Dec 18, 2023
You know how as a parent you sometimes say or do things when your kids are around (like swearing) that then, um, come out again later in unfortunate public situations when you are least prepared for it?
Parenting is humbling work!
Mirroring behavior (and foul language and tech use) is how our kids learn and develop their habits later. And whether we like it or not, our children learn about technology use by watching us first.
We have work to do—no question. We are on our phones more than we’d like or should be, and we are blurring work, social life, scrolling, and family time. As I tell parents over and over:
These challenges are not our fault, but it is our responsibility to address them.
Before I became The Screentime Consultant, I was a middle school English teacher (yay, 7th graders!), and then I worked at a center for ADHD where I met with a wide range of clients (child to adult) to help them better understand and operate with their neurodiversity (or the “gift of ADHD” as we liked to say!).
One of my colleagues used this great expression to help her clients build their executive function skills: “Live your life out loud!”
It really resonated with me. I knew this idea could easily be applied to how we talk about and address screen use, and it helped me build the foundation for my work today.
Living our life out loud around technology means narrating what we do as we do it when we are using, reaching for, or reacting to a digital tool. We strive to do this every time about everything we do on screens, even when it’s mundane and boring.
There are layers to this process. First, we start by just stating what we are doing. Some examples might sound like this:
“I’m reaching for my phone to text Dad to find out when he’s coming home.”
“I’m going to go look up a recipe on my phone.”
“I need to see when your music lesson is on the calendar.”
“I’m checking the weather to see if we need raincoats.”
Then, we might add another element of describing how these actions are making us feel or naming the experiences we are having while we are using or reaching for our devices:
“I feel bored. I’m reaching for my phone.”
“These notifications interrupt me all the time. It makes it hard for me to focus.”
“I thought looking at my friend’s social media page would make me feel better. It didn’t.”
“I was only picking up my phone to look at the time, but then I found myself scrolling through the news apps. Why do I do that?”
It’s okay not to have the answers or explanations for why we are doing these things or feeling this way. But the goal here is to bring attention to two things:
First, we reach for our devices for a variety of reasons. I often talk about how our devices are not switchblades but Swiss Army knives. They don’t simply have one open-and-close, single-blade function. Instead, our phones are communication tools, cameras, calendars, televisions, social media, games, news sources, weather forecasts, photo albums, and so much more. We are normalizing the variety and modeling for our children the multitool aspect of digital devices.
The second thing the exercise reminds us of is that there is an emotional component to both our reason for and the resulting experience of our tech use. Furthermore, ascribing a description to each instance of our tech use, even if we don’t fully understand our reasons for doing so, helps our children realize, Wow, screentime impacts my parent’s feelings or experience in various ways too. It’s not just me.
You might think, “Ok, I can do this for my younger kids, but what about those moody tweens and teens?!”
When it comes to older children and living your life out loud around screen use, I tell parents that if your tweens and teens start rolling their eyes at you every time you do it, you are probably doing it right. So go for it! The more you do it and the more practice you have, the easier it becomes.
And when it comes to screentime and technology, living our lives out loud is something we can do for children at any age. It beautifully connects our use of technology to executive function skill-building.