How to set digital boundaries and apply your parenting skills to the digital world.
Digital technology was designed to bring us closer together, by making it easier to connect with each other. But it’s up to us to use it the right way. It’s not ideal if everyone is tapping away on separate devices, ignoring each other – or adding stress to family situations, like texting when it’s time for dinner or playing games instead of getting ready for school.
With a bit of consciousness, a sense of fun, and your own family agreement, you can get the most out of being a super-connected digi-family.
When it comes to setting digital boundaries, the key message is to think of technology ‘as well as’, not ‘instead of’, family life.
First, be a digital role model
You can be sure your children are watching your digital habits when it comes to online safety and balance, so make sure you practice what you preach! Juggling work and time with the kids can be tough, but if you can try to find some time when no one in the family is using technology, that would be a good way to show that it IS possible! Put down your laptop or mobile when you’re eating dinner or watching TV together – if they see you constantly emailing, texting or on Facebook at home, they might be less accepting of the boundaries you set for them.
Make a digi-family agreement
It’s a good idea to set out a plan that you all agree to. There’s a great example from The Parenting Place at the bottom of this page, as well as links to some templates you can use to get started.
Lots of families have a dinnertime rule of ‘no tech at the table’, as well as ruling out specific and times and places, you can also work out a daily screen time limit that works best for your family.
You might want to think about the age your kids can sign up to social media, agree whether their mobile phone usage counts towards their daily screen time allowance, or decide when and where to create no-phone-zones for family time.
Wondering how much screentime is right for you? Try this fun and interesting exercise. Draw up a ‘technology timesheet’ and get everyone to record the hours they’re spending in front of a screen. That means TV, computers, mobiles, video games, and tablets. When you’ve monitored it for a week or two, sit down together and decide whether you need to make some changes to your screen time routine.
How can our family stay connected with each other when we’re so connected to technology?
Showing our kids that we’re a part of their online world makes them more likely to come to us if they need help or advice. And removing technical barriers to communicating goes a long way, too.
Got a pre-schooler obsessed with dinosaurs? Look up some pictures together online, choose a few to print, and make a poster or a scrapbook of their favourites.
Daughter learning ballet? Search for clips of famous ballerinas performing, or watch an online tutorial on how to perfect that arabesque.
Teenager all about gaming? Get them to teach you how to play (and be prepared to lose!)
Struggling to get your teen’s attention? Text them to say dinner’s ready – or just to say hi – even if they’re in the same room.
Family members living overseas? Get your kids to record a funny or creative video message to send to them.
When it comes to social networking, privacy settings are a must – but it’s also a great idea to be ‘friends’ with your kids so you can stay part of their world.
Consider joining a shared family mobile plan like Red Share where everyone can always keep in contact with Unlimited calling & Txt. You also share one mobile data pool so your family can always be connected.
Make sure you can call each other whenever you want. Simply set up your family’s mobile numbers as “BestMate” numbers on your home account and you won’t be charged for calls to those numbers. The BestMate service is free on Unlimited Broadband data and Home Phone plans.
If your digi-family finds itself running out of broadband data, you might want to look at moving to a Vodafone Unlimited Broadband data plan. That way, there will always be enough broadband data at home for everyone in the family to do what they need to do. Unlimited Broadband helps avoid arguments about usage and needing to buy additional data bundles.
“My husband and I recently went on a trip overseas for a week and left our children with their grandparents. Technology helped ease the guilt because it enabled us to connect with them each day. We would send them pics, and say goodnight each day over video calling. It enabled us to maintain a small sense of routine and consistency for the kids, even if we were 5,000 Kms away.” – Susan
5 simple tips for a happy digi-family
- Set clear rules and boundaries for the digital world – e.g. how long they’re allowed on the computer, or what kind of online extras/downloads they can buy.
- Make the most of tools like Parental Controls and SafeSearch to help prevent them accessing inappropriate content – but remember, they’re not a substitute for parental supervision.
- Keep track – consider signing up to a shared family mobile plan like Red Share so you get a breakdown of the families calls & txt and how much data everyone is using.
- Lights out! Phones and laptops in the bedroom are too much of a temptation for texting or playing games late at night. One idea is a family ‘charging basket’ where all devices have to stay overnight. Another idea that some families find useful is agreeing to Mum or Dad changing the Wi-Fi password at a set time every day, to bring ‘tech time’ to an end. The new password can be given out when ‘tech time’ begins again. Learn how to easily change your password in minutes here.
- Keep talking. Make sure your kids know they can come to you at any time to talk about anything that has made them feel uncomfortable – but don’t wait ‘til you’re concerned about something.
Create your own digi-family agreement
Technology agreements are a great way to set boundaries and expectations right from the start. Here’s an example from The Parenting Place – you might like to come up with your own.
In our family:
We ask before we use the computer or games console.
We let our parents know our passwords – but no one else.
We don’t go on any new websites or play any new games without Mum or Dad’s permission.
We agree to get off the computer or games console as soon as our time limit is up.
We never give out personal information – such as our last name, address or telephone number – on a website.
We tell an adult if we see something on screen that makes us feel uncomfortable or scared.
We have rules about how, when and where we can use our mobile (e.g. switching it off at school and after bedtime).
We understand the house rules are to protect us and keep us safe.
Download yours from The Parenting Place here:
Our cell phone contract
Using the internet
Kids of all ages are into different things online check out our age guides to see what might be new and in your kids’ online world.
What Are Under-5’s into?
What’s My 5-7 Year Old In To
What’s My 8-12 Year Old In To
What’s My 13-14 Year Old In To
What’s My 15+ Year Old In To
You might also be interested in our articles on How to: Set controls on Social Media and How to: Set controls on Smart Phones.