My Boundaries with Technology for 2021

Christian Life & Theology, Productivity

I recently saw this Tweet and felt it deep in my soul:

It’s embarrassingly relatable (as evidenced by the 35,000 retweets) and ample evidence for the need for strong technology boundaries this year.

Since reading The Tech Wise Family by Andy Crouch a few years ago, I’ve worked hard to create boundaries with my phone, laptop and TV. Though we aren’t anywhere near as strict as the Crouch family, we do endeavor to have tech boundaries in place. The quarantine of 2020, however, really did a number on our family culture. I don’t regret the increase in family TV time (we probably watched five seasons of Forged in Fire and the Great British Baking Show, each, plus other favorites) but going into the new year and a new school semester for the girls we need to get back to our boundaries.

Josh and I are in a special situation because we work from home. With or without 2020’s pandemic, we are a homeschooling, work-at-home family that spends five months of the year under snow. Television, laptops, and phones are really easy ways to spend time if we aren’t intentional.

For 2021, I am continuing many of the habits I put in place over the years before. We’re also breaking some quarantine habits with the girls and – if we’re being honest – ourselves. Even though we use technology for good purposes (my work, Josh’s work, fitness, education, and clean shows) it can still take over our lives and prevent us from spending time creating with our hands, going outside, playing games with the kids, and more. Here are a few of the things I do, as well as our family tech boundaries for the new year.

Notifications Turned Off On All Apps

Nothing makes me more tense inside than to look at a phone screen covered in red icons. It screams “things to do”, robbing me of rest. One of the first things I did two years ago, as my business began to grow, was to turn off ALL notifications. That includes messages and emails. I designated a time each day to check messages, calls and email (or better yet, deleted the mail app and only used my laptop). Other notifications weren’t necessary. You can change the settings in iPhone to allow notifications on your home screen, in the Notification Center, or on the app – and the default is all three. Pick one!

Delete Unnecessary Apps

I go through my apps every few months and delete any I’m not actively using. Whatever remains is sorted into one of eight folders:

  • Tools
  • Photo Editing
  • Bible Study
  • Work
  • Health
  • Listen
  • Life
  • Movies and Video

My main nav bar contains our shared Google calendar, messages, camera and phone.

Delete Social Media Apps

For some people, turning notifications off is enough. But as someone who runs social media as part of my business, having the apps on my phone is a constant temptation. After posting for the day I delete the apps completely. This includes my Gmail app, Instagram, Facebook and FB Messenger. I re-download them each day when I know I have time to post and answer messages.

Put Away Phone an Hour a Day, a Day a Week, and a Week a Year

I learned this from Andy Crouch’s book and it has changed my life for at least two years. Buy the book if you haven’t already!

You don’t realize how attached you are to your phone until putting it away for an hour feels like a sacrifice. I was so embarrassed by this when I started out. But over time, I have found myself looking forward to my phone breaks – so much so, I have expanded my week breaks from one week to two or even three. I check my phone once or twice a day in case someone called or messaged me, otherwise, I keep it in a drawer with the ringer on (not text sounds, and with social apps deleted).

Choose Great TV and Make it Social

I am not anti-television. Yes, families probably watch too much TV, and if it takes away from their reading time, that’s a shame (the importance of cultivating a reading culture in your home cannot be overestimated!). But in our home, we read to our girls often, I read every day, and Josh listens to audio books. We also use a literature based homeschool method. Plus, we choose quality shows and movies that educate or are based on literature and/or significant historical themes.

We don’t pay for cable TV (and never have) and don’t use Netflix on principle (we find their selection of shows inordinately trashy) but we do subscribe to Hulu, ESPN, Hallmark Now and had Disney Plus for a brief period. When watching TV, we watch it together. You’ll often find our whole family crowded on the couch watching a blacksmithing show, or YouTube videos about earthworms, or some other intriguing show. It’s a family bonding time that often leads to discussion of the show itself! In the evenings, Josh and I might work through one of our favorites. A few we have enjoyed:

  • White Collar
  • The Mentalist (we were obsessed!)
  • John Adams miniseries
  • Forged in Fire
  • Parks and Rec
  • Brooklyn 99
  • Heartland
  • The Chosen

We also utilize VidAngel to “clean up” shows we would not feel comfortable watching otherwise, like Yellowstone.

