Technology is such an important topic to discuss with your family. Here is a family home evening lesson on technology. We are talking about how to unplug and regulate the use of technology in your home.

As we nestled in for Family Home Evening this week I had big plans. Often we don’t have a plan for our “lesson,” we kind of think of something on the spot or the kids share a thought. Some day we’ll be more organized, I hope. But this week I was ready. 

The plan was to work through our family technology contract and revise and streamline it to meet the needs of our changing family at home… and ever-changing technology bombarding our home. Sometimes technology changes in a good way, sometimes not-so-good. It’s our job to keep up and adapt with all the changes.


I figured I’d start with me. Bottom line is that kids are like little sponges. If I walk around with my phone attached to my body 24-7 they feel justified in doing the same thing, right? So I told them how I challenged my sister to join me on a little “no-technology-when-kids-are home-from-school” experiment for a week leading up to our interview. 

That way we could talk in the interview about how to unplug successfully. We wanted to have real results that we could share about how it felt.

I mean, duh, right? 

Why in the world would I waste my precious moments with kids glued to my phone? 

I figured I’d let the kids and Dave in on my little unplug from tech challenge so they could help me stay on track. Then we’d move on to their technology problems next.

But we never got to any contract revisions or any of their “problems” because right then and there when I mentioned my challenge Claire said, “oh good, because you’re always on your phone!” Lucy joined right in. And Grace launched into examples of when she needed me and I was too distracted to pay attention.

Oh boy, that was a fine how-do-you-do! So apparently I’m the one who needs to sign a contract 😉 I’m the problem, not my kids. And if I can’t control how much I look at that thing, how do I expect them to?  

(**As a post-edit to this post, one year for Mother’s Day I gave myself the gift of putting my phone away for the week before. I was so much more present with my kids! Best gift I could have given to myself!)

This is where the 5 Tips for Training Kids How to Use Technology post I wrote comes in handy.


It is true, my smartphone is on task a lot. To be clear, it’s not that I’m playing games or perusing the Internet. I’m generally on there for things like organizing carpools or writing a grocery list. You might find me turning on some music to get us all pumped up for jobs. But man is it easy to get distracted on that thing!

There’s always an email to reply to or some new Instagram posts to comment on so friends will know I’m thinking of them. All good things. But I believe that we live in a world where we are too “tuned in” a lot of the time. I love to stay connected, but we survived just fine back in the day when we sent hand-written thank you notes and only called people when we were standing in one spot attached to the wall with a cord. 

It’s clear that this idea of learning how to unplug is necessary for all ages because technology is so complex and a big part of our lives.

Pros and Cons of Technology

To be honest, I have a love-hate relationship with technology. I love it because with a few taps I can let a whole group of young women know what we are doing for an activity that night. Grace can text me with joy that she got 100% on her test at school. I can see Elle in Hawaii sitting on a beach with new friends while I’m whipping up dinner in my own kitchen. Someone in Max’s mission can send me a picture of my boy sitting with some beautifully ancient Chinese ladies that was posted on Facebook.

I’m exposed to new ideas that motivate me. There are articles and posts with ideas that have changed our family culture for the better. Technology is miraculous!  

Just as easily as technology can lift us up and help us celebrate the beauty we are surrounded by, it can deftly distract us from the most important things in life. We are too “accessible” in so many ways. 

It’s like we have to hurry and answer a text so we don’t hurt someone’s feelings. Even when we’re in the middle of a real, face-to-face conversation. Or we feel the need to answer some phone call even when we have a whole slew of kids in the car we could be listening to or interacting with. A teenager can be sent something inappropriate filling their screen without any warning and know every detail of a party they didn’t get invited to.


There must be a balance. We have to learn how to unplug so that we can connect with each other better. I want my kids to learn that balance. It’s important for me to train them right here while they’re under my roof to seek out the beauty and set limits on the distractions. And obviously I need to keep working on that balance myself.

