“Creating a Healthy Digital Culture in our Families,” Liahona, Oct. 2022.
We live in a world of easy access to technology. Even before the coronavirus pandemic, technology allowed us to stay connected with family, learn new skills, and share the gospel online.1
When the pandemic forced us to be socially distant, technology helped us move some of life’s important activities online. It connected families, enabled school and work, and even allowed us to participate in virtual birthday parties! However, like any powerful tool, technology comes with challenges. Our digital world can also be a source of misinformation, negativity, and time wasting. Even good apps, if overused, can push out other healthy activities. Elder Peter M. Johnson of the Seventy urged us to “be careful and not casual in our use of technology.”2
Establishing a healthy tech culture in our families can be challenging. Fortunately, there are simple strategies that can help us prepare our children to thrive in a digital world.
Watch out for two pitfalls: being negative and being narrowly focused.
1. Being negative means overemphasizing the things not to do with technology (the “don’ts”) while forgetting to model positive ways to use technology (the “do’s”). Learning the skills of healthy tech use takes practice; you’d never learn to play the piano by just being told what notes not to play. As parents, we can spend more time discussing and modeling the types of activities we want young people to do with digital tools and less time pointing out the things to avoid.
2. Being too narrow happens when we focus our efforts around one technology skill, such as online safety, and forget the other parts of healthy tech use. Like driving a car, safety comes first. We put on our seat belt before we go anywhere. But then we need to take the next step of deciding where we want to go and whom we want to go with. Having a healthy tech culture in our families means learning to be informed, balanced, inclusive, and engaged with our family and community as well as safe.
My job allows me to travel around the world to share strategies that help families and individuals learn healthy technology habits. Here are five questions I suggest families discuss together when deciding the type of tech use that’s right for the family.
There are great ways to use technology to strengthen families. For instance, in our family, we decided that our children could help capture photos and videos of family events. Using a notepad app, they write down funny things their siblings say. From time to time, we review the memories and watch the videos they have collected. We also use family history apps to learn about our ancestors and their stories. And we participate in virtual family councils with members of our family who live far from us.
Tech is most powerful when used as a tool to improve the world. Regularly reviewing sites like JustServe.org helps us find chances to serve in the community. We can use our digital voices to share the gospel and spread uplifting messages, such as reposting social media from the Church or sharing stories that have inspired us. This can also include standing up for others online when we see them being treated disrespectfully. Most online bullying can be stopped by standing up on behalf of the victim. Use your digital voice for good.
Balance means recognizing when a digital activity is taking more of our time than it deserves. To limit tech use, many families turn to the clock as the main tool for moderation. Although the “screen time” approach to limiting technology can be helpful, we also need to teach young people that not all tech use has the same value. Video chatting with a grandparent or reading the scriptures online are of greater value than just playing games, even though they both happen on a screen.
It’s also important to set times to be tech free. President Russell M. Nelson taught the power of taking periodic social media fasts to keep balance in our lives.3 Children need to learn that it is not a punishment to take a break from using a device. In our family, we’ve decided that devices shouldn’t sleep in the same room with us. We created a central spot where devices can charge overnight without interrupting our sleep.
Even good digital activities can become a problem if they are used in place of better activities or if we feel forced to participate in them. One simple tip is to turn off notifications for all nonessential apps. App developers use notifications to catch our attention and pull us back. Turning off alerts makes it easier for us to choose when we want to use an app and when we don’t. We should be aware of apps with reward or point systems that try to pressure us to use them. Turning off auto-play on all video platforms keeps them from playing videos when we don’t choose to watch.
Kids learn from watching their parents model good behavior. It’s easy to observe a parent bringing food to a neighbor or helping someone carry a heavy item. But in digital activities, it is much harder for children to observe parents’ actions. It is important to share the ways we are using technology to uplift and serve others. We might make comments like, “I’m texting ward members to see who can take meals to Sister Sanchez, who just got out of the hospital” or “What do you think about this post that I’m making to get people to come to the blood drive next week?”
We can model gospel study as well. We can listen to scriptures or general conference talks, and we can teach our children how to use the study plans and note-taking tools in the Gospel Library app.
As we discuss these five questions, we can help create the digital culture we want in our families. If we use digital tools for good, we can hasten the spread of truth and light. I echo this invitation given in general conference: “Continually seek for ways that technology can draw us closer to the Savior and allow us to accomplish His work.”4