Marriage Matters

Do You Have a Family Media Plan? Here’s Ours.

Does your family have a technology management plan in place? I love technology. When used and managed properly, technology can change the dynamics of a family in very good ways.

Last Christmas the one gift I wanted to get for my family was a large, flat-screen television. But we didn’t connect this television to cable or satellite or broadcast television. Instead we connected it to Apple TV. Sometimes we use it for evening prayer, to put the text of our prayer up on screen so everyone can see it or to play a song and show the lyrics, or to play a meditative video. We also use it to share our interests. If my daughter hears about a new dance or wants to know how to do a dance step, we find a YouTube video and pop it up on the screen. Then our entire family can share in our daughter’s love of dance. If our ever-inquisitive son asks how something is made, we can find a website or a video showing the process and again share in his interest as a family. And of course we share in the occasional family movie night using on demand video services. The technology has become an awesome tool to help our family become a community of persons by sharing in each other’s interests and spending time together.

But we’re well aware that technology can have the opposite effect as well. Technology can lead to isolation rather than community. It can foster interest in things that are not healthy, especially in the moral life. It can lead to obsession and imbalance.

That’s why as a father I implemented a technology management plan. This is a set of expectations for how technology will and will not be used in our home. I’d like to share a few elements of this plan with you to encourage you to have this discussion in your own family and create your own technology management plan.

Here are a few items in our plan:

  1. Children never have unfettered access to technological media of any kind. This may seem harsh and restrictive. But in reality we’re shaping our children’s understanding of technology as a tool to be used rather than something that takes center stage in their life. Our children will use the family laptop at the kitchen table. But they don’t have their own computers in their room. Parenting experts tell us that it’s a bad idea to give children their own computers and televisions in their bedrooms. We believe the same is true of the little screens in their pockets. Our children can use our smartphones for specific purposes. But they don’t get their own. And the video game console is family property, and Dad reserves the right to join the kids in a game so I know what they’re playing and what their attitude is as they play (plus we get to have fun together).
  2. We have defined the requirements for children to “own” their own media technology. My daughter really wants her own MP3 player so she won’t have to borrow our smartphone to use Pandora. “All right,” we said, “you may have your own MP3 player when you grow in the virtue of temperance. We want to know that you are able to exercise self-control rather than obsession. We want to know that you will make wise decisions about what you listen to. We want to know that you will know when to turn it off and that music will not cut you off from the family.” Notice we didn’t say, “You may have it when you are 13 years old.” We based the condition on growth in a specific virtue. Now we are supporting our daughter to learn that virtue.
  3. We use on-demand media rather than broadcast media. My own personal experience is that broadcast media (including cable and satellite television) encourages the behavior of “watching whatever is on.” This leads to very poor quality television watching. I can’t tell you how much junk I wasted my time on – shows that I didn’t even really enjoy – just because I felt like watching something that “this is all that was on.” With on-demand services, online Catholic television stations, and other streaming services we are able to choose when and what we watch. And even our negotiations about which shows to watch are fruitful. My wife and I are able to talk with our children about what makes a show worth watching and what kinds of shows we avoid (and why).
  4. We share media, whether it’s our personal preference or not. The kids are allowed to listen to music in their own rooms, but we make it a habit to make most of our media consumption a family affair. I’ll let the kids play “their” music on the house speakers and we’ll talk about what we like, what we don’t like, and why. I’ll also introduce the kids to music they may not otherwise listen to – classical, sacred, jazz, blues, etc. and we do the same thing. This not only keeps us up-to-date on what our children are watching and listening to, it also teaches them how to become critical listeners. “I just like the music, I don’t listen to the lyrics” isn’t going to fly.
  5. We apply age-appropriate filtering and monitoring that give us the most control and oversight. When our children were very young it was enough to protect them from media that would steal their interest. As they grow older, it’s important to us to teach them how to monitor themselves and make wise media choices. So we have conversations about their filter settings, about what web pages we’ll whitelist or blacklist and why, and about what web pages our children have visited. We chose Covenant Eyes as our Internet management service. Covenant Eyes is very different than other Internet filters because in addition to content filtering it also includes an accountability feature. This means that my wife and I get reports each week about what our children are viewing online.

These are just a few of the elements that make up our technology management plan. But even with these steps in place, my wife and I recently became aware that we needed to take another step to protect our children against pornography. Apparently they were hearing on the school bus about certain videos they could look up that showed people doing strange things to each other. Thank God we caught this curiosity in its early stages and took steps to protect our children.

You can contact Jeff at jarrowood@diolc.org

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