I think it’s pretty great to have a chorus of your own children to keep you in check at Family Home Evening on a Sunday afternoon 🙂

Needless to say, it’s been a good couple days looking my kids in the eye and engaging deeper with them without my cell phone coming between us!

We have had a whole bunch of triumphs and failures over the years with parenting with technology. I think it’s something that has to be worked and re-worked over and over again. We are in an interesting position being the first generation to raise kids in the midst of all this techno hoopla.


It’s important to remember that as parents we are not here to be our kids’ best friends. We are here to train and guide them… which sometimes they’re not overly happy about in the moment. 

And THAT’S OK!! I’m very confident that they will be so much happier in the long-run if we can set healthy guidelines with love and serious follow-through…which is often so dang hard to do!

Before You Start Your Lesson

As I did, I highly suggest you take a look at your own use of technology and make notes on things you want to work on to improve your own behavior. It is our job to train our kids by word and example. And our example is far more powerful. Try leaving your phone in a separate room as you ponder how you can connect with your friend, family, and even God in a more powerful way.

Technology Lesson Outline

Here’s a simple lesson outline to help you discuss technology with your family and keep the lines of communication open.


I think it’s ALWAYS good to start with a story. Be vulnerable and tell about a time when you used too much technology. Maybe have kids act it out. My kids LOVE this. and I have to say, I still remember a family meeting from probably when I was in elementary school (!) where we acted something out as a family. Anything to get them involved.

Then launch into a simple conversation starter like “what are the pros and cons of technology?” If you can, make it visual with a whiteboard or even a pen and paper. Make a list and discuss… there are no wrong or right answers.

Discussion Question 1:

What are some ways you can unplug from technology and connect with others?

Discussion Question 2:

How can we make sure that our family makes our use of technology a positive thing in our lives?


Play a game or go for a walk without any technology. Focus on connection. Take note of how it feels to spend quality time without any technology involved. Talk about your five senses to really be present with your kids.

Alternative Activity: If your kids are at an age where they are just getting a cell phone, going through the technology contract together as a family is a great way to establish boundaries with your family.


Invite your kids to join you in a challenge. Consider adjusting the how to unplug challenge to work for your family. Maybe even challenge everyone to a “screen-time contest” where the one with the least amount on their phones that week gets a prize. It’s amazing what little things like that can do to create awareness.


It starts with YOU. You are the first line of defense in your own home. What you choose to do with your own personal time has the most power. Set time limits. Establish times where your phone is away and you are connecting with your kids. Unplug in the morning so that you start off the day connecting with God and with others.

After you learn to regulate your own technology use, you can establish routines and expectations that will help your family regulate their own use of technology.

I have a lot more to say, but I’d love to hear ideas from all of you. Share your questions below as well as things that have worked and not worked. If you have input please send it along!  

Here are some additional posts about technology and teens.

  • Check out these fantastic tips to help you learn more about technology and how to navigate it with a family in this post The Tech-Wise Family Book Review.
  • How to deal with snotty teenagers… cause if you have teens, I’m sure you’ll need some quick advice on this topic.
  • The Timer… check out this post on how a simple timer can change your life as a parent.

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  1. I have a question you might want to touch on! I know in your family contract that you had your kids "check in" their phones before going to bed at night. Did this stick around, especially with the older teenagers? If so, what do you think the end results were from that?

    Looking forward to the interview!
    Chaun from

  2. Wow, this post couldn't have come at a better time for me and I'm so glad I'm not alone. My oldest is only 7 but I sometimes long for the days when I could only text and receive calls and Instagram didn't even exist. I love and hate it just the same as you! One thing that I do is delete Instagram and Facebook from my phone on the weekends so I'm not even tempted to open it up. Sometimes I feel silly that i have to set so many boundaries for myself, but I look at my kids more, read books and don't worry about what others have that I don't. I love the "no phone after school." I'm going to challenge my husband to the same and say, "It's ok if we don't respond until kids are in bed!" Thanks for always sharing your insights, I can't wait to listen to the podcast!

