On a recent family road trip, a little bantering began about five minutes down the highway.
“Mom, can I play your iPhone?”
“No, not right now.”
“Dad, can I play your iPad?”
“No, not right now.”
“How about your iPhone?”
“In five minutes?”
And so it went. For three hours. While we encouraged our kids to read books, stare out the window and, for goodness sakes, just look for the ocean over the crest of the hill, they pestered us about absolutely needing to update their Minecraft account.
Today’s parents wage a daily battle against handheld electronic devices. The days of keeping the battle in one central location are gone, because the battle comes along in our back pocket.
I’ve heard frustration from countless parents who feel they are on the losing end. They can’t seem to get a handle on when and how to let their kids have access to electronics. As this particular war isn’t going away any time soon, here are six ways to fight the good fight:
1. Set specific time limits
We’ve all had moments when it seems the only way to calm a tantrum is to hand a child your cellphone. These are moments borne of desperation. Yet, if we give our kids a phone every time they start to act up, we incentivize negative behavior. Ideally, we give our kids devices at a set time as a reward after they’ve done chores or followed through on specific tasks. In our house, we’re big fans of the timer. It keeps both parents and kids accountable. During the school year, we allow only one day a week for media time. It eliminates the continual pestering if kids know the boundaries.
2. Check it out
Of course, for older kids, having specific time limits isn’t feasible if they own their own phone, iPad or Kindle. But even teenagers need rules. No answering calls in the car is a good rule, especially for new drivers. No calls or texts after a certain time of night is another good rule. Many parents have a check-in station to curb the temptation for kids to text all night long.
3. Keep it public
We’ve heard this advice before, but it’s important to keep devices in a public area. Computers should be in a central location, and when kids are playing on smartphones, they shouldn’t run off to their room. This works in two ways. If something pops onto the screen or they navigate into a bad area, you’re there to help. Also, it’s a reminder that they are actually playing on the device, and you’ll have more incentive to get them off in a timely manner. Again, for older kids the rules will be different, but a door-open approach is always a good idea.
4. Teach good habits
As parents, we are notorious for exhibiting bad manners with our devices. We check texts at mealtime or in the middle of conversation. We lack self-discipline, scrolling through Facebook when we should be doing more important things. Not only should we model good behavior, but we also need to be explicit in teaching it to our kids. No one else is going to take that responsibility, and it’s not only important in a family, but in the professional world.
5. Introduce the good
When we talk about electronics, we usually highlight the negative, but smartphones and tablets can be wonderful tools for teaching. Again, it’s something we need to show our children. Point them in the direction of learning applications or religious resources. Get involved as a family with listening to uplifting podcasts or good music. Encourage applications that encourage creativity over consumption. It’s important that we teach our children how to use electronics as a tool for learning, friendship and gospel worship.
6. Set rules, change rules
Of course we want to set ground rules for our devices, but we shouldn’t be afraid to alter those rules when we they stop working or we find ourselves frustrated. As long as our kids are under our tutelage, we need to be in charge. Declare a device-free week (or month)! Delete games or apps that make you uncomfortable or feel like a waste of time. Be flexible as your family grows and changes and as new apps and devices get introduced.
Our kids are growing up in a world surrounded by screens. It’s inevitable, as much as some of us might wish for a Thoreau-like paradise. However, we don’t need to feel that these devices rule our lives and the lives of our children. We do need to be adaptive, creative, assertive and most importantly, in control.
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