Smartphone Boundaries for Parenting
Are you practicing SMART smartphone parenting strategies? Try the exercises below to begin establishing healthy smartphone boundaries for your family. It is helpful to observe your current smartphone behaviors along with the feelings, thoughts, and experiences associated with them. After reflecting, you can have more effective conversations with your spouse, helping you two to develop smartphone boundaries and healthy behaviors for your family.
Observe your Smartphone Behaviors
You first need to be aware of your own behaviors. Take a few days or a week to more fully understand how you interact with the technology around you. Reflect on these questions. While you are making these observations, write them down.
- Where is your phone while you are eating a meal with your family? (Turned off? Do you answer it mid-meal? Do you look up info and share mid-meal? Do you all watch videos together, do you talk to grandma, or work, etc.?
- Does your spouse, friends, family, or children try to grab your attention while you are using technology?
- If so, how do you respond? Do you ask them to hold on or wait a minute? Ignore them? Put the technology down and respond? What if they were talking on the phone to a friend, to a teacher, possible job interviewer, what would your expectations be of them? If not, how do your behaviors tell them that you are giving them your attention?
- How do you interact with quiet or still time? Do you immediately reach for one of your devices? Can you stand the stillness? How do your kids respond to quiet time? What do you wish they would do?
- Do you communicate with people mostly through your smartphone? Do you prioritize in-person communications? How do you feel most comfortable communicating with people? Are there certain types of conversations you prefer to have in-person versus over your smartphone? What do you do with your children? What kind of intimate conversations do you want with them?
- Are there times when it is absolutely appropriate and inappropriate to be on your smartphone? What are these times? Why do you feel this way? How did you learn these boundaries?
- What time of the day are you most reliant on using your smartphone? When are your kids most reliant on smart phones? Are the rules the same for you, your spouse, and your kids?
- What are your feelings towards how other people in your life engage with their smartphone?
- How do you feel when you are without your smartphone? Relaxed? Stressed? Anxious? Relieved?
Share your Observations with your Spouse
After observing your behaviors, you and your spouse should decide on a time to talk about your observations with one another. Take this time to honestly share with each other your thoughts, feelings, and experiences on observing your smartphone usage. Listen openly and express your thoughts honestly. You should decide on how you want to share this information. Figure out how you communicate best as a couple.
Hopefully, sharing your experiences with each other has helped you to not only clarify your own experiences, but to better understand your spouses. It is now time to speak together about how these experiences help to shape each of your expectations for your new family’s smartphone boundaries. You may want to explore these questions before you sit down together, or if you feel comfortable, explore them for the first time together. Just pick an option that works best for you as a couple.
Smartphones and Family
What do you want your family’s smartphone boundaries to be?
What are you hoping to teach your children? How do you want them to interact with the world around them? Smartphones are a huge part of the modern world. Just like with anything else, you want to set expectations. Poorly established expectations are not helpful. Spend time imagining these boundaries in your life. This is similar to expectations parents establish for TV time, the amount of sugar consumed, and manners. Write out these boundaries and expectations. Writing things down help to make it more real.
What kind of values would you like to instill in your family regarding smartphone usage?
The values you instill are shaped through the boundaries and expectations you set. Understanding the values you hope you children develop will help to establish appropriate boundaries.
How would you practice these values each day?
Be concrete. Be specific. Children need the world to be simple. Make it simple for them. They want to know how to navigate the world, and you have the wonderful job of teaching them. Children do not function well in inconsistency, so figure our realistic and consistent behaviors for your family.
What behaviors are completely unacceptable? Why? How will you go about correcting these behaviors?
What types of unhealthy or unacceptable boundaries have you established? How did you decide that these behaviors were unhealthy? How do you imagine feeling if your children practiced these behaviors? Children mess up and so do parents. You have to assume that unacceptable behaviors will happen. It is okay. When children mess up it presents an opportunity to learn and to help teach them. Think about how you want to help them to practice the values you are trying to establish for your family.
Developing smartphone boundaries will help your family to interact with the world around them more successfully. As a parent you have the responsibility to model these behaviors. When practicing healthy smartphone behaviors, I strongly encourage you to practice these two steps.
Model appropriate behavior
If you do not want your children to do something, you yourself should not be doing it. Personally live out these values in your everyday life. Understand that like all areas in your life, you will mess up at times. That is okay.
A common theme I hear when talking with new parents is how they hope to raise their children to not be reliant upon using a smartphone. As children start to interact with the world the rigid boundaries the parents established quickly start to deteriorate. Children learn by seeing, and start to mimic the behaviors they see around them. Parents tend to be the culprits of teaching the exact behaviors they try and protect their children from.
Boundaries will only stay intact if the parents practice these boundaries in front of their children. This is the hard part. The vast majority of us have developed a compulsive addiction to our smartphone technology. Smartphones provides instant gratification. Coincidentally, this drive to instantaneous gratification is what parents try and teach their children to stay away from.
Do not choose your technology over your child!
I cannot stress this enough. Children require adult attention. If it is difficult for you to disconnect from technology to connect to your child, children will demand this attention. Unfortunately, this usually results in children developing negative behavioral patterns (fighting, screaming, acting out, and crying). A child will do anything to get your attention.
The boundaries established for your children will change as they reach new developmental milestones, interact with the ever changing smartphone culture, and as you are faced with life experiences that require you to renegotiate your household boundaries. I encourage couples to have these conversations with one another. It is helpful to prepare for how smartphones will look in your family. Each family will have their own boundaries, feelings, and rules. This is normal.
If you would like support working with your spouse to better develop your family’s smartphone boundaries for your family, reach out to schedule an appointment with a therapist from The Center for Growth / Sex Therapy in Philadelphia at 215 922 LOVE (5683). We offer child therapy, teen counseling, and family counseling. We have offices in Philadelphia PA, Ocean City NJ, Mechanicsville VA and Santa Fe NM.