10 Tips on Setting Technology Limits for Your Family

My Top 10 Tips on Setting Technology Limit

One of the best things you can do is to ensure the technology is being used for educating and creating, not just consumption.

Many parents are unsure of how and when to set limits on technology use for their children (and themselves).  I believe this is something we all need to think about, adults as well as kids. Setting technology limits is a personal decision based on the values that you have, so there is not one policy that will fit every family.  As a parent and educator who encourages students to use technology in a positive and creative way, but is also aware of some of the downsides to certain types of technology use, I have compiled the following guidelines. With technology more and more ubiquitous in our lives, it’s a good time to think through this issue for our children and ourselves:

  1. RATINGS — Use the ratings provided on video games, TV shows, and movies.  It may seem obvious but many don’t check them.  They are a good place to start to see what is appropriate and what isn’t.  Also, they can save a lot of arguing.  You can deflect to the rating when arguments start.  Before I did realized this myself, I told my son basically that we could watch/play just about everything when he got to third grade… so I will be in for a problem in third grade.  You can check for movie ratings at FilmRatings.com.  Ratings for TV shows should appear on your cable or satellite guide and games  have rating on the boxes or you can check them online too.
  2. PREVIEWING  — Try to preview games, shows, and movies if you can.  Online reviews can also be helpful.  Common Sense Media has in-depth reviews with rating categories specific to families.
  3. CONTROLS — Look into parent controls and monitoring software. Imagine my surprise when I heard the “f word” coming out of our iPad!  My 5 year old had learned to preview songs on his own.  Luckily, he did not realize what he was hearing but I quickly found the parental controls setting and turned it on.  Google Search also has a safe search setting.  None of these are perfect but they are a big help.  We teach kids at the Williamsburg Schools what do you if they do come across something inappropriate, which is move away from that screen and notify staff so it can be either filtered or reported as inappropriate… because they will run into inappropriate material.  But take advantage of the controls and monitoring tools that are available.  Apple product built-in controls can be found in settings under Parent Controls.  Here’s a link to a review of control tools for PCs on www.pcmag.com.
  4. LOCATION — Limiting the location of your media devices is much harder now with tablets, laptops and smartphones, but try to keep devices in public places in your house and out of bedrooms.
  5. CREATE & EDUCATE — One of the best things you can do is to ensure the technology is being used for creation and not just consumption.  Suggest ways for kids to be creative.  For instance, don’t just read comic books on the media device, create them, create art, and create video games.  Related to this is making a distinction between “just for fun” and educational technology.  We set that strict limit at school, but at home we strive for a balance of educational and “just for fun” technology use.  The web site iear.org is a good review site and source for finding good educational apps for the tablets and smart phones.
  6. SELF-REGULATION — After a certain age, we have to trust that we have done our jobs and that our kids will self-regulate.  I believe this to be true if we have provided a balance of activities for our kids and taught them constructive and creative uses of technology (as well as the “just for fun” stuff).
  7. FLEXIBILITY  — Some parents try to have consistent daily limits on screen time, which can work for some families.  But we try to look at the whole day and provide a balance of activities and not have strict daily limits.  Things can relax  if folks are sick, tired, or in bad weather… at least for us.  The opposite is also true for us when we have lots of energy and have good weather.
  8. BALANCE — A balanced life is the best.  So we look to see on a daily or weekly basis if we have provided a balance of activities:  music, art, reading books, technology, outdoors, spiritual, exercise/sports, creative play, and social activities.
  9. TALK — We have found it important and rewarding to do technology with our son.  When my son reached 4, I realized that the time had come to stop trying to prohibit certain things and to simply state how I felt about things and make a choice for myself whether I wanted to play that game with him.  For us, that centers around fighting games and content.  This is how kids learn values from their parents.
  10. MODEL — The best way to ensure a healthy use of technology for kids is to be a good role model ourselves.


John Heffernan ♦ Tech Talk: Supporting Creative Play with Technology

John is currently the technology teacher the Williamsburg Schools. He has also worked as an educational technology consultant, a third grade teacher, and as a software engineer.  He has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Computer Science and Electrical Engineering from Tufts and a Masters of Education from Lesley University.   John lives in Conway with his wife, 5 year old son, and 2 whippets.  In additional to his interest in technology, John is a juggler, musician, and animal tracker.  Read more about his engineering adventures at kidsengineer.com.

[Photo credit: (ccl) Paul Mayne]

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