How can parents take a step back from technology when we need to use it for work?

Michael RichMedia expert Michael Rich, MD, MPH, director of the Center on Media and Child Health at Children’s Hospital Boston, answers your questions about media use. Last week, he talked about whether kids are benefiting from early exposure to electronics.

Here’s this week’s question:

Q: I recently got together with other parents to talk about our experiences, philosophies, and rules surrounding what seems to be non-stop virtual interaction for our kids. We came up with a lot of great ideas, one of which was for us parents to model a healthy relationship with technology. This is going to be really hard for my husband and me, who are self-employed and use online social media like Twitter and blogging for work. Do you have any practical tips for how to step back from technology in this situation?

Media Mom, New York, NY

A: Dear Media Mom,

As you imply in your question, and as the old saying goes, what you do speaks far more loudly than what you say. And as we know from research, this applies to media too: the media use habits children see modeled by their parents and siblings make a difference in how they use media.

It can certainly be challenging to model the behaviors you want while still using media for work—especially when you work from home! There’s always more to do, and it can be difficult to separate work time from home time. But you want to bring the same focus and discipline to the job of parenting that you use in your other job. Therefore, an important first step is to examine your own media use.

Ask yourself honestly how efficient your media use is. It’s likely that you could make it more focused and efficient in the same ways you’ll recommend to your kids, such as by using a media budget. For example, if you’re using Twitter and blogging software for work, and you work from 9:00 to 5:00, close your computer at 5:00, and focus on being home. If you need to use these technologies outside of typical work hours, that’s fine—just make a budget and stick to it. By stopping when your time is up, you leave more time for family meals, daily exercise, and connection with your kids, and you show your kids that even you set limits on yourself.

Another idea is to talk to other parents about how they carve out non-media time; perhaps you could even have a “Part 2” of the group you met with to have the initial discussion? It would be neat to check in again, maybe even regularly, to discuss new ideas since managing media use is an ongoing challenge for everyone these days.  We asked our Facebook Fans how they take a step back from technology, and here were some of their replies:

  • “We have a ‘cell phone drop box‘ in the entrance to our house. It helps keep our family connected to each other while we’re home.”
  • “I leave my cell phone in the car any time I know I’ll be interacting with kids.”
  • “We have 2 hours between coming home from work and our toddler going to bed for the night, so we aim for no computer or phone use during those 2 hours.”
  • “Turning off the phone during dinner is a way to disconnect from technology and connect with family.”

We encourage you to join us on Facebook so that you can continue to hear about great ideas from other parents!

Enjoy your media and use them wisely,
The Mediatrician®

>> Do you have a story about how your family or community uses media? Email me at cmch@childrens.harvard.edu
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