Whitefield Academy Blog
Making Technology Work for Our Family
“Bullet, Bullet, Bullet!” is the hopeful chant ringing from my basement. No need for alarm, my kids are just in 11th place on Mario Kart Wii and hoping desperately to get the “bullet” that will rocket them to the front of the race. After an overdue basement clean-out, we unearthed a dusty Wii system that, after ten years of inactivity, surprisingly still worked! Newly introduced to the excitement of racing Luigi and Baby Peach through digital lands like Moo Moo Meadows and the ever formidable Rainbow Road, our kids quickly found their “need for speed.”
Somewhat unexpectedly and faster than anticipated, technology has become an increasingly prevalent part of our family life. As parents who grew up with an analog childhood and digital adulthood, we find ourselves with more questions than answers. Is technology and screen time bad for kids? Or is it essential to their future success? How do we help our kids navigate the world of tech as parents who grew up throwing rocks into a drainage ditch for excitement? Is there a way to both equip our kids and keep them safe in a tech-saturated world?
With these questions in mind, we were excited when Whitefield Academy sponsored a workshop by the Kansas City based START program. START is an acronym for Stand Together And Rethink Technology. Its mission is to help parents navigate the ever changing tech landscape with a road map in hand.
Although my husband and I went to the workshop looking for help, we were admittedly bracing to be told that fax machines and landlines are the only hope to protect our kids from the internet. What we found instead was a balanced, conversational approach to technology use. Instead of running away in fear or fighting the guilt of giving in, we were encouraged to actively manage our time and attention with tech.
Among the families attending, I’m sure the take-aways varied based on life stage, but I’ll share three concepts that stood out to our family of elementary age kids.
- Agency – Are we using technology as a tool to support our family values or is it driving our time and attention? For example, are we as parents letting our phone ask for our eyes as alert after alert pops on our screen, or are we using our phones as tools when WE need to use them? Are we modeling attention that is continually divided between reality and screen, or are we taking an active role in managing distractions; perhaps turning off non-essential phone alerts to take back control of our device and our attention?
- Space – Are we finding balance by allocating times and spaces for device use? For example, perhaps our family might agree to not bring phones to the table or leave phones charging in the kitchen instead of bedrooms. Perhaps adding safety and accountability software to a family network might be helpful. START encouraged us to consider what might be the realistic next step for each particular family. We need to help our kids get the breaks from technology and associated social pressure that they (and we) need, and we need to offer them the accountability that fosters good decision making.
- Connection – Whether online or offline, there is a need for families to prioritize time to connect. The loneliness epidemic in our society is growing as kids increasingly feel isolated even as they manage hundreds of daily digital-connections. START provided ideas for screen free family connection (like walks, playing games, reading together) and also screen inclusive family connection (like playing a digital game together or sharing favorite funny YouTube videos). We can allow technology to isolate us or connect us, and so we need to choose connection in tech use and beyond.
As our family considers each new game or device that is offered by Silicon Valley, these principles taught by START will serve as guide rails. Are we using tech tools as active agents to support our family values? Are we creating space for and from technology in our lives? Are we allowing technology to isolate or connect us as friends and family? Hopefully, these concepts will help your family navigate technology too.
Now please excuse me while I go join my kids in a lap around Rainbow Road in my Mario Kart roadster.