■ Participate actively. Chances are you have little interest in slinging Angry Birds at pigs onscreen, but try sitting with your kids and asking them to explain why they’ve chosen a game or program. This helps close the gap between digital immigrant (you) and digital native (your child), and builds a more trusting, open dialogue on the topic of technology. Try the same with older kids using social media.
■ Resist patterns. By turning on the television every rainy, long afternoon, or every time you’re cooking a meal, you’re conditioning your child to expect screen time in response to certain signals. If you’re stuck in a pattern of predictable television or computer times, make an effort to break those patterns and inspire your children to think up new ways to entertain themselves, such as building a fort or setting up a pretend school.
■Find alternatives. Ask yourself why you turn to screen time for your kids, and challenge yourself to think of what might serve you better as a parent, in addition to positively affecting your child. If, for example, you have an active, easily agitated child, you might use television to calm him or her down. Instead, try alternating TV time with another calming activity, such as yoga, puzzles or quiet time with books.
■ Research content and quality. When deciding what television programs or apps to allow your child to use, do your research. Log on to Web sites such as Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization that rates popular digital programs for age-appropriate content and educational value. Even better, there’s a Common Sense app — available for download free on iTunes — so you can rate your kid’s content on the go before giving them the go-ahead.
■ Get answers. When your children ask for a new gadget, ask them to explain exactly what they need it for. Challenge them if they argue it’s because “everyone else has one.” Before considering a purchase, ask them to explain exactly what they will use the device for and engage them in a meaningful conversation about technology and peer pressure.
■ Carve out unwired time. Find the time to take your family off the grid. Put away the tablets and televisions, turn off the smart phones and spend an afternoon at the park. There’s no better way to ensure that your child has the skills to enjoy the company of others than silencing your devices and spending time together.
One of the pitfalls of new technology, particularly with teenagers, is that it’s created the fear that being without it means missing out — even if it’s just missing out on a Facebook status update. By encouraging your kids to detach from the digital world, you’re teaching them it’s okay to be a few hours behind the curve. The same holds true for family mealtime, one of the single greatest predictors of academic and personal success in children. Sit down with your kids, engage them in conversation, and make no room for technology at the table.