  3. Love that you share your reality on your blog. Real life insight (the good and the bad) is just what I am looking for, not perfection.

  4. How about this for a different workshop title- "Moderation in all things: Making screen time a relationship benefit not a burden" or something like that. 🙂

  5. How do you handle websites like YouTube (where they may want to share videos) without exposing them to all the bad on there? Do you follow your kids on every social media site? I can't bear to be on them all! Do you allow them to interact with strangers? At what age do they get actual phone service, and is there a different age for wi-fi only devices? Do different rules apply on Sunday?

  6. I have put this limit on myself so many times….only to slowly backslide. We just gave our 13 year old her first phone along with your (slightly modified) contract. But seriously – I'm the worst offender. And I'm not "Playing" on my phone either. All the things you mentioned. But going to get after it again! Not using it after school! Thanks for the encouragement.

  7. I have put this limit on myself so many times….only to slowly backslide. We just gave our 13 year old her first phone along with your (slightly modified) contract. But seriously – I'm the worst offender. And I'm not "Playing" on my phone either. All the things you mentioned. But going to get after it again! Not using it after school! Thanks for the encouragement.

  8. This post really resonated with me- I agree with everything you said. I definitely need to work on my own technology use. And I have SO. MANY. QUESTIONS. about how to integrate technology into our family life appropriately. And it's gotten so much harder since I've had teenagers. When is this podcast? And how can I listen? I'd love to hear how others do this.

    Technology is such a double edge sword- fabulous opportunity for good, but lots of opportunity for bad, and significant distraction. But our kids have to be able to use it. And to use it appropriately. And, holy cow, that is a difficult thing to figure out!! And it really is different for every family.

    The only comment I can make on what works/doesn't for us is to share my response to their endless petitions. When the kids want more time on more devices with more apps, I frequently say no. And in response to their protests, I just say (with a smile and a hug) "I want so much more for you!". And I do- I want more real life for them, more real relationships, more opportunity to expand their minds and bodies in uplifting ways- and that can't happen when they're glued to a screen. I think the kids hate it when I say that- but it's the most honest reasoning I can give them for my "no".

    Would really love to hear what works for other families! Thanks for starting the discussion!!

    1. I'm with you… I want more for my kids. I want them to look out the windows when in the car, and not feel like when their "bored" that's the only thing they turn to. In the past I've made a list of things that they can do as an alternative, and I think we need to re-create this list. Remind them that there are other things out there to go to when they aren't sure what to do with themselves.

  9. My advise would be (childless, but using a smartphone too often):
    As you said, you can't ask your kids not to use their phones too often, if you do it.
    Use other things if it doesn't have to be a phone. A grocery list can be written on a piece of paper, the time can be checked on a watch.
    Set some time for the phone. I too don't want to give up social media (for pretty much the same reasons). But you can do all this at (p.ex.) 5. Until then you can stay focused in the real world. If something is really important, then the other person will call you instead of texting.
    Never use your phone while you're in a conversation. It just says that someone in the virtual world is more important. If I'm with others I try to let it put in my purse.
    Now if only I would keep my own rules! 😉

  10. I just went to class on this subjecy at byu education week and there were so many great things shared and taught there. My biggest takeaway was that we as parents need to have a constant discussion abouy media, media use, and content. Preparation and awareness are huge ways to help our kids have healthy relationships with these devices. Also, it was mentioned that if we over-regulate we set our kids up for binging. We need to teach them to self-regulate. To know how much time on the phone/tv/tablet is too much. The professor mentioned a stoplight approach (definitely geared for younger kids but totally adaptable). Green light for stopping on your own with no parental warning. You receive some sort of reward (suited to the child). Yellow light for receiving one parental warning ("time to get off now") and getting off immediately. No reward but also no consequence. Red light for multiple warnings before getting off. Consequence usually being they lose access for the next day. Someone in the class also mentioned their family used poker chips (each chip worth an hour) and you could "spend" however you wanted during the week, but wonce they were all used, you were done. I really liked thaay as well because it also encourages self-regulation and agency. There as so many facets but the great thing the teacher mentioned was that all evidence shows that being active as a parent to combat overuse/misuse resulted in healthier relationships. So keep having those conversations!

