You’ve likely heard the statistics and seen the headlines: “Technology is rewiring our brains.” Especially our children’s brains. We’ve already talked about when and how to limit screen time for your children. But today, the conversation I’d like us to have is about the necessity of modeling healthy tech use for our children.

If you’re like me, I sometimes tell my children the importance of doing one thing while modeling something entirely different. Eat your vegetables . . . while I never grab any for myself. Exercise is important . . . but I haven’t used my gym membership in months. Technology use can be the same. 

The reality is that if we don’t model how to set boundaries for ourselves, neither will they. Here are three ways you can begin to model healthy tech use for your family. 

1. Begin to Set Boundaries For the Entire Family 

With technology, it’s easy to set boundaries for our kids instead of modeling healthy boundaries ourselves. For example, how many times have you told your children that TV, phone, or tablet time is over, only to have them watch you scroll through your Facebook feed while they play? Or maybe you tell your kids no phones at the dinner table … except for mom and dad.

You get the point. This isn’t to say that because kids have boundaries, you must have the same boundaries. That’s crazy talk. But when adults neglect to model healthy boundaries in the areas where their children have strict boundaries, we communicate a simple truth: This is only because you are a child. Boundaries are for children, not adults. Once they become an adult or believe they are no longer a child, anything goes.

Instead, we need healthy boundaries for everyone in the family, and we need to communicate the reason for those boundaries clearly—even if those boundaries are drastically different based on age and capability. Here are a few suggestions on how to set boundaries for the whole family. 

Set Boundaries Electronically 

Kids: Set limits on what your kids can watch and how long they can watch it—and start actually tracking it. Smartphones can also set limits on apps. If your children are older, bring them into the conversation and ask them what they think is fair. You may need to adjust, but bring them into the conversation regardless. (More on exactly how to set up these limits here.)

Parents: Set some boundaries on what you watch and how much of it you watch. Start to notice what technology does to your mood, your heart, and your relationships with others. I set a limit for how much I can be on social media on my iPhone. I have boundaries on what content I consume based on what it does to my heart and my relationships. Begin telling your kids what boundaries you are setting for yourself and why. Begin to say things like, “Mom and Dad don’t watch those type of movies, and here is why,” or “I could keep scrolling on Facebook, but too much makes me tired and foggy.” Really pay attention to what technology does to you, set boundaries accordingly, and begin to talk about it with your kids. 

Set Boundaries Environmentally 

Kids: Sometimes it’s not about the right amount of time, but the right place for technology use. Begin to help your kids see that there is a right and wrong setting to be diving into technology. Examples might be:

  • No phones at the dinner table
  • No tv while doing homework
  • No tablet in your hands when mom is talking
  • No screens in bedrooms (This boundary may change as the teen grows, matures, and earns trust. It might look different for a 13-year-old versus a 17-year-old preparing to leave for college). 

Another way to make it feel more like a win is to tell them when and where they CAN use technology. Here are some examples:

  • You can watch TV in the playroom after homework is done
  • You can use your cell phone from this time to this time
  • You can use your phone or iPad when you are in a public part of the house (Again, you may choose to let your teen gain privileges depending on their age, maturity, and trust).

The goal is to create age-appropriate boundaries and explain why. 

Parents: Here are a few ideas for modeling this for your children: 

  • Have a box you put your phone in downstairs before going to bed upstairs
  • Don’t bring your phone to the dinner table, and instead ask things you know your kids would be excited to talk about
  • Pro tip: Don’t start a movie right before dinner. If you have to stop a movie or show before your kids eat, they won’t look forward to talking as much. 
  • One family I know spoke to us about reorganizing their living room so the TV wasn’t the focal point. They actually ended up removing the TV from their living room all together! When I asked why, they said they wanted a space where the focus was on conversation and there wasn’t something distracting from that. Now when you walk in, chairs and couches face each other, and the room is set up for dialogue. 

The big idea here is to model for your kids and set the stage for what you hope happens in that environment. 

Set Boundaries Socially 

Kids: You’ve seen it before. Teenagers sitting on their phones, texting other people, while they are sitting next to each other. But guess what, adults do the same thing! The difference is that some adults have learned what is socially appropriate. Teach your kids that when you have guests over to the house, it’s not appropriate to ignore them and text someone else. Teach your children that when someone is talking to you, you put your phone down and look them in the eyes, rather than continuing to text while they are talking. These things are not natural. They must be taught and seen often. 

Parents: You can probably guess what I’m going to say. Model for your kids how to be socially aware with them and with others. One very simple thing you can do is when someone begins talking to you, if you are looking at your phone, immediately put your phone face down, take your hand off of it, and look into their eyes to listen. Don’t make your kids say daddy 8 times before you look at them. Model for them that the person in front of you gets more attention than the person online. 

2. Show Them How To Be Present With and Without Technology 

When was the last time you were honestly 100% present with your family? Removing all technology doesn’t even result in truly being present with those you love. Our minds can be distracted with multiple kids running around and a mile-long list of things we have to get done.  Being present in our distracted world can be difficult. 

However, here is a gut-checking question, how often do your children see you looking down at your phone? It’s a simple question but it reveals a real problem because if you’re looking at your phone, they know you aren’t looking at them. 

So you have two options: first, remove the technology (for a period of time) and just focus on being together. They need to see that, and they need to experience that relationship unconnected. 

Second, model for them that technology can create conversations instead of removing you from them. 

Share what you are reading online. Ask them to show you that funny video. Not to judge if what they are watching is appropriate (though you should know that), but to experience the laughter with them. Ask them to take a selfie with you and share it on your social media account. Create funny videos with them. 

The idea is to help them see that technology doesn’t have to be their escape from relationships but can be used to facilitate unique experiences in relationships. 

3. Take a Tech-Free Family Trip 

You read that right. No phones. No TV shows. No tablets. I’d even encourage you to not bring electronic toys. Just you and the kids. 

There is something magical and recalibrating about leaving all technology behind and only having each other’s company to look forward to. 

You’ll discover silly games to play, songs to sing on repeat, and longer conversations to have. 

The point is, sometimes you need to get away from it all. Unplug. And just be together. It might be weird at first—especially if you have teenagers. But new experiences like this are rarely the ones you forget. 

Practically speaking, you may need to bring a phone for GPS and emergencies. But that’s it. 

Consider going camping, fishing, hiking a mountain, or going out into the woods where there is little to no cell service. Go somewhere and do something that makes it difficult for technology to compete. There won’t be charging stations in the woods or on the water, but there will be a lot of quality time together. 

Have fun!