Our family is technologically oriented. It probably starts most with Dad. My undergraduate degree is in Applied Science in a computer science track. I've been a heavy user and early adopter of technology as it rolled out over the last few decades. It is my hobby, I listen to podcasts on the tech industry and news. I love it. I remember as a college student using computer software for my calendar and printing it out my day. The Palm Pilot and personal digital assistants were a revelation. They were a precursor to the convergence that would take place with phones, MP3 players and pocket computers. These devices took mainstream flight with the launch of the first iPhone in 2007.
Now smartphones and personal computing devices line our pockets, inhabit our wrists, and ride in our laps for both work and leisure. They are also taking over our lives and the lives of our family. "Screen time" is now a colloquial phrase in parenting and many times kids are handed "devices as baby sitters" at a very young age.
The drawbacks of these technologies are real: disctracted people, texting while driving, walking into telephone poles, looking at screens instead of faces, the rewiring of our brains and smashing of attention spans have all arrived. Yet the benefits to work and play have been enjoyed by millions and personal devices are revolutionizing how we do just about everything. Our devices are here and we need to engage this wisely.
In order to to live both the plugged in and unplugged life our family just took another step together towards our enjoyment of technology while minimizing its ill effects on our relationships, sleep patterns, brains and spiritual lives. The following are a few of the recent tech changes we have made at home along with some house rules we are all working to follow. Each of them includes a technological solution as well as human problem solving to change our flow in our family.
On and Off Times
The internet is always on in many of our homes through the ubiquitous flow of WiFi thoughout the house. But why? There are certain hours where I simply do not want my kids to have wifi signal. Wind down, read something, unplug, pray and talk to each other.
We use a system of mesh wifi routers from Eero. They are awesome for their ability to spread your wifi through every inch of your home but they also allow you to assign various devices (like every single one used by kids) to profiles and have the Internet completely turned off. So from 10pm-6am none of the kids devices can get on the Internet. So no waking up or staying up late and getting online. Eero also has the ability to assign a custom DNS server so that those who use something like OpenDNS for filtering will be good to go.
Yes, we are aware of work arounds technologically, but we do what we can and trust out kids not to LTE it on their phones. Plus, the phone does not live in the bedroom. We can also turn the profile back on if homework projects are going awesome but it's going to take until 10:30pm to complete the job. Dad says yes to these type of requests.
There are so many times when I'm on my phone around the house and ignore people who matter to me deeply. There are also times we want set aside as no device times with our family. We also can lose devices here and there and have to ping them to trace them down. So recently we have created a new solution that solves many problems at once.
- It provides full batteries for our devices
- It provides a place to put our devices at dinner time and at bedtime (well, before bed time)
- It allows devices to NOT live in our bedrooms, at the bedside table
- It allows reading of real books at night and a time where we turn off all screens prior to going to bed
- It removes the temptation to grab phones in the middle of the night
- It removes the temptation to make the mass of email, texts and social media notifications first thing in the morning
- It allows the first movement of the day to be before God and not instantly connected by our alarm clock/smartphones
Enter our new charging station. We created a solution and a set of house rules for its use that is already blessing our family.
Here is our basic set up with links to the actual products we are using
- Two Anker 5 port USB chargers
- Ten 12 inch lightning charger cables
- 1 Mobile Vision holder thingy to tuck it all in
- 1 mini table commandeered from the living room
- 1 Power Strip to plug it all in
You have one laying around already, grab it and plug in. Get a surge protected one with some USB ports as well if you don't have something laying around the house already.
Anker USB Chargers
There are actually full multi-device chargers out of the east that do almost all that is involved here. Some of the reviews for them involved shoddy workmanship and even sparking (aka fire hazard). If you are not family with Anker, thank me later. They make some of the best charging accessories out there and are very well made. I thought of using a 10 port Anker but then all the USB plug-in points would be on one side of the charging station. Getting two 5 Port was a bit more pricey but allows the charges to face opposite sides of the station and to use smaller cables to limit clutter. The Ankers are safe, provide great amperage to the devices and even have two fast charge ports each. Put some colored markers on those fast charging cables and make them parent phones only. Lol. Just kidding.
12 Inch Lightening Cables
Though we use PCs for our computers, we are all Apple for mobile devices. So I found 5 packs of 12 inch lightening cables and bought two of them. This gives 10 short cables that go directly from the USB port to a slot in the station without tangles or clutter. If you own Android or other devices grab some micro USB cables and you'll be all set.
There are lots of these made of many materials on Amazon. I chose a black one that had 10 slots. We don't have ten devices yet but there are five of us and we have some phones and iPads already.
Commandeering an end table from the house, gave space underneath for the kids to charge their Chromebooks. I don't personally appreciate the Chromebook but our school system gives them to all our kids and they do use them, especially our middle and high schoolers, extensively for school work. They plug into the power strip and live underneath. Out of the room at night so in the evenings there are no devices, no TVs in bedrooms.
- Well, phones go on it at night one hour before bed time and they go with them to school in the morning. We keep them plugged in for family connection in the morning for breakfast and prayer before the kids head off to school.
- We still have general bed times for our kids. Sometimes it's more like "bed goals" or "bed hopes" for the teenagers. ;-)
- I was pleasantly surprised that the roll out did not incur the whining and wrath of our teens, though some apologetics was necessary.
- Casualties - Audiobooks at night were a casualty as well as using the phone as alarm clock These changes are VERY difficult for me. My eldest and me will have to adjust the most to these changes. I think we will also benefit the most. And yes, they still sell cheap, old school alarm clocks if you need one.
Look at my Face
One final thing we've added to our family flow is a simple pause and relational examination. If you are looking at a screen when you should be looking at a face, we need to put down the screen. Look at my face! We need to give this sort of attention to one another in our families more and more in our hyper-connected age. And your battery will be full as well! Enjoy your devices, but don't neglect the precious people that are right in front of you each day.