  11. Dear Shawnie,
    I guess everywhere where there are phones, that same problem is present – the fact that mobile phones today can do so much more than just serve as a phone in the origninal way makes us look at them all the time. If we only want to turn on some music we see those messages and emails we want to read and answer immediately. So we get hooked. I am personally allergic (metaphorically speaking) to seeing people around me look at that thing every few moments. Mobile phones cause similar kinds of behavior as do drugs, they make people addicted. People think they really MUST look at the phone that often. And they do it subconsciously most of the time. And they think they are not addicted to them – which is a major characteristic of addictive behavior. The use of phones distracts us from the present, of the here and now. That in my opinion is their worst influence. They can be very, very practical. But they also disturb our social relationships and our way of feeling, talking and thinking. They take our thoughts from the present real life into some virtual reality that – even though it sure is a part of our reality – should be second in line behind the real life going on right now right here.
    It's important to take a good look at one's own behavior and feelings and to question that which the market and society declare as normal.
    I love your blog and that you think and reflect about everyday and important subjects a lot.

  12. Great topic! A couple of years ago now, I set some boundaries for myself, recognizing that I was probably the worst offender… No smartphone use if the kids were even around (they are young adults), I deleted Facebook and Pinterest from my phone, and for a while I had a 'No Internet after 8pm' rule, if any other family members were home. The kids were very helpful in calling me out if I broke them. 😉 We have a 'no cell phone zone' in our kitchen and around the dinner table, and it actually works – most of the time. I have since returned to University, and need the Internet to do homework in the evenings, so no Internet after 8pm doesn't work anymore – but I'm pretty strict about no electronics in the bedroom for my husband and I. In a media and communications class at University last week, the professor asked how many of us kept our phones on the night stand. I was the only person in the class of about 100 people who didn't. It made me giggle – As if I didn't already seem like an out of place geriatric person with all those 20 year olds..! 😀 Still haven't kicked my Insatgram and Twitter habits though… But since my husband really disapproves of people constantly on their phones, it is easier to just not even look at it when he is around. It's all about balance, right? And people are so much more important than devices!

    1. I keep my phone on my nightstand. It's helpful to waking up on time, it has an alarm. Because of my phone the size of a deck of cards I don't need a landline on the nightstand, I don't need an alarm clock or notepad. I turn on my phone and add to my shopping list an item I just remembered to add to it instead of walking downstairs to write it on a list on the fridge. I can set it to not go off if a call comes in after bedtime, unlike a landline. The main use of the phone is to look up stuff. I could be talking to my spouse and either of us could look up a fact relating to the conversation. I can't tell you how many times my phone has gone off to warn me of a tornado sighting in the middle of the night so I can get my family to the basement. The tv and radio are off and sometimes the storm drowns the sound of the siren.

      Honestly I think this whole technology fast is like sugar or gluten fasts. People take a problem effecting 3% of people and then act as if it's a problem for them and try to recover. The risk is a person who isn't addicted to their phone will have an easier time being off the phone and less realistic in the expectations for the person who is really addicted to it to get off it. Hard for the sake of hard.

