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Feeling powerless in the face of the digital landscape of your home? Think you need to don your 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 screen time 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 screentime, 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, 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 it’s 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 screen/phone 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.

Screens 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 screens intimidate you. You are still the parent. It is up to you to provide the environments you want for your children, to model the people you want them to become, to introduce nature and beauty, to stop your busy lives and go out to explore what’s off the grid. It is unrealistic to expect your child to turn off these highly entertaining devices completely, especially when you stay tied to your own devices.

There is not one way to set limits on screen time as it depends on your kids. You can allow a responsible, engaged child more leeway to self-monitor than one who finds his only solace on a screen.

Discuss the how, when, and where conditions around a new phone, device or game. It’s more difficult once problems arise but basically the same:

  1. Schedule a time to make decisions. Not on the fly. Scheduling time highlights the importance.
  2. If you have absolutes, state them right away, own them as yours. “It is important to me that there is no screen time when there is outstanding homework or chores. Does anyone have any problem with that?”
  3. Discuss time. “What do you think is a reasonable amount of time for…?” State what you think and negotiate until you agree.
  4. Discuss when and what days. Begin with open discussion, “What makes sense to you?”
  5. Discuss gray areas: weekday use, mornings, weekends, etc. If your child is being resistant or bored by this, try, “Here’s what I think should happen. Do you agree? Remember we are staying on this until we agree. This is not about me telling you what to do.”
  6. Discuss what’s off limits, i.e. restaurants, short car rides, the dinner table.
  7. Write down all agreements. It may or may not be necessary to all sign a contract.
  8. Post the agreements until there are no longer questions/your child can self-regulate.
  9. Reevaluate after a one-week experiment to access how the agreements are working.
  10. Expect reminders and allow a few minutes leeway for agreed on times.

If resistance is high, avoid fighting and wait for the reevaluation. Explain then that you have noticed the agreed on time limit was too hard for your child to follow and a new agreement seems necessary. 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 cyberworld looks like a far happier place to be. When the home and school environment meets children’s needs, the internet becomes merely an adjunct entertainment.

Chances are your kids use social media. Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter are just a few of the popular platforms that kids are using these days. It’s not all bad, either. Technology gets a bad wrap when we’re talking about kids. I hear a lot about how disconnected kids these days are much focus is on the negative aspects of kids having phones and computers at their finger tips.

While there are many negatives to allowing kids to have devices, which I will discuss later, first I want to point out some positives. I disagree that kids are more disconnected than ever. As a matter of fact, in many ways I actually believe they are MORE connected than ever before. There has never been a time in history when you could literally communicate with the entire world instantaneously. Information is readily available about ANYTHING, which is truly amazing. Kids are in constant communication with their friends, and this actually builds stronger friendships and relationships. This, however, all comes with hefty a price.

Sometimes I wish they made different devices for different aged kids. A really basic phone for younger kids to call their parents. Add texting and limited internet access for middle school, and full privileges for high school kids. But this is not the reality we live in. In reality, we are handing devices to young kids with advanced capabilities, and they really are not developmentally mature enough to make good decisions about how they use them.

Talking to kids about internet safety and monitoring and limiting what they can do and when are always a good idea. But anyone who believes this is enough has their head in the sand. Kids often hear, but do not listen. Also, they are technologically smarter than us, and know ways to do what they want that we have no clue about. They also happen to be master manipulators. Even the “good kids”.

My own kids have devices, and I have set restrictions on the devices as well as set rules and boundaries in our home. My kids are not allowed to keep their devices in their rooms at night, as we have set up a charging station in the family room where all devices live. They have attended presentations and talks at school about internet safety and appropriate use of cell phones, as well as heard me talk endlessly about what is and is not acceptable. They are smart kids who understand the dangers that are out there, as well as the potential negative effects of their own actions. And yet, my older son has been caught watching hard core pornography, my younger son was caught texting with a stranger that he “met” on Minecraft, and they both set up Facebook accounts against my permission. You must stay on top of things, or even a good kid could do something really bad.

Recently, there was an incident at my son’s school. A bunch of boys had a group text going on, where they were making fun of another boy behind his back. This included a large number of boys and went on for quite some time. Eventually, someone got caught, and the school found out about the whole thing. Parents were called, kids got in trouble, feelings were hurt, and it was just a big, ugly mess. The boys involved include the trouble makers that you might expect to do something like this, as well as several of the “good kids” that you’d never imagine could do this to a friend. But they did. It happened. You’d be amazed what kids and teens will do just to fit in and be part of the crowd.

So here is what I’d like to say. Technology is not all bad. Kids can benefit in many ways from having access to people and information. It can help them socially, academically, and even emotionally. But technology is also very scary and potentially dangerous. Here are some tips for how to navigate all of this.

  1. As parents, you must stay informed about the latest trends and use (you should know what Snapchat and Instagram are).
  2. Set rules about the privilege of having these devices (yes, it’s a privilege, not a necessity).
  3. Make sure you know the passwords for the device and any accounts your child has on it
  4. Explain that there is no right to privacy on the devices, and that you will be looking at them, and then actually do it, frequently.
  5. Don’t believe that your child would never do anything “bad”. They are all capable of it, especially teenagers trying to fit in.
  6. Discuss with your child anything you see that may be concerning to you, whether it came from them or not. For example, if your child said something about feeling depressed, you’d want to explore that. If another child told yours that his parent hit him, you’d want to make sure that was handled properly, and you’d need to encourage your child to tell the principal or a counselor at school (otherwise you should)
  7. Talk a lot about what is ok and what isn’t to post online, send to others, etc. Remind kids that screen shots can be taken of things sent even on Snapchat, and the internet is forever. One stupid mistake at 14 years old can cause problems for your entire life.
  8. Don’t be afraid to take away the devices or set restrictions on them based on your child’s behavior. If they need a computer for school work, make them do it in an open area that you can monitor.
  9. Remind them that their own behaviors will dictate how much freedom and privilege they will have. If they make good decisions, and show responsibility and maturity, they will have access. If they don’t, they will lose their privileges. It’s very simple.

In summary, technology is a double-edged sword. So much good can come from it, but there are many dangers and problems that we need to constantly be aware of and monitor. Rest assured that if you stay on top of things, and set clear rules and boundaries that you follow up on with action, you can successfully navigate through this with your children.