A note about content: Everyone has a different comfort level regarding what they consume in media. Josh and I feel that the example we set – in what we are comfortable listening to, even if “we won’t say it ourselves”, and what we are comfortable watching (sex particularly) – either preaches the gospel to our children or undermines it. We can’t in good conscience tell our kids not to cuss, not to watch porn, to honor people with their words and eyes if we sit through it on a regular basis because we are “mature enough”. To us, there is a fundamental difference between hearing curse words from a friend or acquaintance and willingly sitting through it as entertainment. We don’t shelter our kids from real-life people, but we do prevent exposure to unnecessary language and sexual content at their tender ages. Further, repeated exposure to this kind of content desensitizes us – the parents! We utilize VidAngel to remove language and sexual content and nudity, and are grateful for it as a resource.

Tech Boundaries with Kids

Our kids are not allowed to use our phones or iPads with the exception of times we build a fort and set up a movie on the iPad, or when our oldest uses it with her educational globe we bought for Christmas. We don’t allow tech use by the kids while shopping, riding in the car or any other time but those special occasions. TV time is an occasional short show after school is done, and family TV time/movie night (Fridays) – with the exception of our quarantine situation! If we sense the kids are dependent on media (or we are using it to manage them) we take it away for a time.

Some of the shows our girls (5 and 3) enjoy:

  • Daniel Tiger
  • The Great British Baking Show
  • Creative Galaxy
  • Team UmiZoommee
  • Dinosaur Train
  • Heartland (with me)
  • Animated Bible Stories by Nest Entertainment
  • Little House on the Prairie
  • Liberty Kids
  • Torchbearers

Boundaries with News

One of the most exhausting parts of social media for me – and I wager, most of us – is the news. I brought this on my own head by using Facebook as a way to keep up on relevant articles and trending issues (I avoid Twitter as a matter of principle, for my own sanity). I also received at least three different news emails. By mid-2020 it was overwhelming, not to mention depressing.

This year, I signed up for a physical newspaper (Wall Street Journal was running a deal) and plan to read a little each day. I have always loved the WSJ’s book review section and some of their columnists, and using physical material – instead of the time sucking, backlit online stuff I’ve been consuming – is a great change from my norm.

As for news emails, I now only subscribe to one: The Pour Over. I love TPO because they don’t insert snarky commentary (from right or left) and simply link what’s going that week, twice a week.

Other Tech Boundary Hacks

You can use newsfeed eradicator with Google Chrome to silence your FB newsfeed. You can go on to deal with your notifications without the distraction of a crazy newsfeed. This works well for me since I have to manage my professional page, check Marketplace and check in on multiple FB groups.

On an iPhone, set your Screen Time settings to create downtime on certain days and times. One of my favorite things about this is how it blacks out the apps I can’t use and removes the text preview on messages – it’s so tempting to go in and read those or unconsciously take on that stress!

Under App Limits, set a time limit on your app categories and websites. Because I use social media for work, I have it set to 3 hours a day (believe it or not, that’s really good!).

Under Always Allowed, you can set certain apps to have access to you regardless of downtime limits. I allow messages, FitBit and Peloton to access me since I often use quiet times for workouts.

For an extra level of accountability, you can set a passcode for screen time and have someone else keep it for you so you don’t log in during that time.

Identify the Cause of Your Tech Dependence

Self-awareness is vital for boundary implementation. If you don’t know WHY you go to phone/TV/iPad in the first place, you’ll naturally continue to spend time there and struggle to maintain a healthier relationship with tech. I suggest asking a few questions and actually writing out the answers:

  • When I feel an impulse to pick up my phone, why do I do it? What’s the first app I open?
  • How do I feel after spending most of my day on a screen?
  • How has technology impacted my closest relationships?
  • How can I maintain long distance relationships while also creating firm boundaries with screens?
  • What time of day can I designate for checking apps and following up on media to-do’s?
  • When I take time off media/screens, what will I do instead?

Need ideas? Here are a few of my answers:

  • I pick up my phone to check email and check off messages/DMs/comments. It makes me feel accomplished, but it’s a never ending hole. I also end up scrolling Facebook reading articles.
  • After spending all day on some kind of screen I feel tired, grumpy, and like I never came up for air. I didn’t create anything with my hands and feel irritated and resentful.
  • When I have poor boundaries, technology makes me less patient with my kids and less attentive to my spouse.
  • Instead of messaging and sending memes, I can write letters or emails, send birthday cards, or create something handmade to drop off to a local friend. If I text, I can do so to invite someone to an in-person hang out – a hike or coffee.
  • Try to finish posting to Insta before noon; take a break from the phone from 5-10 PM.
  • During my time off my phone and laptop, I’ll watch a show with Josh, play a game with kids/Josh, knit, read, study, bake, workout, or do something outside.

The last one is very important. You must have an alternative when your phone is put away, or you’ll find yourself picking it up. Turn up the ringer and put it in a drawer, out of sight.

I hope this gives you the jumpstart you need to create your own boundaries as we enter a new year!