Building a Safe, Healthy Digital Home, Part Two: Downstairs

  • September 22, 2015
  • / By Cory

Note: This is the second part of a series on Building a Safe and Healthy Digital Home. In this installment, we tour the first floor…

The Dining Room

There is no shortage of evidence that regular time around the dinner table–eating together, talking about our days–is a valuable element of healthy families.

If there is any time and part of the house where we should declare a “tech-free” zone, it’s here. (And the bathroom, but let’s just skip that room…)

Do we value meal-time and regular dinners? Yes, of course I know that there are times that we are on the run, picking up kids from this and that, blah, blah, blah. Sometimes, it seems impossible to all get together at the same table.

And sometimes, we just claim that it’s “impossible”, when we really mean “inconvenient”. The bigger question was Do we value it?

The Dining Room table–figuratively and literally–is a time for fellowship and conversation. It should be a time of sharing the highlights and lowlights of our day, of supporting and celebrating each other, of being nourished in multiple ways.

This is where our kids can learn the dying art of conversation. Remember conversation? Before the Zombie Apocalypse hit us? It’s here, at the table, that we learn the skill of being civil. Of taking turns (eating and talking). Of paying attention to each other.

When your family is sitting at the table–literally face-to-face with one another–how are you using that precious time?

The Living Room

My mother once observed how discouraging it was to walk into her living room and see her visiting, grown children and her school-age grandchildren all on their own devices–and no one talking to anyone else.


In a conscious attempt to break out of this easy social slide downward, I recently set my own laptop down one evening and asked my boys if they wanted to play a game. Remarkably, they had no difficulty putting their own eToys down and joining me at the kitchen table, where I promptly kicked their butts in a mean game of Risk. (Google it, if you are too young to remember…)

We had a blast, and laughed and smack-talked for a good couple hours. Tucking one of them in that night, I asked if they had any fun that evening.

His response? “Best. Night. Ever.”

Wow. That’s all it took?

The living room should be a place for regrouping and reconnecting, for play and conversation. To be clear, this does NOT have to be a tech-free zone. Our family has connected gathering around one of our screens and laughing at stupid YouTube videos or taking silly online quizzes (“How well do you know these children’s book covers?”). We also enjoy Friday Family Fun Night, when we can, where we usually devour pizza and a movie simultaneously.

The point is not whether the activity is on- or off-screen, digital or analog. The point is that the activity is done together.

The Kitchen

Sorry, but in our metaphor, the kitchen has nothing to do with actual food.

It is, however, a place where things get created. We bring different and flexible ingredients (how many different ways can you use butter?) and stir them into something unique. Sometimes we follow a recipe exactly, sometimes we modify, and other times we purely wing it.  

We experiment and collaborate and share our creations. And we savor.

There is no end to the tools that technology provides for us to create. From smartphone apps to websites to physical tools, technology has made it possible for the average Joe to do what only professionals with very expensive equipment used to do.

And most importantly, our kids are able to access these tools and learn. Want to try your hand at video editing? You have a camera on your phone and an online video editor on the web. Stop animation? There’s free software and a bottomless pit of Legos at your fingertips. Fascinated by circuitry and electronics? MakeyMakey, littleBits, Raspberry Pi, and hundreds of other kits just needing some imagination. Looking to learn a little coding to create a website? Don’t wait for tech school, just hop into a free online course.

One of the side effects of this kind of creation is that the adults learn a little something, too. For those of us in education, we know the stats on learning retention when a student has to become the teacher and show someone else how to do something. Put the tool in your child’s hand, guide them into the learning, let them launch into it with their whole heart….then ask them to teach you.

One of my biggest fears for my own digital kids is that they will become efficient users and consumers OF technology, but will fail to reach their potential as creators WITH technology.

When is the last time we encouraged our kids to create something with the same device that far too often serves a much more passive role?

Time to get cooking!

The Office

Whether you work from home, have a side business, or regularly bring work home that needs to be done before the next work day, work should stay in the Office. It doesn’t mean that you can’t or shouldn’t work while you are home; often, that’s inevitable. But it does mean that the two should not blur freely. Work = Office.

I know, some of you are saying, I don’t have a separate office in my home.

(C’mon people! It’s a metaphor…work with me!)

In a healthy digital home, the Office is a separate area or space. And that separation should be impermeable, whether the walls are physical or psychological. Just keep repeating that to yourself, every time you walk in the door after a day at work.

Physically speaking, this needs to be a place separate from other activities in the home. If my kids are playing, I shouldn’t be working in the chair next to them.

And, nope, I don’t always maintain this separation. And I know better, and yet I find myself just “finishing this one thing” for far longer than I should. This is probably one of the biggest challenges I face as a digital parent. You?

For those with school-age kids, one way to keep this line clear, and still get the necessary work done is to establish a clear time, instead of just a space. During a certain time, perhaps before dinner, the kids work on homework and the parents work on home-work. In this separation, the adult work isn’t a distraction from our children; instead, it is a mutual time of working.
Just be sure you all reward yourselves with a mutual time of play later.

Stay Tuned for the next installment in the series Building a Safe, Healthy Digital Home, when we climb the stairs to the second floor.

Other posts in this series:

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