|By Dr. John Townsend
Family is the context in which we learn to love, connect, become ourselves, grow and recharge. But we can’t assume it’s a totally protected and safe place. We have to guard our homes against everything from toxic influences to time distractions. If your family includes kids, it’s even more important, because they need our help and advocacy. Our culture is well into the digital age now. It is here to stay, and I believe it’s overall a very good thing. At the same time, the digital age can bring in influences you don’t want, and it can certainly bring in time distractions. So here are some ideas to help you keep your family experiencing the quality time it needs, while still living in the reality of an online world.
Set clear “non-pixellated times”: A friend gave me this phrase, and I love it. The digital world is easily accessible 24/7 and will be for the rest of our lives. So don’t wait for things to change to preserve family health. Set time periods where there is no digital access, including online, mobile phones, tablets, etc. Hey, Bill and Melinda Gates did this with their kids WWW.INDEPENDENT.CO.UK
Put intentional thought into what “quality time” means. It’s one thing to set limits on digital time. It’s another to fill that void with great conversations and activities. Don’t substitute this with TV, movies and video games. Neuroscience research has shown that these activities have some value to mental growth in terms of some information and learning, but a lot of use ends up being at best “empty calories” for your family (basically just marking time until they grow up and leave home) and at worst, creating passivity and a lack of initiative. So be the parent who researches and comes up with structured fun activities, interactions, conversations, excursions, games and service projects. Fill that void. Your kids need it, and it will be over sooner than you think.
Love is free, freedom is earned. Your kids need your love and emotional attunement to their experiences and feelings. That is a basic need and a requirement for good parenting. But their freedom to choose how they spend their time must be earned by their good behavior. Laptops, mobile phones, tablets, TV, and gaming are not a right. They are a privilege. So if your kids are responsible in life, especially in their use of digital time, let them have age-appropriate access. If they choose to overdo things and aren’t responsible, then they are sending you a signal saying, “Help! I’m not yet mature enough to manage all this, I’m overwhelmed, please step in and be the structure I need!” Well, they won’t say that to you, but it’s still a message of what they need.
I hope this helps. You can make a difference here. For more in-depth info on this subject, read BOUNDARIES: Updated and Expanded Edition by myself and Dr. Henry Cloud (Zondervan Publishing, 2017). The book is a New York Times bestseller and includes a chapter about having great boundaries in the digital age. Best to you!