What Your Kids Want You To Know: Social Media and Tech Rules Youth Wish Their Parents Would Follow

Nourishing Habits™ Digital Wellness Coaching and Lifestyle is thrilled to feature Havi Wolfson Hall, LCSW as a guest writer. Havi is a fellow social worker and founder of Health-E-Connections, a private therapy practice focused on balancing our lives online and offline. Havi currently focuses her work with children, adolescents, and their families at JFCS Parents Place in Palo Alto, CA.


The Technology and Social Media Rules Kids and Teens Wish Their Parents Would Follow

A recent research study entitled “Not at the Dinner Table: Parents’ and Children’s Perspectives on Family Technology Rules” found that the majority of the 259 families studied have rules around social media and technology. It also found that only 6% of families have no rules or expectations at all about technology use.  The researchers asked the same questions to the parents and children in each family and the conclusions were eye opening.

This study also generated seven general rules children wished their parents would follow: 

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1. Be Present. Given the rapid rise of different types of technology available to us today we as adults often have difficulty monitoring ourselves when it comes to technology. Our kids are reporting that we are the ones with the inability to put away our phones.  As their role models it is incumbent on us to demonstrate we are taking the time to be mindful and present with them, rather than prioritizing our screens.

2. Child autonomy. Our children can only show us how capable they are when we give them the chance to prove it! Within the limits of the rules created as a family, show your children that you trust them. Once that baseline trust is created, additional responsibilities can be added.  Start with devices that are closed systems, for example nothing with web browsing capabilities or internet access. As your children’s needs increase, so, too can their devices.  We do not hand over the keys to a race car as soon as our kids pass the drivers permit! Same should be said for technological devices. 

3. Moderate use. If our children had a say, they would ask us to balance our technology use with other activities. Find times throughout the day where you put your phone away, breakfast time, in the car, and dinner time are great times to start!  Fill the time with other activities you can do as a family. Family meals, walks, game night, etc. are all great bonding activities that naturally lend themselves to increased communication and feelings of connectedness.

4. Supervise but don’t Intrude. Our children might not like our rules, but our children also want us and need us to help keep them safe. The research also found that children are more open to our rules when those rules are around their personal safety and welfare, as opposed to when we set rules related to issues of personal taste. When first introducing a device to your child or deciding to add a new function or app to the device, go over the owner manual and tutorials so that you and your child are learning together. Be clear with your children that “Supervision” is not the same as “Spying”. When children understand that there will be routine checks of their devices, they will be more cognizant of how their devices are used. Communicate with your child that you trust them with their device, and mistakes will be made, but they will not lose their device as a punishment. Instead their device will get an appropriate downgrade. This will keep your lines of communication open and honest so that you are seen as more of an influence and guide rather than an authoritarian.

5. Not while driving. Not even at traffic lights! Children want us to stop texting or looking at our phones when we’re behind the wheel, even if we’re stopped at traffic lights. They’re watching everything we do. One day they’ll be driving, and when they are, we will want them to put their phones down too.

6. Don’t overshare. They really don’t want us to share information about them without their explicit permission. According to Sarita Schoenebeck, assistant professor at the University of Michigan’s School of Information and one of the authors of the study, ‘Twice as many children as parents expressed concerns about family members over sharing personal information about them on Facebook and other social media without permission … Many children said they found that content embarrassing and felt frustrated when their parents continued to do it.” Also by setting appropriate boundaries for your own posting, you are setting an example of personal boundaries for your children so later in life they, too, will not overshare.

7. Practice what you preach. Kids and teens want their parents to practice what they preach. For example putting the phone down when everyone at the table should be a rule that applies to everyone. As a family when you create your technology rules, be mindful that these are rules for every family member, even the parents. This helps everyone be more accountable for their own actions and more likely to follow the rules.   

Take Action


Reboot’s National Day of Unplugging is a 24 hour respite from digital devices.  This year it will be taking place from sundown March 9th-Sundown March 10th. Try putting away your phone in one of their “cell phone sleeping bags” available at Parents Place locations. It can be for one hour, the whole day or somewhere in between! It may impact you in a way you never expected.

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As an agency we are dedicated to the idea of responsible use of technology and are here to assist your family create your own Family Rules around Technology particularly if it has become a cause of stress in your home.

For further information contact Havi Wolfson Hall, LCSW to set up an appointment at 650-699-3080 or


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Havi Wolfson Hall, LCSW

Child and Adolescent Therapist

At Parents Place and JFCS Havi is one of our Child and Adolescent Specialists specializing in child anxiety, depression, self-regulation, and internet addiction. She has worked as a psychotherapist since 2000 and was previously at Jewish Family Services in Los Angeles where she treated individuals, couples, and families coping with issues such as anxiety, depression, grief, and divorce. She also led groups and provided workshops in the community on post-traumatic stress, addiction, and cybersafety. Before moving to the Bay Area in 2010, Havi grew a private therapy practice called Health-E-Connections which focused on the ever evolving issues regarding how to balance our lives online and offline. Havi has a Master’s degree from Hebrew Union College in Jewish Communal Service and an MSW from The USC School of Social Work.


