The use of technology in the form of computers, tablets, television, video game systems, and smart phones has become such a part of our lives. They entertain us, allow us to connect with others, provide information and education tools, and simply make our lives easier.
As with any advance, there is usually another side. In relation to children, an enormous concern of parents is monitoring and controlling time on devices. There is great reason for concern. Parents worry about cyber bullying, violent video games, inappropriate content, and too much screen time.
For decades long before computers and advanced technologies, we have known that monitoring children (knowing where they are and what they are doing) is critically important. Unmonitored children and adolescents tend to get into much more trouble. Monitoring does not mean hovering, but rather keeping track of what the child is doing and with whom. As it turns out, this is quite true with device use as well. In fact, when a parent might assume the child is doing homework on the computer, that may not be the case. Monitoring and calmly spot checking what your child is doing is important.
We hope that this newsletter provides some helpful information on how to monitor and manage your child’s use of technology and devices.
How to Structure Your Child’s Use of Electronic Devices
In a world where we are all consumed and inundated with technology, it can be hard to monitor and structure your child’s use of devices. Here are some tips to get a handle on it.
- Allow for a designated block of time for screens during the week. Be specific with the rule so your child knows exactly when and how much time is allowed.
- Avoid taking away all screen time all at once. This could cause a lot of friction and even increase aggression in children.
- Get rid of background TV. If it’s not time to watch, and especially if no one is watching, turn it off.
- Be a model for your child. Limit you own use of screen time and set aside devices for dinner or family activities.
- Try a screen free period. Have a day or an afternoon that is screen free for the whole family and filled with other fun activities.
- Watch with your child. When you can, watch TV with your child. Discuss the program, ask and answer questions.
Getting Kids to Turn off Devices Calmly Through Practice
Many parents tell us that getting their children to turn off video games or TV can be a big battle. They find themselves threatening punishment, yelling, and even grabbing devices out of their children’s hands. Unfortunately, this could be making the problem worse.
One very useful tool to help with this behavior is to practice with your child. For example, at a time when your child is not using a device, hand them a piece of paper and say,”Let’s pretend that this paper is your tablet. I’m going to tell you it’s time to turn it off and put it down. You just pretend to do that calmly and you can earn a small treat. Ready, here we go. Please turn off your tablet and put it on the table.”
When the child complies with the pretend you should praise with big enthusiasm. You can say, “Awesome job turning it off so calmly, give me a high-five! Now let’s go get your treat!” Do this type of role play every day and you will start to see this behavior improve. Be sure to praise when the child turns off devices calmly any time it actually happens.
When to Worry About Your Child’s Screen Use
Look for the following red flags and seek professional help if your child exhibits these:
- loss of interest or not doing other enjoyable activities
- changes in mood
- changes in sleeping and eating habits
- homework and grades affected
- friendships ending or changing
- increased aggression or anxiety
- playing or viewing violent or aggressive games or content