My parents recently went through a health crisis that required me to travel to be with them for several weeks. During that time, I started using FaceTime on my iPhone to daily connect with my teenage daughter back home. Until this life event, I wasn’t one to video chat. However, the live video technology of FaceTime bridged the miles between us in a way texting, calling, or social media scrolling simply couldn’t. Happily, the grandparents kept the habit up, and now FaceTime has become a powerful daily connection tool for our family that lives 2,000 miles apart. In fact, FaceTime has replaced Facebook and texting as our preferred check-in tools.
Small Shifts, Big Power
This small but powerful shift got me thinking.
How many other digital tools do I have at my disposal that could actually strengthen rather than chip at our family bond? With a child now headed off to college in just weeks, the goal this summer is to spend more quality time with her while exploring digital ways to keep our connection strong once she moves to campus.
My views on technology use in the family have changed significantly over the years. Like many parents who contribute to the conversation in this space, I have gradually shifted my parenting approach from one of anxiety and monitoring to equipping and balance. The change has been cultural as well as practical; the older my children became, and the more filtering tools evolved, so too, did my view of technology within our family.
Even so, the storm clouds loom. I’m reminded daily that unless we intentionally seek and strike a balance in our collective tech use, our family relationships could easily (and irreversibly) go by the wayside. So how do we make a dent in this effort to stay connected — not just in theory — but a real dent? How do we find that elusive balance that preserves, protects, and nurtures family relationships and at the same time keep step with the professional and cultural demands technology puts on each one of us?
We do it (I’ve humbly resolved) with much intention. And, we do it with reality and balance at the helm of our efforts. Spending more quality time together — as FaceTime taught me — isn’t necessarily void of devices. Here are just a few ideas our family hopes to implement this summer you might find useful as well.
Three ways to boost the family bond
- Discuss your summer goals together. Unless you parent kids 13 and under, the days of handing down technology mandates are over. Devices are now too ingrained in our educational system and in the social fiber of older kids to attempt issuing no-tech edicts. This reality makes any effort to build stronger family relationships a genuine team effort. So, let’s get talking! Summer goes quickly, so ask your kids what they’d like to achieve this summer as a family. Is it more camping trips? A beach adventure? Family movie nights? More family dinners? Whatever picture emerges, follow up with, “How do we achieve that goal?” Get out a calendar and put your goals in ink! As Antoine de Saint-Exupery has said, “A goal without a plan is just a wish.” Put the power in your kids’ hands, so everyone shares the path to achieving the goal.
- Set ground rules to protect family time. We don’t have to banish technology to boost our family bond. We can, however, agree on standards that everyone can happily buy into. Setting summer ground rules depends on your summer goals, the age of your kids, and your family dynamic. Here are some basics to get you thinking: 1) No devices at the dinner table, restaurants, or during short drives. These times are set aside for one-on-one conversations. 2) Put your phone away when a family member enters the room. Prioritize the living, breathing person in front of you ahead of the ding on your phone. 3) No devices during movie nights, beach days, hikes, or any other official family event.
- Try new technologies. Finding common ground between family members is one sure-fire way to strengthen a bond. Can we admit that sometimes we don’t know what we don’t know? What is your son or daughter’s favorite video game? What exactly do they enjoy about it? To figure this out, try it for yourself. Join them (even try to beat them) on that digital battlefield. What’s the big deal about all those funny Snapchat filters? Open an account and find out; it’s easy. Explore apps specifically designed to build personal connections. There are chat, photo, location, family journaling apps, family tree, and online games such as Words with Friends and Trivia to play together. And remember: When exploring new apps, make sure you have both your security software and privacy settings fired up on all devices.
Technology isn’t winning and the family isn’t losing. The world is just changing and as parents, we can find creative, strategic ways to change with it. By working with and not against your family’s love of devices this summer, it may just be possible to hit a stride that works for everyone. With some open discussion and small shifts, you too might find surprising new ways to connect hearts and adventure together.
Toni Birdsong is a Family Safety Evangelist to McAfee. You can find her on Twitter @McAfee_Family. (Disclosures).