Positive Tech and Software Development

Nourishing Habits™ Digital Wellness Coaching and Lifestyle is thrilled to feature Zack Prager as a guest writer. Prager is the founder of Ransomly technologies for tech detox and specializes in talking about positive tech & digital well-being.

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Positive Tech and Software Development

I live in two fields:  positive psychology and software development.  

I was lucky enough to do my graduate work under Martin Seligman, the founder of Positive Psychology,  at UPenn and fortunate enough to work on many tech start-up teams as a developer. In the last 5 years I have been working to develop positive tech.  

I have worked on my own projects like, a social network built around appreciating others, and, an internet of things company that helps people put down their phones and connect in real life.  I have also worked with organizations like the University of Pennsylvania and Blue Zones on their positive tech initiatives.

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What is positive tech?  

Simply put, it is technology that makes people happier.  In more academic terms, it is a user experience informed by the science of well-being and whose efficacy is measured with a validated well-being scale.  

Until recently, we didn’t have many empirical measures for well-being and happiness but today, we have dozens of established scales.  That means we can actually determine if our products are making people’s lives better or worse.

Why is it needed?

There is no doubt that advances in software have made our lives better in many ways.  For example, we have more access to information and tools for productivity than ever before.

Unfortunately, it comes at a cost.  The early research suggests much of our software is not actually making our lives better.  In some cases, it is actually making out lives worse by distracting us from building real relationships and doing our best work.  Below are just a few examples.

Relationships - loss of connection

Technology is getting in the way of real connection. Lulu Cheng and her colleagues have found that just the presences of a turned-off smartphone lowers the quality of conversation and a recent Consumer Mobility Report found that people are more likely to reach for their phone than their significant other first thing in the morning.  

Productivity - loss of focus

Our screens our constantly demanding our attention.  The constant connectivity of today’s work forces us to multi-task.  Unfortunately, the research shows we can’t do it very well. In fact, according to one researcher, multi-tasking reduces your ability to focus so much so it is like working high on marijuana.  

Moods - loss of joy

Our time on our phone is engaging so we often fail to notice what it is doing to our moods.  But evidence shows that we are often feel sad, jealous, or disappointed when we spend time on phones.  The apps that grab our attention the most often tend to be the ones that invite of to compare our lives against another’s.  So instead of giving us a mood boost, we often feel deflated after scrolling through our feeds.

That is just some of the early evidence about how our smartphone use is negatively affecting our lives.  There is much more and more coming in everyday it seems.

What can we do about it?

Finding digital well-being is about finding balance.  We can not throw our technology out and expect to live productive, healthy lives.  But we can find a healthier, balanced relationship with it.

Dr. Kimberly Young, a pioneer in treating internet addiction and an advisor to Ransomly, uses nutrition as an analogy for our relationship with our screens.  

Food can be unhealthy but the answer is not to stop eating.  Instead, we need to find the right amount and the right kind of food that helps us be as healthy as possible. The same is true for out relationship to our screens.  We have to find healthy amount of time and the time we do spend on our screens should be positive.

How I create balance:  carving out distraction-free space

One way to improve balance is to carve out tech-free space.  Evidence shows us that our environments shape our behaviors. So if we create space that is tech-free, that will likely lead to more real connection, more focus, and more self-care.

At Ransomly, we have created a Bluetooth beacon and app that allows you to make a room smart-phone free.  When you come in range of the beacon, your phone no longer has access to any of its apps.

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Does carving out tech-free space work?

Yes!  A couple of researchers from East London University, Nicola Hughes and Jolanta Burke, ran an experiment where participants didn’t use their phone in their bedroom.  The phone-less bedrooms lead to better moods, better sleep, and more focus for the participants.

A proposition

Since smartphone-use gets in the way our happiness and carving out tech-space appears to improve our lives in significant ways, my team is advocating for the creation smartphone-free spaces at work, home, and in public spaces.

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I hope you decide to join us in carving out distraction-free spaces for meaningful real life connection and deep work.

-Zack Prager


Buy your beacon today to create space for humanity. 


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Zack works on building user experiences that make people happier in a field called positive technology (a.k.a humane technology).  He studied software development at UCLA and Positive Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania and launched Ransomly, a tech start-up that helps people get off their phone and connect with others in real life.  Along with running his company he sometimes lectures at UCSD, SDSU, and academic conferences around the globe.

His work has been covered by the San Francisco Chronicle, San Diego Union Tribune, ABC, CW, NBC, Brit+Co, & more.