Feeling powerless in the face of the digital landscape of your home? Think you need to don a police uniform? The technological tsunami has most parents afraid and holding their children in lock down. But anger and resistance from a parent who has brought digital access in the home is illogical to the child. Actually, simple logic will help.
Fighting over electronics is symptomatic of underlying issues just like any other inappropriate behavior. It signals a problem or miscommunication in the relationship. If you are seen as a controlling parent, and you alone determine the limits on electronics, your children will naturally try to grab every minute they can regardless of how angry you get. As with everything else, if you have a respectful, trusting, open, non-punitive, non-threatening relationship with your kids, you will be able to agree on schedules. It comes down to relationship. A good relationship also means that your children enjoy spending time with you as well as technology.
When any new device enters your home, accompany it with its own set of rules and instructions like anything else you want your children to respect. This is your opportunity for problem-solving and negotiation among family members. Too often families don’t make the effort, but instead, direct children what not to do after the unwanted behavior happens. When withdrawal of technology privileges becomes the consequence, any hope of coming to agreement is lost. Cooperation does not happen when children fear that what they want most will be taken from them.
Electronic devices are potentially damaging to our children’s brains if not limited. So take the responsibility that is yours and keep young children away from screens altogether, model responsible use yourself, and when devices are introduced, negotiate limits with your child right from the start.
Don’t let technology intimidate you. You are still the parent. It’s up to you to provide the environment you want for your children, model the kind of person you want them to become, introduce nature and beauty, stop your busy lives and go out to explore what’s off the grid. It’s unrealistic to expect your child to turn off these highly entertaining devices and decide to go outside, especially when you stay inside tied to your own devices. Do you need a digital detox? Look up, unplug, and go outside.
There is not one specific way to set limits on electronics as it depends on your child’s personality. You can allow a responsible, engaged child more leeway to self-monitor than one who finds his only solace on a screen.
Here are a few tips to avoid fighting with your kids about the use of electronics:
1. Schedule a time to make decisions.
Don’t have these serious discussions on the fly. Scheduling time to talk highlights the importance of the topic. If you have regular family meetings, this is a good topic for your meeting agenda.
2. Establish ground rules.
If you have absolutes, state them right away and own them. For example, “It’s important to me that there’s no electronics when there’s outstanding homework or chores. Does anyone have any problem with that?”
Discuss the how, when, and where conditions around a new phone, device, or game.
Take precautionary steps to keep your kids safe with a new tech gadget. These precautionary steps are key to making sure your child has a healthy, happy, safe, and age-appropriate experience with their new digital device.
Ask your kids: “What do you think is a reasonable amount of time for (playing games, watching videos, messaging friends, etc.).” State what you think and negotiate until you agree. Discuss how much time is reasonable.
Discuss when use of electronics should happen and on what days. Begin with open discussion, “What makes sense to you?”
3. Establish boundaries.
Talk about gray areas. Share your concerns around electronics on weekdays, mornings, weekends, etc. If your child is resistant to this discussion, try this: “Here’s what I think should happen. Do you agree? Remember we are staying on this topic until we agree. This is not about me telling you what to do.”
Discuss situations when electronics is off limits. These might include eating out at restaurants, short car rides, and the dinner table.
4. Write down all agreements.
It may or may not be necessary to have each member of the family sign a contract, but everyone should be able to see a copy of the electronics agreements. Post the agreements until there are no longer questions and your child can self-regulate.
5. Monitor and reevaluate.
Reevaluate after a one-week experiment to assess how the agreements are working. Expect reminders and allow a few minutes leeway for agreed on times.
If resistance is high, avoid fighting and wait for the reevaluation. Explain to your kids that you have noticed the time limit agreed upon by each member of the family was too hard for your child to follow and a new agreement seems necessary. Your point of view must be that the resistance indicates a problem your child is having rather than your child being the problem. Keep reevaluating until it works.
So many children, especially ones who feel incompetent in school, have finally found success online. When parents criticize that success and threaten to take it away, the cyber world looks like a far happier place to be. When the home and school environment meets children’s needs, technology and the internet becomes merely an adjunct entertainment.