Should kids/teens have tech limits? How do we deal when our kids want to use tech, electronics, and the internet? Here's how we do things at our house...

Tech Limits: How we Deal with Screen Time and the Internet

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Tech is a part of all of our lives, right? So how do we handle it when our kids want to use tech, electronics, and the internet? Should we have tech limits? Should we just let them run free with it? Or does it depend on the circumstances?

I am often asked how we deal with technology use at our house—things like screen time, electronics, and the internet. What limits do we have in place? How much time do our sons get to spend online each day? What websites are they allowed to visit?

Before I tell you how we deal with electronics and internet usage, let me say this:

As with every other parenting and homeschooling decision that has been made in our home, this is specific to our home. We do it this way because it works for us. I’m not at all saying this is what you should do, I am simply telling you what we do and why we do it.

So here goes.

We don’t have any limits on screen time, electronics, or the internet.

When I say that, here are the two most common responses I get back:

1. Without tech limits, they’re going to see something they shouldn’t!

You’re right. They might see (or hear) something they shouldn’t.

But they could see (or hear) something they shouldn’t at Walmart, the county fair, or church.

(And they have.)

Part of the way you deal with the internet has a lot to do with what you’re willing to have your kids exposed to. Now, I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer to this—it’s a choice you have to make for your family and it completely depends on your situation.

It is true—the wider you open the doors, the more chance there is that “stuff” can get in—good stuff and bad stuff.

Let’s think of the internet as a giant library for a moment. Let’s pretend my kids and I are sitting in the cookbook section. Suddenly, my kids want to visit the woodworking section, but they might have to walk by the mythological animal section to get there. Mythological animals are maybe somehow offensive to me, so I decide they can’t go to the woodworking section unless I a) hold their hand or b) forget it, it’s just easier to shut down everything past the cookbook section.

Would I let my 3 year old meander the internet all day long with no supervision? No, and I didn’t. My kids are 13 and 14 now and this set-up started a couple years ago.

There are two ways to approach trust and the internet situation, and it’s best explained by a conversation I witnessed years ago between two moms. It had to do with their sons and pocketknives. Both boys were the same age, both boys lived on farms. But only one boy was allowed to have a pocketknife.

The mother of the son without a pocketknife said, “My son isn’t getting a pocketknife until he proves he’s responsible enough to have one.”

The other mom shrugged and said, “…and my son has one until he proves he’s not responsible enough to have one.”

Two very different ways to handle the same situation. I think many of us deal with our kids and the internet the same way.

2. What they are choosing to do on the internet is a total time suck. With tech limits, they could be using their time more wisely.

Ah, yes. The productivity argument.

If it’s not a website, game, or app we can wring out some obvious checkmark-in-a-box educational value from, it is marked as fluff and is therefore a waste of time.

Hold up. It looks like a waste of time. But, honestly? You have no idea what’s going on in their head. You have no idea what they are learning. Sometimes what is gained from a game or website has nothing to do with the actual game or website.

Sometimes it’s more about how the computer or internet actually works. Other times it’s about dealing with and fixing issues when they don’t work. My sons can work on providing really good tech support by zipping around and pushing buttons…or perhaps we should wait for a boxed curriculum that teaches that instead?

I am often asked how my kids know so much about computers and technology. My sons are my go to for questions about podcasting and YouTubing. They are the people I call down when I can’t get my computer to do something I want it to do. When I press the wrong button and lose everything I was working on, they get it back. They built the desktop that I’m writing this blog post on and were an integral part in setting up all the technology in the new office I’m sitting in.

So, here’s the secret: my kids know so much about computers, technology, and the internet because they spend a lot of time in, on, and around computers, technology, and the internet.

And it’s not me directing them. I wouldn’t know where to direct them to. When my kids are allowed to explore freely, they are able to find the things that I don’t even know are out there to help them do the things they want to do.

Ever heard the phrase you don’t know what you don’t know? This is me and the enormity of the internet every. single. day. I’ve asked my boys for help with something (like music for a podcast episode) and they direct me to sites and software I did not even know existed. 

I choose to see that as a good thing.

Thinking of trying life without tech limits? Suggestions for limit free guidelines:

Unlimited internet usage doesn’t mean you have to give up all your say as the parent. After having the obvious discussions about internet safety, here are a few suggestions for how to make tech limit free living work for you.

Random checks

Reserve the right to check your child’s computer. Require access to passwords for all accounts on all devices. I mean, even if your child bought the device they are using, my guess is you probably own and pay for the account the WiFi or data comes through.

Talk. A lot.

Without tech limits, weird stuff may come up.

When the weird stuff comes up, have a conversation—no matter how uncomfortable it makes you. I’ve often said that parenting teens is just one big adventure in learning not to raise your eyebrow or drop your jaw when they tell you something. Truthfully, some of our best conversations have come while tackling some of the most cringe-worthy topics.

Our house is very open as far as language and questionable topics. Yours may be be similar or very different. It’s okay. Be open to discussing “things that come up”. It teaches your kids that you aren’t scary to talk with about anything they might need to discuss later.

Be smart about when to put it away.

Technology is super awesome, but so is conversation with company that just arrived. Maybe when you’re out for dinner with visitors, your family doesn’t stare at their phones? Unless, of course, the visitors are staring at theirs—which I’ve totally seen. If this is the case, by all means, carry on. Or, for something totally different, nudge your kid to clear their throat loudly and start a conversation.

What else needs to be done?

If there are things you want your kids to complete before they hop online, be clear about what those things are. My sons know that if unlimited internet use were to affect their schoolwork, chores, or preparation for other things they are involved in, we would need to put certain tech limits in place.

It has yet to be a problem.

Check yourself.

I’m going to be honest here—I’ve heard from parents who are upset their kids are always staring at a screen, and I’ve later watched those same parents with their own faces glued to their own screens.

As adults we sometimes think that our tech use is valid while our kids’ isn’t. I’m of the opinion that kids can learn something and receive value from any website they’re on. I mean, at least as much as parents are getting from Facebook or Instagram.

Let’s not be hypocritical. It hurts a lot when it comes back to bite us.

Try it. You might like it.

Should you choose to relax your stance on the internet or gaming or screen time, know that in the beginning it might get worse before it gets better—especially if you’ve been super strict. Kids will want to soak up all they can as much as they can. The pendulum will swing way out, but after a while, it generally comes to rest in the middle.

Having said that—after a solid attempt, if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. Internet and tech limits (or a lack thereof) is ultimately about what works in your house with the kids you live with, not what looks good in parenting or homeschooling group discussions.

What are your thoughts on kids and tech use? How do you handle the tech limits issue in your home? Leave your own thoughts in the comments!

Should kids/teens have tech limits? How do we deal when our kids want to use tech, electronics, and the internet? Here's how we do things at our house...

Tired of the sugarcoated version of homeschooling? Read my book The Homeschool Highway: How to Navigate Your Way Without Getting Carsick.