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Becoming A Tech-Wise Family

Today’s techno-saturated culture has given rise to challenges that a decade ago would have been difficult to even imagine. It’s now possible for a family to live together under one roof while simultaneously experience disconnection as they perpetually attend to their mobile glowing rectangles. This threat of living ever-connected while experiencing deeper isolation is something our family is increasingly challenged with as more of our kids eager (and able!) to secure a device to call their own.

Heather and I have experienced the growth of technology’s ubiquity alongside the growth of our family. With each passing year and each stage of our family’s expansion, technology advanced rapidly, becoming cheaper to acquire, easier to use, and offering more options for distraction, numbing, and entertainment. Observing the encroachment of technology in our family’s life, it’s been a challenge to find a response that is realistic and ambitious when it comes to using technology instead of being used by it. Like money, technology makes a wonderful slave but a terrible master.  We’ve lived serving it and having it serve us. The latter is much more preferable than the former.

Granted, we haven’t always fought as diligently as we could/should have, but we continue to fight. Even when we fail, we fail forward. It’s important to us that we model healthy uses of technology to our kids, and craft a family culture that wisely incorporates technology without becoming defined by it. I know that’s an ideal that many parents strive to realize as well, so I’d like to share a few ideas, principles, and practices that we have found to be helpful for us and our family of six.

Becoming a Tech-Wise Family

One of the most helpful resources in forming our thinking around all of the attendant issues technology raises/exposes was The Tech-Wise Family by Andy Crouch. Crouch’s book aims to help the reader put technology in its proper place.  To that end, both the promises and perils connected to technology are explored in an accessible and thoughtful way. In reading the book, it quickly became clear that we tend to live into technology’s perils more than its promises. That’s because technology offers us easy everywhere results that most of us find irresistible. As a consequence, we “slouch” towards pervasive tech-use until we find ourselves unable to move through our daily lives without continually seeking counsel and direction from the devices at our fingertips.

Pervasive tech-use leads to a profound sense of disconnection across four dimensions of personhood: our relationship with God, others, ourselves and creation (and our role within it).  Ironically, as we slip into habits that promise “connectivity,” we become bound to tech-habits of heart, soul, mind, and strength that keep us from the connections that matters most.

To resist the pull of technology’s siren call of easy everywhere, Crouch offers a Rule of Life for technology use within families.  He begins by framing our struggle as one that involves three central commitments:

  1. Priority of Character. Our family rejects the easy everywhere lifestyle. We will do hard things that challenge us to cultivate the virtues of wisdom and courage.
  2. Intentional Space. We will structure our home so that  we are nudged towards meaningful creativity and interaction, and away from passive, isolating consumption.
  3. Quality Time.  We will intentionally buildrhythms into our lives that help us get to know one another, God, and our world in deeper and richer ways.

Crouch then shares several principles that he and his family used to live into this mission to become tech-wise:

  1. We develop wisdom and courage together as a family. This means we support each other in growing and developing all of our God-given gifts and capacities.
  2. We want to create more than we consume.  So we fill the center of our home with things that reward skill and active engagement (e.g. musical instruments, art tables, board games, books, etc.)
  3. We are designed for a rhythm of work and rest.  So one hour a day, one day a week and one week a year, we turn off our devices and worship, feast, play, and rest together.
  4. We wake up before our devices do, and they “go to bed” before we do. This means no technology the first hour upon rising, and no technology the final hour before bed.
  5. We aim for “no screens before double digits” at school and at home. If this means struggling with boredom at times, so be it. We will create a habit of non-use during the early and formative stages of our children’s brain and social development.
  6. When we do use screens, we will use them for a purpose.  We we will them together whenever possible in order to stimulate conversation and create shared experiences.
  7. Car time is conversation time. We do not isolate ourselves during times of extended travel. Instead we take advantage of these rare opportunities for conversation and connection.
  8. We show up in person for the big events of life.  We learn how to be human by being fully present at our moments of greatest vulnerability.  We hope to die in one another’s arms.

Our Family’s Approach

While our family has not committed itself to all of these practices, we’ve sought to understand the principles upon which they’re based and adapt them to our family’s unique context and value system.  Specifically, we’ve embraced the three framing commitments around Character, Space, and Time, and we’ve found great success in reinforcing the following principles as often as we can:

  • We develop wisdom and courage together as a family.
  • We want to create more than we consume.
  • Car time is conversation time.
  • We show up in person for the big events of life.

We’ve also landed on the following family rules to govern daily life together:

  • No devices in bedrooms.
  • Children (Ages 3-12) have access to 2 hours per day screen time, on weekends only (Friday 3pm-Sunday dinner). There is no screen time at home on school nights. “You are responsible to make your own fun” has become a mantra in our home.
  • Teens (Age 13+) have access to 1 hour per day, at an agreed upon time, in a public space in our home. This increases to 2 hours/day on weekends.
  • Parents have full access to all devices, apps, and emails. We are able to scan or search any of our children’s devices at any time without justification beyond, “I’d like to see your phone for a bit.”
  • Ownership doors not equal autonomy. Regardless of whether our children own the device in question, any use of technology that routinely interferes with family priorities and relationships gets removed for a period of re-calibration to healthy practices.
  • We do not permit “roaming” through the house with music via earbuds. Ages 13+ can listen to their own music when doing homework, but only for an agreed upon amount of time and in a public space.
  • In order to purchase and use a device, each of our kids must agree to the Qustudio Family Digital Agreement.

Some Words of Encouragement

Navigating the turbulent waters of technology as an individual within our society is challenging enough. When families attempt to work out a wise, helpful, and healthy approach to tech use, the challenges quickly multiply and often feel insurmountable. But they aren’t. Addressing the challenges is not easy, but it is possible. And necessary. Our children need our support through modeling and enforcing life-enhancing tech practices.

I know that many parents feel as though technology has irreversibly taken over their family’s home culture. My encouragement to you would be that it’s never too late to help your family (re)start a healthy relationship with technology.  And my promise to you is that you will never regret challenging yourselves to resist easy everywhere disconnection so you can connect with those you’ve been given to love.

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