Dont be me. When I look at my beautiful daughter, I see a face or rather I dont see it hidden behind a small rectangular screen. The iPhone is her constant companion and shes often much more engaged with it then she is with me or her mother.
We waited until she was 13 to hand her a smartphone. Prior to that, she had a feature phone capable of texting and not much else. Those were the good old days. As soon as she got the iPhone, it was as if shed been sucked into the screen, disappearing with a tiny pop behind that gorilla glass and millions of multi-colored pixels. She emerges rarely and under duress.
If I could roll back the clock four or five years, Id do things differently. In lieu of that, I want to help those of you out there with babies, toddlers and grade-school-age children. Now is your moment to take control and theres no better time to start than the summer.
Please, let me help you with just a few pieces of advice that I wish someone had shared with me.
Set ground rules
When someone gets the keys to their first car, they can go wherever they want to go, but they do have to follow the rules of the road. They cant drive on sidewalks or on the wrong side of the road. Also, they have to get out of the car on occasion.
If I could roll back the clock four or five years, Id do things differently.
When you hand a child an iPhone or iPad, there seem to be no rules. Here you go, Emma. This is a doorway to everything. Have fun!
Obviously, not everyone is like that. There are parental controls on iPhones and iPads (under Restrictions) and user accounts on Android devices. However, how many people bother to set them up?
First of all, Im pretty sure its a bad idea to hand an infant or toddler your phone just to shut them up and keep them busy. Last year, researchers at Boston University said too much of this might (Im paraphrasing here) stunt their ability to cope with life.
Since its impossible to set ground rules with a toddler for whom logic is an utterly foreign concept, try keeping track of how often you hand them your iPhone or iPad and for how long they have it. Try keeping it to 30 minutes a day, at most.
If youre actually giving a child a smartphone and theyre old enough to understand what consequences mean, I suggest writing up a contract that you can both sign about Where, When and for How Long they can use their digital device. A breach of that contract means they lose the phone.
Give and take
Nothing ensures homework will get done like telling a child they cannot go on their phone until you verify its done
You can also create a barter system for screen time. If your child wants to spend an hour or more with their device, ask them to spend the same amount of time, reading a book or engaging in an outdoor activity. And by ask, I mean tell. Kids rarely respond to Would you mind?
You can also tie it to chores and homework. Nothing ensures homework will get done like telling a child they cannot go on their phone until you verify its done (trust, but verify). If they want more screen time than their originally allotted amount, have them do extra chores, a special project or even volunteer work (preferably with you by their side).
Set the time and place
One way to help break the smartphone and gadget habit is by creating safe zones and times for use. Put a small basket by the front door and have everyone in the family drop their devices in the basket when they walk through the door. Make the proposition more attractive for everyone by picking up a multiport USB charging device and snaking the charging cables into the basket. This way everyone can always be charging.
Ban all cellphones from the dinner table yes, parents, yours too. In fact, the more parents set an example on where and when to use smartphones, the more kids will fall into line. Otherwise, youll have that argument, Why should I stop using my phone when youre on yours ALL THE TIME? (Also known as the I learned it from you, alright?! argument.) Speaking of which, if you are texting and driving, you’re also setting the worst example of them all.
Many families will be attempting the time-honored tradition of a summertime road trip. Cries of Are we there yet? may have quieted some thanks to ever-presence of screens and constant access to data (4G in your car, yay!), but if your kids never look up from their screens during the ride from New York to Mississippi, theyll miss America.
Set aside some time to play a family game that requires that the kids pay attention to whats going on outside the car.
Before you get in the car, make a plan. Decide how much time will be spent streaming each family members music to the car audio. Then agree on how much time will be spent staring at screens (10 minutes an hour? 15 mins?). You could also decide on one audio book to listen to and pass the time. And set aside some time to play a family game that requires that the kids pay attention to whats going on outside the car. Our family favorite was There she blows! which someone had to say first every time they spotted a water tower. Another one was What am I? You get the idea.
Shut it down
Summertime means the kids are done with school and, naturally, staying up later. Theyre also taking their phones with them to bed. You do it too, I know, and for a pretty good reason: Its your alarm clock. The problem is, its also your information hose, one that never shuts off. For kids, that late-night screen time is a huge problem. It never shuts down, so neither do they. Eventually they fall asleep, usually with the phone trapped under their bodies.
Kids under 13 do not need the phone by their bedside. A good-old-fashioned alarm clock will do. At bedtime, the phone stays in that basket by the front door.
There are few bigger fans of technology than me and, quite honestly, I break virtually every one of these rules. In my defense, I couldnt see just how addictive all these screens would become for me, my daughter and the rest of my family. Now, I try and take a take break at least once a year. You however, can do things different. You can teach your children that the smartphone and tablet represent a just single source of content and entertainment. There is the whole wide world outside of it and the family right in front of them.
I know I am asking a lot. Our lives revolve around these devices. How can anyone expect us to put them down during dinner and bedtime? What if we miss something? Clearly, as adults, theres good reason for you to use your digital devices more than your kids, but maybe not a lot more. Its up to us to give our children perspective.
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