We gave our oldest daughter an iPhone for her 11th birthday. She is now 13. For two years, we have followed a consistent rule for the phone, and I believe this rule has helped our family adapt to technology in a balanced way.
The Rule is Simple
The number one rule for my daughter’s iPhone is that every single night, the phone is powered off and stored in the dining room drawer. Powering off a phone and storing it in a common area overnight does not sound revolutionary. The rule does not contain parental controls or overbearing stipulations. The rule is simple, and maybe that is part of its effectiveness.
The Rule Involves the Whole Family
The rule does not single out my daughter as the only one responsible for implementing the rule. Life gets busy, and it’s easy to forget details like putting a phone in a drawer. Part of the evening for everyone (Mom, Dad, Daughter, Sister) is to make sure devices are powered off and in their place.
If one person forgets, another remembers, and asks aloud if the phone is put away. Asking aloud reminds and reinforces the importance of the rule. It becomes everyone’s responsibility to put technology to bed.
The Rule is Consistent and Habitual
Because the rule occurs every night, the practice gains consistency over time and turns into a regular routine. This habit is woven into the rhythm of family life. For our family, it now feels natural to power off and put away a phone.
Not all families experience this type of consistency. Some kids spend different nights of the week in different locations. In this case, it would be up to the caregivers to standardize the routine and expectations, regardless of whereabouts.
The Rule Was Set Before the Device Was Allowed
I kicked off our daughter’s iPhone gift with a letter about appropriate usage that we both agreed upon. This agreement eliminated battles over personal devices from the beginning because expectations were understood upfront.
But letters and contracts may not be the most intuitive tool for all families. For example, if you asked me right now, I can’t recall the specifics of our agreement except for the one rule about putting the phone in the drawer at night. Maybe for us, the most valuable part of the agreement was to form that rule. The act of stating ideas in advance can help promote good habits before bad ones get in the way.
The Rule Supports Bedtime Routines
Bedtime routines are traditionally associated with raising young children. But as digital media plays an increasingly central role in daily life, bedtime routines can be helpful at any age. It can take a lot of willpower to create tech-free zones with devices in arm’s reach. The nightly ritual of powering off and creating physical separation provides a buffer to foster distraction-free sleep.
The Rule Depends on Trust
Let’s say the phone is in the drawer at bedtime, but our kid sneaks out to get the phone in the middle of the night. Does that make the rule a total dud? Sneaky kids are a possibility in any household. In our home, I’m a light sleeper, and I hear it when kids wake up. I would recommend choosing a drawer that is closer to the parents’ bedroom to increase the likelihood of hearing kids.
While it’s technically possible that every night for the past two years my daughter has woken up to sneak a peek at the phone, it’s more likely that she has appreciated her sleep. I’m making a choice to trust her, and right now that feels like the right choice.
The Rule Helps Morning Routines
In the era of instant gratification, have you noticed that powering up a phone takes a bit of time? I love this about electronics because it makes powering off even more effective. The instantaneous rush of phone-checking can be deterred by the inconvenience of grabbing the phone and waiting for it to power up. All ready for school? OK, now grab your phone, or better yet, forget it completely until later in the afternoon.
The Rule is Contagious
To have any credibility with my family, I’m supposed to be modeling this rule myself. I have seen the rule in action with my daughter, and the healthy overall tone it has set for media use. On nights when I put my phone to bed early, I also sleep better and feel more balanced.
Our household rule may have been created for my daughter, but it benefits me as well. It’s pretty cool to hear myself admit: “I want to be more like her.”
As a parent, I’m always learning. I am interested to hear about your household rules for media management. What works, what doesn’t? Let’s discuss!
Lorraine Akemann | Cofounder and Editor | Moms With Apps