Screen-Smart Families: Opening Your Door to Technology

By Melanie Rainer


In a recent study from Barna, 65% of parents said that “technology and social media make it more difficult to raise kids today.” As a relatively new mom, I can certainly relate. Between the pressures of balancing screen time for my little girl, keeping up with the hand-crafted-and-meticulously-dressed Joneses on Instagram, and trying to stay off my own phone, it can feel like an obstacle course every day. And the finish line? Usually collapsing in bed, smartphone in hand, for 10 minutes of mindless Insta-scrolling.

Technology is a temptation and a reward; it gives me a mental and physical break from my real world by dragging me deeper into everyone else’s world. Escapism meets self-esteem masochism and the result is an addictive cocktail of words and pictures I can’t get enough of. But it’s certainly one I’m trying to temper, and one that I would love more than anything not to pass on to my kids.

So where do we begin when we start to talk about kids and technology? Is it possible that we could begin from a place of grace, understanding, and confession—not shame? And could we even dare to name the myriad benefits that we, and our children, can get from technology?

YES! We can. We can engage in technology the same way we as Christians are called to enter into every other realm of culture: with discernment, hope, and a desire to see God glorified.

I think the best place we can start the conversation on becoming Screen-Smart Families is by starting with the messenger—or rather, the devices themselves. What, how, and when do we open our front doors and welcome in for our kids: televisions, laptops, tablets, smartphones, smartwatches, etc?

We polled some of our bloggers to get their thoughts on the whats and whens of introducing technology to our kids.

The most popular device by far was the Amazon Kindle Fire because it allows parents to control their kids’ time on screen, programs watched, games played, and more using the FreeTime app. The second most popular response was Apple’s iPad.

We asked for stories, tips, and ideas about how and when they introduced devices to their kids. Here were some of their stories:

– “Early on we waited a long time for any device (avoiding Gameboys and the like when the older boys were young). Later we just thought/talked/prayed before we made decisions. After we got our kids phones or allowed them on computers we actually found our selves back-pedaling a bit . . . especially when we found areas of concern. I think the more we learn the more we think kids should wait.” (Monica Swanson, The Grom Mom)

– “We opted for the Kindles because they could have ownership and learn responsibility with devices while not having access to the internet, social media, or really anything unless we load it on their child profiles.” (Jess Wolstenholm, Gather & Grow)

– “My parents were restrictive on the amount of electronics we were exposed to. I felt that was a good thing (after I grew up!) so we have the same rules for our kids. We just feel that there are so many better things to do than be in front of a screen all the time. We won’t allow our children to actually have their “own” device until they are 12 and even then there will be restrictions.” (Jenn Thorson, The Purposeful Mom)

– “It’s something we’re always talking about and has evolved as our family grows. We don’t want to be a screen-focused family but we feel like it’s a balance issue, not a hard and fast rule. So we put rules and guidelines in place and adjust as things change such as seasons (more outside time!).” (Tauna Meyer, Proverbial Homemaker)

– “Our three older kids got their tablets when their baby brother was born. It was a helpful distraction for me while caring for a newborn and they loved having a special device that was all theirs. With a big family, they are used to sharing just about everything so it’s important for us to let them have responsibility over something that is only theirs.” (Kara-Kae James, Thrive Moms)


Making Your Own Screen-Smart Family Plan

While those are just 5 different stories from different families, we love those responses because of the guiding principles they can provide as you and your family think about adding technology into your kids’ lives. Here are some key questions to ask as you make your own Screen-Smart Family Plan:

1. How can devices be useful for our kids, for school or for teaching responsibility?
2. What devices do we feel comfortable with our kids having?
3. Should each child have their own device, or do we want to have one device that they share?
4. What kind of parental controls can we set up on the device?
5. What boundaries do we want to put on devices? Time of day, time limits, locations where they can’t be used?

Check out these other posts in the series: