3 Ways to Control Device Overuse in Your Connected Home

There comes a time, in the midst of this crazy new tech reality, when you have to step back and determine how you want it to affect your interpersonal relationships—particularly those that are near 9/16/2013 7:43 AM Eastern

3 Ways to Control Device Overuse in Your Connected Home

Sep 16, 2013 11:43 AM, By Jason Bovberg

When we talk about the “connected home,” one aspect of that concept is the proliferation of connected devices throughout the home. I’m talking about smartphones, game devices, ebook readers, tablet devices, console game systems, laptops, desktop computers, television sets, not to mention audio systems, home theater systems, and various media players. Last night, while rain inundated our entire state (flooding large swaths of it), my family—fortunately on high ground—enjoyed a quiet night indoors, and at one point I glanced around, while typing away on my laptop, and beheld my wife uploading a photo to Facebook on her Android phone, my eldest daughter researching something weird on our Surface tablet, my youngest daughter playing a game on her Nintendo DS, and my dog tentatively tapping his paws against my wife’s Kindle.

It’s a very different world from when I was a kid, and although a part of me—while watching my family immersed in their various forms of technology—thinks that maybe something has been lost in this technological revolution at home, it’s undoubtedly also true that we’ve gained a remarkable new way of life. We have so much at our fingertips that just wasn’t available a generation ago. My daughters, rising through the ranks at school, literally have all the information in the world at the tips of their fingers. My wife, never before a particularly voracious reader, is now consuming books every night thanks to the convenience of her Kindle. As a journalist, my work is made immeasurably easier by the ease with which research can happen. And with far-flung grandparents and other extended family, we’re lucky to be able to video-chat over long distances.

Rather than hassling with cassettes or LPs (although I have a nostalgic love for those)—and without needing to hold up her portable tape recorder to her radio speaker, as my wife did as a teenager—we have access to high-definition digital music at the touch of a button. Rather than see physical books clutter our homes on shelves and tabletops (although I’m a devout worshiper at the altar of the hardcover book), we can hold a thousand books on a tiny chip. Rather than rely on a clunky video recorder, our digital HD DVR can record just about any program we want, and our video subscriptions services fill in all the other gaps. Rather than bother with playing board games or card games with each other, families can split apart and enjoy—individually—any number of graphics-heaving, immersive strategy games, with headphones on, completely divorced from family and reality.

Oh, see, that’s one area where we’ve lost something, I guess. There comes a time, in the midst of this crazy new tech reality, when you have to step back and determine how you want it to affect your interpersonal relationships—particularly those that are nearest and dearest to your heart. Who would want to send a kid off to college, only to discover that you never really knew that child because both of you were always preoccupied behind a flashy screen?

I was at a restaurant not long ago with my family, and we were observing our typically loose rules about the use of our various devices: We allow ourselves a few minutes to settle in, and perhaps check in to the restaurant on our phones (if the mood strikes), and then devices are off limits while we enjoy the meal and the conversation. But sometimes a text arrives, or an important call buzzes through, and we’re forced to at least glance at a phone every once in a while.

But I couldn’t help but notice the tech behavior occurring a couple tables away from us. When this family of five arrived, each person dutifully, and without reminder, removed their phones from their pockets and piled them at the end of the table, powered off. During the entire course of that meal, not a single phone was touched, and conversation was animated, and laughter was copious. It felt like a nostalgic peek at a time long past. And all the while, at most of the other tables around us, people were silent and immersed in the tiny glowing worlds of their phones. It was a moment that you might deem a wake-up call.

Admittedly, we already have some pretty good rules in place for the use of technology in the home. We always eat together with zero interruptions, and no devices or tech are allowed. We devote large parts of our kids’ schedule to real play time, drawing, and sports and family time. But we can do better. Because every once in a while, we all glance up simultaneously and realize that we’ve been tech-immersed for way too long.

What are your rules in your connected home? Here are a couple of tougher ground rules that I’d like to establish in our home.

1) Establish hard and fast curfews for tech time. We need to build stricter non-tech times into our daily and weekly schedule. On weeknights, we need to stack our phones in a central location and leave them there—not just at dinner time. In fact, game devices should be excluded from weeknights altogether, focusing any tech time on homework and other learning activities. Fun time on devices should be relegated to weekends, in the gaps between quality family time. To encourage it, I might even be convinced to disconnect our wireless router!

2) Designate a central tech spot. Too often, I find one of my kids (or even my wife) secreted away in their room, grabbing some game time or mindlessly surfing the web. And yes, I’m guilty of this, too. But I often feel that, with only loose tech rules, our kids are developing “sneaky” behaviors, trying to find devious tech time where they can find it. Allowing devices only in certain areas—say, the living room—parents can then easily monitor and limit device time.

3) Set a good example. I will be the first to admit that I too quickly turn to my devices for entertainment and education at home. Sometimes that’s to the detriment of valuable family time. My wife and I need to be better about modeling good tech behavior and initiating more face-to-face interactivity with our kids.

Don’t think you’re guiltless in this! I know you’re an offender, too. Get off your phone, Kindle, laptop, gaming device, or tablet, and pay more attention to your kids in your connected home.

I’d love to hear what you do in your home to limit tech time and maximize good old-fashioned family time. Drop me a line below.

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