  13. I have a cellphone, but no smartphone. I can only text (sms) someone or make and receive calls. That`s it. For everything else I have to use the computer at home. So I`m not even tempted to be on my phone all the time… works great! 🙂

  14. We use a product called Circle by Disney, it is around $100 and connects to your wifi. It lets you set limits (time limits, which apps can be used or not, even lets you set a bedtime for the device), lets you filter content (built in filter for each age level preschool, kid, teen, adult, etc. but you can also customize the filter to add or delete apps), lets you see the amount of time spent on various apps and on the device as a whole. It is a GREAT product! ANY device that connects to your wifi shows up on the app–meaning my kids' school laptops can be added to their profile and filtered in the same way as their phones. Using Circle has created much more space (meaning I can monitor through the app without physically checking their phones which was always a struggle) and actually has been refreshing because they are not spending as much time online as I thought they were AND the things they are doing online are actually things that are approved. It has given me a lot of peace of mind to know that they are making mostly good choices and when they make a not-so-good choice, (whether online or in life) I can pause their device as a punishment (a time out if you will) until we can talk about it and/or get compliance or an apology, etc. Before we would have to confiscate their phones as a punishment. Now I just press the pause button, no fighting, and that kid will usually be pretty darn eager to get his/her device back so they are willing to sit down and have that difficult conversation if it means they get access back to their device. My kids hate it (Circle) but I love it. Seriously it is worth so much more than the $99 I paid for it.

  15. I hear ya! The phone is a tough one for me too!

    Personally, I think that trying solidify good, long term, habits is more productive (and more difficult) that setting up "fasts." It's kind of like dieting to loose weight; studies show again and again dieting is counter-productive long term while creating healthy habits is the thing that is effective.

  16. My goal is to begin and end my day making sure I have my priorities straight, which means making sure the first thing I see in the morning and the last thing I see at night is NOT my phone, it should be developing a relationship with my Heavenly father.

  17. I am an older Mom of 3 almost adult children (one is 17). I do not have all the answers on this topic but would like to share a few thoughts about kids with phones. Our children got a phone at the age of 14. Our first two kids were involved in after school activities at this age and I wanted to be sure they had a way to call me for a ride or let me know where they were. They both are also girls and I didn't want them sitting outside alone at the Jr. High or High school after the activity waiting for a ride. It worked really well for that. We didn't ever have to police it a whole lot because I think they knew if they didn't answer my call or text they'd be in trouble. 🙂 Our last child isn't involved in any additional school activities but because his sisters got their phones at 14, he got his then too. All 3 of our children have had a job once they turned 16. Having access to them to know they're on their way home from work or a quick text telling me they have to stay later to work or school, etc. is so nice and reassuring. I think back to when I was their age and I would have had to track down a pay phone to make a call and hope that I had a quarter to make that call! 🙂 As far as monitoring their internet use…I don't have any new advice but we sure tried to talk to them about appropriate internet use. None of our kids we're big into downloading lots of apps so that wasn't a big issue for us. One thing I wish we would have done but didn't was park or charge all of their phones in our bedroom for the night. We realized this when our second daughter's friends texted her all.night.long!!! This was a big problem and was new to me since we hadn't had that issue with our oldest daughter nor have we had any problems with our son. Texting during the night meant no sleep for our daughter but also eventually lead to some sneaking out during the night because one of her girl friends "was having a hard time". If I could do it again, this would definitely happen. Also one quick opinion on social media…I maybe look at facebook and instagram once a week at the most and my husband does about the same but I know SO MANY MOTHERS and others who can not go an hour without posting or being on there. I think so many of the social media issues with kids are mirrored images of what the kids see their parents do. Every photo taken doesn't need to be shared with the world! Every funny video, dinner you made, what you wore, where you've been, etc. doesn't need to be posted and re-posted. There is something the matter with us when for instance our parent passes away and the first thing you think about is posting that your dearly loved mother just passed away! That is not an exaggeration…one of my husbands high school friends posted that! I just think social media robs us of our time with those who we love and the beautiful world around us if we let it. And I realize not everyone will agree with me and I'm ok with that nor was that my intent. Thanks for your blog! I love how you post great questions that allow us to consider how we are doing in our lives and our families lives and as a bonus, we get to learn from one another what is working in their family.

