How Clear Rules about Technology can Improve Communication and Home Language Skills

We live surrounded by screens from computers and TVs in every room to tablets and other hand held devices that follow us wherever we go.  Kids spend more and more time in front of a screen and less and less time reading, playing outside, being creative or communication and building relationships with peers, siblings and parents. It’s also very important to set rules regarding technology to limit the exposure to violence and other content that is inappropriate for your children.

I have two kids, 5 and 7 years old, and I am trying my best to keep the time they spend in front of a screen, be it TV, computer or tablet to a minimum, but it’s not easy.  When using technology I try to find educational programs and websites in Spanish, that way even if the content is not educational at least they are practicing and improving their Spanish.

I always make sure that the sites they are visiting, the games they are playing andnwhat they are watching is age appropriate and is in line with our values and beliefs. Here are some of the things we do at home when it comes to technology use:

1. Set clear rules and teach by example. We have clear technology/media rules at home and some of them apply to both adults and kids. This way our kids know that we really believe in what we are preaching and it also gives us more time to spend with our children doing things away from the computer as a family and increasing the opportunities of communicating in our home language.

2. Avoid putting a TV in the your child’s bedroom. This was a really tough one for my husband, but he got used to it and now he loves this rule.  My parents never let us have a TV in our rooms when we where growing up. For me the bedroom became a sacred place and I wanted to keep it that way.  My husband loves staying late watching animé or action movies and not having a TV in the room probably saved our marriage.  🙂  But the best part is that the kids know that there is time for TV and then there is time for playing, reading and doing other activities and when they are in their room doing other things they are not distracted by having the TV in there.

3. Avoid eating in front of the TV.  During the week dinner is the only meal we have together as a family.  Sitting in front of the TV for a meal means that there is no opportunity for communication.  My kids know that even if they are having a snack they have to go and eat it at the kitchen table, this also helps keep my house crumb free (or at least reduces the crumb incidence significantly!).  They love spending time with us at the table and talking about their day at school, this is a great time to improve communication skills in our home language.


photo credit: Swansea Photographer via photopin cc

 4. Keep cell phones away from the table at meal times. This one was a hard one for me! Slowly I have become addicted to my smart phone, checking every email and Facebook comment the minute it comes in, so separating from my device was hard but completely necessary. I leave it in my home office when I start cooking dinner, since my kids usually help.  It is wonderful to take these technology breaks and be there focusing a 100% on my family.

5. Have a technology/TV schedule. During the week there is no TV or computer for anyone after 6pm. By then homework is usually done and the kids need to start getting ready for the nighttime routine of baths, dinner, books and  bed. My husband and I just started working from home full time and although the kids had to turn off the TV and/or computer before 6pm we would still be checking emails or doing something in front of the screen.   After the kids are in bed my husband and I will watch our adult TV programs or enjoy a movie together. During weekends we unplug completely at least one day. This was another rule that both my husband and I had a hard time with at first but now we love having that time away from the computer and the phone. We found that we also needed to set a schedule for our work hours so that we could spend quality time with the kids.

6. Knowing when to bend the rules. Once or twice a month we have movie night. We make some kid friendly finger foods together and watch a movie while eating dinner.  We usually pick movies in Spanish and this makes movie night even more special because we are sharing it in our home language. Having some flexibility makes following the rules the rest of the month easier for everyone.

7. Limit technology use to specific websites/apps.  We keep the list short and all of them are educational.  On the list we include a lot of websites and apps in Spanish that are fun and educational.

8. Most of the TV time must be spent watching educational programs .  At home my kids watch PBS kids, Sprout, Disney Jr, Nick Jr, some Animal Planet and some Discovery depending on the time of day.  As they grow it’s getting harder to find things they like, that are educational and that don’t have violence.  My daughter really likes Disney channel programs like Phineas an Ferb, Dog with a Blog, Jessie, Good Luck Charley and Wizards of Waverly Place. When the  programs don’t really have any educational content I try to watch them with them so that we can talk about what happens and discuss them.

8. Kids can not use our cel phones for entertainment.  My children know that the cel phone is for mommy and daddy to work on.  We don’t really encourage them using it to play or watch videos.  If they use the cel phone for games and watching videos then they will ask for it all the time, so I try to find other ways to entertain them and this results in more conversations and a better communication.  If I am in the supermarket I keep them busy by asking them to help me out.  We also like to practice our Spanish both in the car (playing music in Spanish) and in the stores where we speak Spanish and I teach them the names of all the products and places in Spanish. When we are going to the doctor or on a long car trip I will take our Kindle fire tablet so that they can watch a movie or play games (many of them in Spanish), but I don’t give them my cel phone.

9. No TV in the car.  This was another hard one.  On most weekends we drive at least an hour to the beach, or to the children’s museum.  Sometimes we even take the three hour trip to Orlando. That means at least two hours in the car and when the kids decide to fight it feels like a lot more than that.  But being in the car together for long periods of time gives them an opportunity to talk with each other and with us and I have seen their relationship grow because of the time they spend next to each other in the car and are forced to strike a conversation. This would not happen if they where watching a video or playing on a hand held device. So when we are on long trips we talk (they kids know we only talk Spanish in the car) or we listen to fun music in Spanish like the CD of Sing with Señor.

These rules and guidelines work for us but every family is different.  What technology/media rules do you have at home?

Paula Bendfeldt-Diaz

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9 thoughts on “How Clear Rules about Technology can Improve Communication and Home Language Skills”

  1. I don’t have any children, but when me and my twin sister were growing up, we had strict rules on media things. We couldn’t get on the computer until we had finished our homework and it was looked after. We couldn’t wait TV after 7:30pm, and on weekends, we had to do at least one non-media thing (like cleaning our room). Of course, this was in the early 90’s so technology wasn’t as advanced as it is today. But even then, we still had strict rules because things weren’t as regulated as they are today.

    Great article, by the way!

  2. We follow most of these as well. My youngest son got a Kindle Fire for Christmas and he loves it. We got an app that allows for setting times and all the apps you can download while on this app are educational and for children. We do not have a TV in our room (used to but it is gone) and my boys will never have one in theirs (even though my mother in law objected to this). We do have a DVD in the car which was a lifesaver when we drove from CO to WA…

  3. Number 3 is the hardest for my family. If one heads to the living room, it’s pretty much all over. Plus, the dining room is kind of my “office” (another issue to solve altogether) so it’s not always inviting. But we’re working on it!

  4. This is such a great article. We struggle with some of these boundaries at our house. It can be so hard to be firm, but it is so easy to get carried away with technology usage.

  5. Paula,

    This issue of communication and technology is a deep one. I was just talking with someone who was writing about whether technology is changing the way our brains handle communication. For example, with spellcheck always around, are people losing their ability to spell on their own slowly? Are people becoming less able or willing to read longer texts since they are more used to quick 140 character flashes.

    It’s hard to know what to do with kids in this environment. Teach them to keep the old skills or worry more about preparing them for tomorrow’s world.


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