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Simple Tips for a Happier Family

With mobile devices readily available anywhere and everywhere, striking a healthy balance between online and in-person interaction is difficult for today's families. How do we find a happy medium between quality family time and the siren song generated from the pixelated forest of apps, games and social media?

According to Common Sense Media, mobile media use among children, ages 0 to 8 years old, has doubled from 38 percent to 72 percent since 2011. On average, kids spend a little over an hour a day on the devices, downloading apps, playing games and watching videos.

"Perhaps my biggest concern about the overuse of technology in families is 'opportunity costs,' which is an economic term that means that time spent in front of a screen is time not spent engaging in healthier and more meaningful activities such as family time, exercise, faith, cultural, education, etcetera," says Dr. Jim Taylor, psychologist and author of Raising Generation Tech.

Find your middle ground. Overexposure to media can lead to poor school performance, obesity, sleep deprivation and invasions of privacy. But, banning kids from technology can effectively shut down conversations about appropriate media use, spurring kids to sneak around, creating accounts and playing games on friends' devices where you have no oversight.

"Technology use becomes unhealthy when it hurts physical or mental health, relationships, school work or healthy avocations like sports, music and charity," Taylor says. "The bottom line is that technology should be the exception and not the rule: a tool, not a toy."

Use time wisely. Make the most out of the time your child engages with technology by choosing educational apps and games.

Be a healthy role model. A 2012 Google study found that 90 percent of us engage in multiple screens at once like watching television while also scrolling through a smartphone. Your kids will follow your lead. Become conscious of how much you use technology and if you engage with technology in a healthy way.

Designate tech-free spaces. Silence or put away electronics during homework and chore time and during family-oriented activities. Meals in particular present a rich opportunity to connect with your kids without electronic distractions.

Set limits. "Cell phones, computers, the internet and tablets are not rights—they are privileges. And like any privileges they need parameters and rules for their use," says Dr. Michael Osit, a child psychologist and author of Generation Text: Raising Well-Adjusted Kids in the Age of Instant Everything. "Be firm with time limits and content limits."

Plan ahead. Decide when, where and for how long you will allow computer time—mobile or otherwise—during the week.

To prepare for unplugged times, meet as a family to come up with alternate activities that you and your kids can enjoy that aren't screen-related.

Engage with technology together. Use technology together in other ways to strengthen communication skills and creativity. Invite your child to Facetime or Skype with grandparents. Show her how to start a private blog about one of her favorite subjects. Take digital photos together and collaborate on a photo book or a calendar.

By taking a proactive, balanced approach to technology with boundaries firmly in place, you can focus on using technology to complement rather than control your life while growing closer and happier as a family.

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Pouches is ready to kayak on the beautiful Rappahannock River. She’s also ready to learn more about how she can protect the river’s health using the Friends of the Rappahannock new River Report Card, sponsored by a surprise grant from the Community Foundation of the Rappahannock River Region (CFRRR).

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