  18. I absolutely loved your idea, a while back, how your kids had you do 20 push ups every time they needed you and you were on your phone (or something like that 😀)! Good reminder and helps keep us in shape (somewhat. Ha!)

  19. I've got so many thoughts about this, and anxious to hear your podcast. I feel like my biggest struggle with my kids is that they don't have any set times to look at their devices, and they don't understand why they can't have unlimited amount of time. I would love to hear a good solution for that. If I'm giving them a device to keep on them, like I keep mine on me, what are the limits? I think with somebody said is the importance of self regulation. Learn how to best mother to yourself. I've told them that I don't like them to be on their phones in the car, because I want them to look out the window or talk to me, and they've done that pretty well. I am not a fan of being out at a family event and I know that is not OK to be on it then, we are there to socialize with each other as well as others. But my biggest? Is at home, when all of the homework is done, how much time is OK to be on? For my boys, it's video games. For my girls, it's YouTube and television shows. I've upgraded my phone several times, I ended up passing mine alone to my seven-year-old, not really thinking that she would use it that often, but I find her watching TV on it after school, and I think… What was I thinking? But at the same time, when we have a family iPad, I think, what is the difference? Lately, I felt like I want to gather all the devices into one spot after school, and they need to ask permission to me before using it, but I don't find that to be very realistic. I like what someone else mentioned above about the green light and red light analogy, our biggest thing with our boys is that they are playing a game with other people, and it's not as easy as putting it away in 10 seconds, because they have to "finish what they started" and I want to be sensitive to that, but do I need to be sensitive to it every single night? It gets frustrating to ask them to end the game, that really doesn't ever end, and put it away, to find them still on it five minutes later. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, I only think to come by here every once in a while, but a good friend of mine who knows that I love to read your blog, asked me yesterday if I had read this, and had to make sure I come and read right away! I would love to collaborate with you on a Mom conference someday, my favorite topics to talk about!

  20. so I was just listening to someone share their advice (it was either Gretchen Rubin or cal Newport I can't remember) saying that phones and apps use the same tactics that casinos use. And that people have legitimate addictions and all the usual signs are there – withdrawals, dopamine high, etc. One of them, I think Gretchen, also said that to cultivate good habits it's not good to just say I won't use my phone for 3 days or whatever, but instead give yourself a usual allowance period. Like from 7-8 I'll waste time on the Internet, and then hold fast to that time limit. That's a better long term solution she says.

    And I've heard great things about Freedom, an app and program that will close down certain parts of your phone and computer till a certain time is up. Then you don't have to fight with will power to avoid getting on fb and wasting time when you should be working, because, as one of those speakers said, there's only so much will power a person has. So eliminating the option makes it so we don't drain all our will power and then give in.

    Those are just some points I've been thinking lots about. Good luck! I think this is so HARD and requires tons of guidance from above! ❤️

  21. Well…. I accidentally dropped my cell phone in the toilet about an hour after reading this post! I think the challenge today is it's hard to even know what questions to ask or what standard to set because the technology is changing so quickly, the depth and breadth of what we need to monitor is overwhelming, how it is integrated into our homes/lives continues to evolve, and the long term consequences — for good and for bad — are relatively unknown. I appreciate all of the comments! If anything, to know that I am not the only Mom struggling with this one and working hard to figure it out.

    Thank you for the post! And, yes, I'm actually loving the fact that I don't have a new phone (have to wait a week before replacing). I just wonder what text messages I have missed…… Yes, my phone makes my life easier — but that ease has come at cost measured in time and focus.

  22. Hi Shawni,

    I am a long time reader but never commented before. I have 4 you kids 8 and under so it's too early to get them cell phones, but my husband and I thought about not giving them a phone until they were old enough to drive or really need it. I was wondering at what age do most parents give their kids cell phones, and why?

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