​​The Tech Reset - Establishing New Family Rules after "Living" Online During the Pandemic

September 29, 2021

Parents - we did it.  

We persevered through the last 18 months of every version of school imaginable and we juggled kids and teens at home while we worked and managed all other responsibilities. As many of our children have returned to school in person this year, we have an opportunity to reflect on the changes we made during the height of the pandemic period.  Rules, norms, and routines that had been part of our daily lives before COVID were disrupted and rearranged. Nowhere is that more apparent than with our technology use, rules and regulations.  

Many parents who had worked hard to establish technology norms for their household found those completely upended by their child’s need to be online all day to attend classes, complete homework, and socialize with peers or family members.  Parents of younger children who had not yet begun to establish norms were thrust into the world of technology so that their children could access their education, be entertained, or be connected with the outside world.  Many of us are left wondering, is it possible to return to our previous practices or make changes to reverse this increase in technology use in our daily lives?   

Most habits or problems take time to develop and so we try to remind parents that problems equally need time to resolve. Prior to jumping in with new rules or restrictions for our children, which they will strongly react to, we recommend starting with a good assessment. Check in with yourself and your partner about your values around family time, technology usage, and digital citizenship.  If possible, ask your children what they notice about their own technology use this past year and a half.  If you are unhappy with current practices, make a list of goals and start with small manageable steps to work towards your vision.  As you move through this process we encourage you to consider the 4 C’s listed below: stay Calm, be Curious, remain Considerate, and be Clear.

Stay Calm.  Pause for a moment and consider the boss, family member or friend who explodes when you disclose tough news or make a mistake on the job.  Do you openly share and ask for help from this person? Or do you prefer to cover up mistakes or avoid interactions with them?  If we want to keep conversations open and honest with our children we need to regulate ourselves so that we are approachable.   

You won’t be perfect and will overreact sometimes.  When that occurs, you can apologize and explain how your emotions took charge in that moment.  Our children are likely to understand-it happens to them too!  

Be aware of your triggers- if you feel angry when your child ignores you while staring at their phone, or panicked when you walk by their room late at night and see a glow from underneath the door, have a plan in place to help you regulate your own response.  Take a breath and remind yourself that staying calm will help you feel more in control and focused on your goals.  It will also increase the likelihood that your child will stay regulated and be more receptive to your feedback.  You don’t need a consequence in hand or get to a resolution right away.  If you stay calm you can better understand the situation, your child’s interests and desires, your own limits, and use that as a guide to a non-reactive response.

Be Curious.  How many of us have heard horror stories about online bullying, porn addiction, or children being solicited online?  These fears are valid, but if we are too focused on them in the moment we miss being present with our child and understanding the full picture.  Our own “stuff”, like worries about internet risks or fear of judgment from others can get in the way of us asking questions and understanding our child.   Ask your child why he or she visited a particular website, wants to play a specific game, or is desperate to download a certain app.  Listen without interrupting, lecturing, or criticizing your child, their interests or their friends.  You will have time to express your concerns and they will be more likely to listen if they are not feeling put down, criticized or attacked.

Be Considerate. Your child is their own person and while you share the same home, they live in a very different world than you.  They have different pressures, influences, and stressors.  They also have their own ideas, interests, and motivations.  If we are respectful and considerate of their thoughts and feelings then they will be more likely to share them with us. While we can never fully understand their experience, we can act respectful and considerate towards them.  Our consideration will help them value their own thoughts and feelings and ultimately develop a strong sense of self which will guide them well into their teen and young adult years.  

Be Clear.  This does not mean that you have all the answers.  Being clear is all about open communication with your child and being honest about your ideas, hopes, and concerns. Provide yourself some time to consider your values, how you want to spend time as a family, and how you want your child to engage with technology. Share these thoughts with your child or teen based upon their age or developmental level.  Your preschooler searching for Thomas the Train videos does not need to know that you are concerned he may stumble upon pornography.  But you can share with him that sometimes videos online can show up that are not meant for children their age and can be scary and upsetting.  Your clear communication allows your child to cope ahead and know that they can speak with you if unexpected things happen while online.

Over time, discuss how video games work (they never end), how pop up ads entice you to spend money impulsively, and how looking at photos can be inspiring but also lead people to feel badly about themselves or say hurtful things to others.  These conversations can start with very young children and get more sophisticated over time.  Being clear with your child and yourself doesn’t mean you have to be all knowing, it just means you have to be willing to communicate with them and be open to listening to them as well.

Written by

​Suzanne Allen

Suzanne Allen, Psy.D. is a clinical psychologist and Co-Director of CBT Westport, a private psychology practice in Westport, CT.  In addition, she is half of The Parenting Pair, an initiative dedicated to creating online parenting resources for science-informed, compassionate and connected parenting.