a key nugget of information or a concept that I had not considered. All of these books are available in an audio form which is how I consumed them.
You’ve Got This!
You’ve got this Mom or Dad. I know you came here hoping for a 5-step plan to raising tech-wise kids, but that just isn’t a thing and if it was, it would be rendered useless almost immediately when the next pleasure centered device hits the market. The key is to be the example you want for your children. They are going to grow up to be just like you whether they want to or not. You have the power to set a baseline for healthy behaviors in their lives and it goes so much deeper than just technology use.
Obviously, I am pretty passionate about this topic and plan to write more on it. If you have any thoughts, please share them in the comment section below. I would love to hear your opinion. We all learn from each other. If you want updates from me, please consider sharing your email address in the “Get Updates” box on the right column or bottom of this website.
Thanks for taking the time to read my long post. I appreciate your time and your desire to invest in the lives of your children.