Do you find it incredible to think that just 20 years ago, Google had only just been founded, Facebook and YouTube were still just ideas, and the smartphones we can’t live without today didn’t even exist?

There’s no doubt that this connection has come with incredible blessings and advantages. For homeschool families, the advantages of easy access to resources, support, and more is amazing compared to just a decade ago. But it’s also brought tremendous challenges for families and damage in ways we’re just beginning to understand. Consider the following statistics:

  • 53% of kids in the US today have a smartphone by the age of 11 (Common Sense Media)
  • Kids between the ages of 5–8 average over 3 hours per day on a screen (Common Sense Media)
  • 82% of parents say they are concerned about their kids’ screen time (Parents Together Action)
  • Reports of child online exploitation have risen dramatically since the start of the coronavirus pandemic (WSJ)
  • Numerous recent studies suggest strong correlation between social media usage, screen time, and increased risk of depression in adolescents (ABC News)

For parents who are working hard to protect and equip their kids, dealing with technology can often feel like all or nothing. 

Homeschool parents are grappling with the realities of our digital age and how to safely raise kids in a screen saturated world. So what are the best ways to help families develop good web habits?

Here are five ideas for families looking for simple but powerful ways intentionally approach tech in the home—something better than an all-or-nothing approach.

1) Be intentional, but flexible, with screen-time limits

When it comes to setting limits on “screen time” or “computer time,” parents know it can be tough. This principle can feel especially true as homeschool families tend to rely more and more on screens for valuable learning resources. When it comes to limits, communication is key. Having clear, designated time limits for kids to use computers, tablets, and other electronics is so important for creating consistency and boundaries.

Yet, it’s also important to pair screen-time limits with other priorities so kids understand what’s most important—and to be able to adjust when those priorities change. If your child is using the computer to access quality content and learning materials, it may be appropriate to extend the time they use the computer. Additionally, setting limits for internet can vary based on age. This helps kids understand that screens are tools, not toys, and time with them isn’t automatic, but comes with age and maturity.

2) Give screen time a “home”—not just a limit

“Place” has a powerful way of creating associations in the mind—especially the rapidly developing minds of our little ones.

In recent years, researchers have uncovered incredible insights into how the mind forms and sustains new habits. Our minds tend to create loops or patterns, in which something triggers an action to receive a reward. One way that researchers suggest to break a habit? Disrupt the loop.

A very practical way to do this in your home is to rethink not just how your family does something (in this case, spending time in front of a screen), but where. While time limits can seem arbitrary to kids, location is more tangible. Could the kitchen table be a “no-screen zone”? What about bedrooms? Just as important, what are your family’s spaces where you can make screen time intentional and keep family involved? Instead of focusing only on how much screen time kids should have, consider first asking where.

3) Invest in safety tools that empower parenting

If you think about it, we have child-safety systems in place for many things—safety seats for cars, training wheels for bikes, and drivers ed for teens, for example. But that’s often not the case with the internet and technology. Parents need to have some control over internet use in the home and exercise it when necessary for the safety of their children. This is a critical part of helping guide and train your kids about what safety in the digital world means. Tools that allow parents to block some websites, filter information, and monitor their child’s use when online are important to consider for any household. Think of parental controls as a sort of safety guardrail that supports your kids as you stay engaged with them on their journey to learn about technology.

4) Make a screen time plan as a family

While boundaries are key when it comes to screen time and digital safety, there’s also an opportunity for collaboration. How different does it feel when someone helps you understand the problem and invites you into building the solution (instead of giving you a simple no)? All of a sudden, you’re a collaborator! That’s a benefit of homeschooling—kids get the chance to have ownership and investment in their education.

Kids need that same invitation when it comes to screen time. Consider making it a homeschool project: grab a big piece of paper, markers, and make it a family activity to map out a plan to help everyone spend less time with screens and more time learning and playing together.

Setting shared goals can be a wonderful way to come together and make a memory while you’re at it. Who knows, you might just be amazed at what your youngsters dream up!

For those with older kids, we love the resources that START (Stand Together And Rethink Technology) has developed for having collaborative conversations with your kids about how they engage with technology.

5)  Ask “WHY’ to help build tech intentionality 

One parenting tip you’ll often see is to make screen time a reward for doing other positive things like chores or homework. While that can absolutely be a positive and helpful approach, it can also make screen time the reward that helps to elevate its value in a kid’s mind.

You know that moment when your kid comes running to ask, “can I have the [insert device]?” or “can I play [insert game]?” One helpful approach is to take that key moment and ask a simple question: “why?” Instead of only encountering rules, you can give your child a moment to consider what they want and why they really want it.

In many cases, that moment may be a great opportunity for home educating parents to disconnect boredom from screen time. It also gives parents the opportunity to redirect the screen-time focus from simple stimulation to something educational. The subtle message over time: screens are places we go to learn, not tune out.

The fact is that our world is only growing more digitized and connected. Each family will have to find their own solutions, as each environment and each kid are different. But it’s critical for parents to know that navigating the digital world doesn’t have to be all or nothing. We hope these simple ideas give your family a starting point to chart a safe and intentional path forward for your family.

ABOUT COSMO Technologies and the Homeschool for the Holiday Initiative

COSMO Technologies is a groundbreaking family tech company founded by homeschool graduates with a mission to help keep kids safe and families connected in the digital age. And this holiday season, COSMO is excited to give back to support homeschooling across the country!

The founding team as COSMO, Russell York, Michelle Ross, and Ryan Gilles all grew up homeschooled and became friends during their college years at Patrick Henry College. Now they’re working to provide parents with the tools they need to safely and intentionally navigate our digital world.

“Looking back, I’m so grateful for my home education, the training I received, and the supportive homeschooling community around me,” says Ryan Gilles, COSMO’s Director of Brand. “This initiative, like the company as a whole, is all about giving back and supporting families.”

This Holiday season, COSMO is partnering home education organizations across the country—and you can help! For any JrTrack 2 Kids Smart Watch purchased through COSMO’s website, the company will donate 8% back to support home education in the state where the purchase was made! Any purchase helps make a difference.

  • If you’d like to know more about COSMO Technologies you can visit their website HERE.
  • If you’re interested in purchasing a JrTrack 2 Kids Smartwatch and supporting home education this holiday season, click HERE

Simple. Reliable. Connected. Cosmo has all the features parents need for peace of mind including location tracking, trusted contact lists, and 4G nationwide calling.

Russel York is Cosmo's CEO, Michelle (Wright) Ross is the COO, and Ryan Gilles is the Director of Brand and Marketing.