Most of us have at least a few digital devices that practically define our lives. We carry around our smartphone all the time, use a tablet when chilling on the couch, and spend time on a laptop when we need to accomplish simple tasks. For the most part, these modes of technology can help us stay connected, informed, and productive—but they can also work against us.
If used irresponsibly, these devices can result in the deterioration of our social relationships. They can mess up our sleep patterns. They can even encourage patterns of behavior associated with addiction.
Fortunately, these negative side effects are easy to avoid—if you set the right rules. We often think of rules as existing for children, as a way to help them form good habits, but even adults can benefit from this structure.
Rules for Using Devices at Home
These are some basic guidelines that can help you use technology more responsibly in your home environment:
- No devices at the dinner table. First, make it a point that no phones or other devices are allowed at the dinner table. This is your chance to come together as a family and openly talk to each other. If even one of you picks up a mobile device, it will likely encourage the others to do the same. Instead, leave the devices behind, and spend some quality time together.
- No devices in social areas. For centuries, families and groups of people would gather around a living room hearth and socialize. You may not have a fireplace or a hearth in your home, but you likely have some area that’s designed for open socialization. It might be the living room, with your comfortable furniture, or a kitchen area that can be heard and seen throughout the rest of the house.
- No picking up devices during conversation. This is a big rule and one that should apply no matter where you are in the home or what time it is. If someone is talking to you and you’re currently using a device, put it down. If you’re in the middle of a conversation, don’t pick up the device again. Any new messages or notifications you get can wait; give the other person your undivided attention and be patient when responding to the alerts on your device. This will help you pay more undivided attention to others and limit your temptation to indulge in the instant gratification of checking your phone.
- Stop using devices at least 1 hour before bed. Using electronics before bed can make it harder to get to sleep, and affect your sleep quality. Using them in bed can make the problem even worse. Instead, commit to putting all your devices away at least an hour before bedtime—and preferably earlier.
- No more than 1 hour for each app. Most modern mobile apps are designed to keep you using them for as long as possible, even at the expense of your well-being. Features like constant notifications and infinite scrolling newsfeeds can keep you using for hours a day. Instead, set a firm limit to use each app no more than an hour. You can likely set app-specific limits using the settings menu of your device.
- No screen time until responsibilities are complete. This is an especially important rule for children, but it can work for adults as well. Forbid entertainment screen time until all your responsibilities are done. That could mean your full-time work, chores, errands, or homework—anything important should be done before you actively start engaging with your devices.
- Get permission before snapping photos or video. This is more of a personal preference, but it may still be important to follow. Not everyone enjoys having their photo taken, and most people don’t like the idea of being posted online without their knowledge or consent. Get someone’s permission before taking a photo or video of them, and definitely get permission before posting one.
- Proactively acknowledge potential issues. Commit to acknowledging potential issues in yourself and others before they become worse. For example, if you notice that it’s hard to put down a specific app, or if you notice addictive behavior in one of your family members, work proactively to openly talk about and (hopefully) resolve these issues.
Finding Your Own Rules
Rules are important because they help you identify your boundaries; they function as a firm architecture, around which you can build your habits and behaviors. However, these rules aren’t set in stone, nor are they going to work for everyone. Think about your own goals, and the ways technology is likely to disrupt your own life, and build your own set of rules around them.