How to Model a Healthy Relationship with Technology

A teenage student studying on a laptop with no paper

If you’re a parent reading this, odds are you grew up learning primarily with analog technologies: pencils and paper, textbooks, planners, etc. And if you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’re well aware of the benefits of those tools.

Meanwhile, your kids are growing up in a digital-first or digital-only world:

  • Most of their schoolwork is done on a computer.
  • If they have textbooks, they’re probably digital.
  • If your kids take notes at all, there’s a good chance they’re using a tablet or a laptop for note-taking.
  • They study with Quizlet, YouTube, and Khan Academy.
  • They don’t use planners or to-do lists because all their assignments are on the school portal.

Don’t get me wrong – these digital tools aren’t bad – they can just be limiting. Writing things out by hand is a powerful learning technique that’s too often missing. Digital textbooks are often terribly hard to use. And kids regularly forget to do or submit their homework, even though it’s all there on the school portal.

So many parents wring their hands with worry, watching their kids struggle to learn without so much as a scrap of paper in sight.

The answer is not to tell them that tech is bad and paper is good. They’ll dismiss you as out of touch – and rightly so. In fact, the answer is probably not to tell them anything, but to model something different, something better. As usual, our primary strategy for influencing our kids is leading by example.

Modeling A Mixed Approach

In today’s polarized world, we too often get locked into all-or-nothing thinking. Digital or analog? Laptop or composition book? Quizlet or hand-made flashcards?

It doesn’t have to be one or the other. Why not both?

a father working at a computer but writing on paper

There are times when digital makes more sense, there are times when analog makes more sense, and there are times when it’s actually best to use both. We have the freedom to choose whichever is most functional in the moment, and parents should be modeling this kind of flexibility:

  • Use Google Calendar and a planner.
  • Use cell phone reminders and sticky notes.
  • Take online courses and take notes in a composition book.
  • Maintain a digital grocery list with a smartphone app and have an analog to-do list system.
  • Learn from books and from podcasts.
  • Play video games and board games.
  • Enjoy streaming Netflix and spending time in nature.

You can be tech-savvy without being tech-dependent, and you can be wary of tech addiction without being a Luddite. It’s absurdly limiting to be all digital or all analog. To thrive in the modern world – and the modern classroom – you need both. And kids need to see more examples of adults modeling this mixed approach to life.

Can you ever talk with your kids about using pen and paper?

Since nobody likes unwanted advice (especially teenagers), it won’t work to tell them about the benefits of writing things down if they’re happy with their performance. If they like how things are going, they’re not going to be interested in a different approach.

The only time you might get to offer ideas is when they’re expressing frustration with their performance:

  • Their test grades are low, and they don’t know why.
  • They’re putting in a lot of time studying and don’t feel like they’re getting much out of it.
  • They’re having a tough time grasping the concepts in a difficult class.
  • They keep forgetting about homework assignments, and they’re not happy with the resulting grades.
  • They’re having trouble keeping track of their busy schedule and feeling overwhelmed.

If your child complains about these things, then you’ve got an opening. Just remember that your role is to offer ideas, not dictate a change of strategy:

“That sounds hard. I have some ideas that might make it easier. Would you like to hear them? It’s okay to say no.

What should you suggest?

If you get an opening, don’t push for a purely analog approach. In my experience, students are much more open to a mixed approach that adds some pen-and-paper elements to their current digital system.

a student using a mixed digital and analog approach to learning

Suggest ways they can incorporate writing by hand into what they already do:

  • Pause and take notes while watching a YouTube video.
  • Have a composition book to support online math practice.
  • Take notes on paper while reading the digital textbook.
  • Use Quizlet to find words you don’t know and write them onto flashcards or a two-column list.
  • Check the school portal for homework and jot down today’s action items on a to-do list.
  • Put a sticky note on your desk to remember to check the portal for current and missing homework.

They probably won’t try everything you suggest, or they might adjust your suggestions in ways you think are suboptimal. Let it go. They need to run some little experiments to see what works – and doesn’t work – for them.

And remember, incorporating some traditional pencil-and-paper strategies into their digital education will seem a lot more normal if you’ve been modeling this mixed approach yourself.

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