Take Control of Family Tech Time

Does your life suffer from too much time spent online? Here’s how to take control.

Ninety-five percent of American families are now online, with adults spending an average of five hours a day at home on the computer, according to a recent Reader’s Digest/Yahoo! poll. Yes, we’re connecting more with friends, but we’re also bolting through dinner so we can update our Facebook status. Does your life suffer from too much time spent logged on, and do you properly protect your family’s identity when you do venture online? Here’s how to take control.

COMPUTER AS CRUTCH According to Sherry Turkle, professor of psychology at MIT and author of Alone Together, a new book about technology’s effects on relationships, many people use their computers to avoid the messiness of real life. It’s difficult to tell a friend that she’s not invited to your party, she says, but it’s easy to send out an e-mail to that effect. When you find yourself hiding behind your screen, make an effort to reconnect with people face to face. “It’s not that technology is bad,” says Turkle. “It’s a matter of figuring out its place.”

PROTECTING YOUR KIDS Proud parents can’t resist posting photos of the little ones—a recent survey by online security firm AVG found 9 out of 10 toddlers have an online presence. But publicly sharing additional identifying information, such as your child’s full name, birth date, and place of residence—or the name of his school or summer camp—could put him and his identity in danger. To avoid the risk, invite loved ones only to view images on password-protected sites such as Flickr and Snapfish. If you use Facebook, create a group of your inner circle specifically for sharing photos and news of your kids. And don’t share information that identifies them with anyone else.

HOW TO UNPLUG Need a handy way to gauge your family’s online habits? Check out the family plan on rescue-time.com. It tracks how each member of your clan spends time online, and it plots the data by hour, day, and week. The site, which also offers individual plans, even allows you to block distracting websites from your loved ones—and yourself.

MANAGING YOUR MOBILE DEVICE If reaching for your phone to check for messages and e-mails has become an uncontrollable habit, try this trick that Stephen Balkam, founding CEO of the Family Online Safety Institute, shared with the Huffington Post. Keep your devices on but turn off every message alert, vibration, and visual cue. Check for updates only when you finish a task.

By the Numbers: Results from a Recent Reader’s Digest/Yahoo! Poll

20: The number of digital devices in an average household.

3: Average number of mobile phones in each household.

1 in 16: Kids under age 5 who have a Facebook page.

43: Percentage of adults who think they spend too much time online.

64: Percentage of adults who think that kids spend too much time online.

78: Percentage of people who have stayed up past their bedtime because they’re online.

18: Percentage of adults who have organized or considered a tech-free day.

86: Percentage of people who now feel more informed and knowledgeable because of the Internet.

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest