Internet addiction. Phone addiction. Technology addiction. Whatever you call it, a lot of parents are expressing worries that their children are addicted to their devices.
I know I’m not alone when I say that screens, phones, and electronics have made parenting a much more onerous task than it was 10 years ago. Many parents are experimenting with a variety of techniques to manage their kids’ use of electronics, such as parental controls to block inappropriate content, with varying success. But the struggle is real, and we need to help each other navigate the electronic candy store that threatens our children’s well-being (Psychology Today).
12 steps to taming and living with the addiction:
Determine how much screen time you will allow. In my house, we allow half an hour in the morning and again in the evening. Weekends, this extends to 45 minutes twice a day. My kids are busy with homework and activities, so they don’t always have time, but they always ask!
Be clear and consistent. Don’t let whiny kids wear you down. Be clear about your expectations, and stick to your guns. Kids that wheedle more time get the message that more whining equals more of the drug. Tears, screaming, and pouting are all normal – remember, they are addicts – but if you don’t bend, they will eventually get the idea that those negative behaviors have little impact. Make sure all the adults in the household are on the same page.
Never let them on electronics if they haven’t finished homework or chores, or if they’ve misbehaved. Screen time is a privilege, not a right. Their electronics high should be correlated with being a positive member of the family – a reward for a job well done.
Lock computers and check phones at the door. I’ve been fooled more times than I care to admit. When I’m not super-vigilant about collecting electronics, I will find my kids under blankets, in closets, and especially in the bathroom, feeding their addiction. They are also master codebreakers, so change your passwords frequently. We literally have a safe in the living room for iPhones, iPads, and Kindles. Sounds extreme, but why make their drug accessible? If they know they can’t get at these items, they stop trying.
Be vigilant. Expect children to find ways to push for more electronics time. Expect them to make blunders on social media. Expect gamers to end up in some unsavory situations. Kids are kids, and they will push boundaries. Unfortunately, the boundaries are riskier today. Be aware of how they spend their screen time. Check who they follow and who follows them. Ask to follow your kids, and if they won’t let you, take their phones away.
Explain the dangers. Show them the documentary Screenagers and clarify that you are not trying to ruin their fun. Rather, you are aiming to protect them, as any good parent should.
Allow for boredom. Kids will cry that they are bored or have nothing to do. This is code for “I want my drug!” Boredom is the source of creativity. Of course, everything will seem boring after an electronics high. Good parenting means that kids sometimes have nothing to do, and that’s OK!
Guide them toward alternative activities. This gets easier and easier once they recognize that no amount of whining or pleading will get them their drug. My kids started playing cards and board games again. And they are so much kinder than if they’d been on a video game or social media.
Expect relapses. Vacations, your work schedule, and household crises can set your kids down the wrong path. Don’t beat yourself up for relying on electronics during emergencies, but keep track of how often you rely on gadgets for babysitting, conflict avoidance, and other patterns that break down your control over their electronics use.
Make adjustments as necessary. If your plan isn’t working well, this doesn’t mean it’s a complete failure and you should stop trying. If necessary, tweak the amount of time your kids can spend on their screens and which apps they’re allowed to use. If they protest, remind them that you’re in charge.
Institute electronics sabbaticals. Many kids’ summer camps don’t allow electronics. If camp isn’t feasible for your family, instead aim for your own household electronics sabbatical. Give them a reward for a month off, such as a sleepover party or a day at an amusement park. Just please don’t make the reward a new video game!
Be a role model. We all could benefit from the rules we set for our kids. When you’re with your children, avoid being on or checking your phone. Kids will rightly cry hypocrite! Plus, giving them your full attention will be the greatest reward of all.