Exploring Families' Technology Rules

New technologies have changed family life in countless ways, often for the better. But they have also created a need for families to come up with rules, limits, and expectations about how technology should be used, and one thread of my research investigates family expectations around technology use. In a collaborative investigation with Professor Sarita Schoenebeck of the University of Michigan and Professor Julie Kientz of the University of Washington, I investigated the types of rules and expectations parents have for their children and the types of expectations children have for their parents.

We found that families now have a new type of technology expectation: that children and parents alike consider the context in which they are using it. In the past, families mostly set rules around what kind of technology is ok (like, "no Grand Theft Auto") or how much time

children should spend using it ("no more than two hours a day"). Today, about half of the rules families set are about the context (as in, "no phones at the dinner table"), and it turns out that these types of rules are harder to follow than the all-or-nothing rules that kids had to stick with in the past. Kids and parents agree that it is important to set and follow expectations like, "don't use your phone when someone else is talking" but they also agree that it's easier to consistently follow rules about content or time. 

We saw that kids have a lot of thoughts about the ways their parents use technology. For the most part, they praised their parents for striking the right balance, but they also told us that they worry about what their parents post online, wish their parents wouldn't text while driving, and believe that rules about context (like "no phones at the dinner table") should apply to the whole family. For more on this project, you can read our 2016 CSCW paper or the related coverage in The New York Times.